Monday, February 04, 2008

Good Families and Bad Kids

I have been thinking a lot these past few weeks about children and parenting. William is about to turn one. He’s not a baby anymore, and now we’re faced with the daunting task of making him understand that temper tantrums won’t work because adults still run the world! Also, I preached on the fifth commandment yesterday – “Honor your father and mother.” So, with the help of a lot of sources, especially Dennis Prager, here are some thoughts.

It seems that a lot of good homes do not produce good children. Why? I’ve heard people blame TV violence, video games, rap music, divorce, the absence of fathers, bad schools, and poverty. But what about parents? What are parents doing wrong – especially well-educated parents in intact homes, with no financial worries? So, here are some thoughts as to why good homes sometimes produce bad children:

Goodness is Not Put First.
Most parents want their children to be good people, they just don’t make their child’s goodness their top concern. Parents are more concerned with their child’s being a brilliant student, a good athlete, or a successful professional. Would you rather have a kind child with average intelligence, or a brilliant child who isn’t kind? How much time to you devote to developing ethics in your child relative to developing other qualities? Do you monitor very closely how your child treats other people? If someone were to ask your child, “What do your parents want the most? For you to be happy, smart, successful, or good?” What would your child say? Most parents simply assume THEIR kids are good. Bad kids belong to other people – right? It is hard to raise a good student, but it is much harder to raise a good person. It is relentless, and requires attention to details. Why do I say this? Because the widely held belief that people are born basically good, and learn to be bad is wrong and dangerous. We are born morally neutral (innocent), but with tendencies towards both good and bad. Since we live in a fallen world, doing wrong comes easy. Goodness has to be cultivated. It takes as much time and effort as learning to master the violin, yet more parents give their children music lessons that goodness lessons.

Feelings Are Overemphasized.
I have observed parents give way more attention to how their child feels, rather than how they behave. If your child is a bully, don’t ask them, “What’s troubling you?” What your child FEELS may be important to you and the child, but the only thing that matters to the other 6 billion people on earth is how they ACT. We have to make our children understand that right actions trump good feelings, and that being upset doesn’t give them license to hurt other people. This runs counter to the almost religiously held belief that self-esteem is one of the most important aspects of making a responsible person. This is laughable. Children are born with nothing but self-esteem. They think the world revolves around their needs and wants – day and night! To be a good person, self-control is more important than self-esteem. Self-esteem has to be tied to good behavior, and it’s never too early to impress this on your child. If not, they grow up to be immature adults who throw tantrums whenever they feel uncomfortable or offended.

Parents Yearn to be Liked Rather Than Respected.
This one is hard. I feel like a complete hypocrite saying this. I’m Mr. “words of affirmation.” But my brain says that in the same way you cannot be an effective leader if you are afraid of being disliked, you cannot be an effective parent if you fear being disliked. This is especially hard for single parents (both men and women). It takes superhuman strength to be both mom and dad. It’s doubly hard to be both mom and dad in a disciplinary sense and still have your kids like you.

An Overemphasis on Micro-Goodness.
We have odd ways of defining what it means to be good, particularly in evangelical Christian circles. Goodness is very often expressed as trite moralisms. For Jesus this was like taking a speck out of someone else’s eye, while you have a plank protruding out of your own eye. It’s self-righteous and hypocritical. Jesus also accused the Pharisees of straining out a gnat, but swallowing a camel. We tend to blend into the culture in so many ways, so in order to be different, attention is focused on the trivial. We teach our kids that it’s okay to be captive to mass consumerism, as long as we don’t watch R-rated movies; it’s acceptable to pursue cozy affluence, as long as we don’t mow our lawn on a Sunday; it’s fine to be indifferent to systematic starvation around the world, as long as we don’t ever drink a beer. My point is that we need to teach our children that there are bigger issues of justice and morality in the world than counting "bad words" in a movie. Of course, this is a judgment call every parent has to wrestle with, I'm just saying that good people understand that the world is bigger than their likes and dislikes and cultural expressions of morality.

The Belief in “Quality Time.”
This is a term we use to rationalize being gone from our kids a lot. I know. I use the term. When it comes to time with children I don’t think quality can be separated from quantity. Do we really think that parents who spend very little time with their kids can bond in an hour? Children open up to adults when they want to, which is usually only after a LOT of “non-quality time.” I know that most “good” homes and families are under enormous stresses and time constraints, so I hope this doesn’t sound too judgmental, but life is full of trade-offs. If you make good money working 60 hours a week, you may be able to buy your kids nice things, but you can only give them so much of yourself. I’m about to make the 2 people who aren’t already mad at me mad at me – the more kids you have, the less attention you can give to each child.

And, One More Thing . . . NEVER humiliate your child – in public or private. There are obvious ways to humiliate a child – ignoring them, telling them to be quiet, laughing at their mistakes, yelling at them in the grocery store, not taking their ideas seriously, and never apologizing when you are wrong. Some parents, out of a sense of pride, tend to treat their children like owned commodities rather than like autonomous human beings. This too, is a form of humiliation.

I’m sure there’s plenty here to agree with or disagree with. I don’t claim to be the authority on parenting, and those of you who are veteran parents may think I’m delusional – but I’m just one outspoken guy with an opinion and a soapbox.


jenn said...

