Living with Children: Embrace punishment

I am often asked how long I intend to keep writing this column, writing books, and speaking on childrearing and family matters. My answer: As long as they keep peddling the utter nonsense that emanates and has been emanating from the mental health professional community since the late 1960s, nonsense that corresponds with a precipitous drop in child mental health and a dramatic rise in childhood behavior problems.

A good example of the nonsense recently emanated from mindfulness parenting coach Hunter Clarke-Fields in the form of an online excerpt from her latest book, “Raising Good Humans.” A summary of Clarke-Fields’ mindful point of view: Raising children the way parents raised children before the advent of mindful people like Hunter Clarke-Fields (that is, when child mental health and academic achievement were much, much better) is really bad.

Clarke-Fields doesn’t like parents who insist that their children do as they are told. She believes that insisting on obedience is bad because the parent “wins” and the child “loses.” This reflects the nonsensical post-1960s idea that parenting is a zero-sum game populated by villains (parents who insist upon proper behavior) and victims (children who would much rather act like uncivilized beasties because it’s much more fun and perversely rewarding).

I have to admit, I’m so “out of it” I had to look up a definition of mindfulness. I discovered, much to my non-surprise, that mindfulness is a hybrid of eastern meditative techniques (“I am the universe!”) and postmodern psychobabble. Being aware of one’s existence in the present moment and acknowledging the feelings of others is being mindful. Simply speaking, it’s paying attention and being empathic, but expressed as if the person in question is morally superior. Given that yours truly is a recovering hippie, I’ve been there, done that.

According to HCF and psychologist Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center, “while punishment might make a parent feel better, it won’t change a child’s behavior.” The question becomes: “What parent in their right mind feels better after punishing a child?” Answer: none. By definition, a parent who “feels better” after punishing a child is a sociopath.

Intelligent parents understand that responsible parenting is not measured in terms of emotion — the parent’s or the child’s. It is measured in terms of the slow, two-steps-forward-one-step-back development of character attributes like respect for others, obedience to legitimate authority, responsibility, humility, and trustworthiness. In short, responsible parenting is not a matter of causing a child to “feel” a certain way; it’s a matter of causing a child to do the right thing.

Accomplishing that requires punishment. In order for a young child to understand that he’s done something bad, he must feel bad about it. Until they develop a functionally reliable conscience, children aren’t able to feel bad on their own about the bad things they do. That requires an outside agent, ideally an outside agent who loves the child unconditionally. Regretfully, it also requires punishment.

The notion that punishment “won’t change a child’s behavior” is refined nonsense. It flies in the face of commonsense, research, and my forty-seven years of experience counseling parents. Does anyone really think I’d have lasted 47 years if I was not dispensing helpful advice?

From all recent indications, the nonsense-purveyors are in it for the long run. Therefore, so am I.

Armin Brott’s Mr. Dad column will return next week.

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