Surprisingly I agree with everything you have mentioned except the section about "Feelings Are Overemphasized." You mention that children are born with self esteem...self esteem has to be tied with good behavior. I disagree. I don't believe that self esteem is "active" in a newborn. Self esteem is something that is learned. I also believe that a baby's cries have nothing to do with selfishness ("they think the world revolves around their needs and wants - day or night")or self esteem. A crying baby is simply communicating a problem or need only because that's the only way of communication known to the child. The baby does not have an understanding of "being first" or a parent saying "hold on a minute."

Furthermore, self esteem is not necessarily tied in to good behavior. I can be a person with a bad behavior but have good self esteem. I could rob the local convenience store or even go kill someone, but that doesn't mean my self esteem is low. I have heard of people that are habitual thieves but they think they are doing nothing wrong, society owes it to them, and they are very proud of who they are and what they do. Now, there may be something psychologically wrong with these people but they have a high self esteem even though they are showing bad behavior.

I believe that the reason so many children are misbehaved is because parents do not show them the attention and love they long for which, in turn, allows the kids to watch things on tv or play games they shouldn't. So many adults think the answer is to make a lot of money and give their kids everything they ask for, when it is exactly the opposite.

Plus, I have watched how parents do not follow through with their "threats." If a parent says, "Do that one more time and you will get a spanking," then give the kid a spanking when he/she does it one more time!!! Follow through!!

I think it is also wrong of a parent (mom) to say, "Wait til your dad comes home..." If dad isn't there when the child misbehaves then dad should not be the punisher. Do not make the other parent the bad parent.

Ok, I could go on and on but I guess I will have to just post another version of "Good Families and Bad Kids" on my blog.

Oh, one more thing..."Honor your father and mother". Even if you had a bad father or mother they still need honoring! That is the only real father or mother you have and regardless of how they did or did not treat you they still deserve honoring in one way or another!!!

Charles North said...

I do think that love is the most important ingredient in raising good children. So, about self-esteem - it's a tough balancing act between affirming your children and disciplining them. I know that self-esteem isn't always tied to good behavior, I was saying it SHOULD be. Good behavior needs to be praised and affirmed, and self-esteem should be built that way.

I knew when I wrote that paragraph about feelings that I was taking on every mother in the world. My last paragraph that said "NEVER humiliate your child" is a clarification of the section on feelings. Ignoring a baby may well be a form of humiliation. Maybe "self-esteem" is the wrong term to describe what a baby has, but as kids grow up, we should teach them patience and humility rather than selfishness. Too many parents make their kids feel like they are at the center of the world.

jenn said...

Thank you for clearing up the part about self esteem being tied to good behavior. I think it's a good post!

A.H. Jordan said...

I don't know Charles - Bill and Deb did pretty much all the things you talked about, and Jeff and I still didn't turn out worth a hoot.

Charles North said...

That's the problem with making theories based on generalizations - people always fall through the cracks.

Ryan said...

Great post. Several thoughts cam to mind as I was reading this. I am about to become a parent for the third time and will comment form that perspective.

1 - Goodness is Not Put First.
This is true. And you get very little support if you try to put goodness first. I make my kids eat their vegetables. Not because I am mean but because I know that it is good for them. This is the same for the moral development of the child. You have to put character first. It took us a long time to get my son to not lie every time he was asked a question. But because we did not give up he now tells the truth even when he gets into trouble.

2 - Feelings Are Overemphasized.
I want to know how my children feel about things but I can't allow that to derail me from doing the right thing.

3 - Parents Yearn to be Liked Rather Than Respected.
You can be their parent or their friend. You decide.

4 - Parents Yearn to be Liked Rather Than Respected.
This one drives me insane because it appears to be the default Christian parenting method. Great for raising legalists.

5 - The Belief in “Quality Time.”
You need to be involved in your child's life as much as you can. All time is quality time.

Charles North said...

Thanks Ryan. To all my readers - Ryan and Kayla just found out that they are having a girl! This is an incredible anomaly in the North family!!! Congratulations.

Denise said...

This was very good, Charles. The only thing I want to add is that your children are your first and most important mission field! Honor God by raising your children to love and honor Him in all that they do!
Thanks! Good post.....d

Kerrie said...

I was leary of commenting on this post because one of the concrete, never to change facts I've learned about raising kids is that the older they get the less absolutes there are. Another way of saying this is I've eaten a lot of words in the last 11 1/2 years.

I started out with so many preconceived ideas from books, friends, and families. The book lasted about 3 months till it went out the window and some of the friend's advice I'm convinced caused permanent sleep problems for one of mine.

Early on I was determined that positive affirmation and "creative" discipline would be the magic potion to create healthy, well adjusted children. Well, that didn't work. Around about the 14 month of his life, I resorted back to good old fashioned discipline with limits, and clear boundaries.

My first was obviously blessed with plenty of self esteem and needed no reinforcement from us! One of my others needed more help in this area. Each of our children are so different so we couldn't approach any of them exactly the same. Thats where lots of prayer and asking for God's guidance is so important.

If you were to ask my children what Mom and Dad expect of them above anything else in this world, I believe they would tell you..."no matter what I do with my life I'm to serve God first".

Another principle that we stay after is their attiude towards authority. They are expected to obey whether they like it or not. Pouting and acting out just gets them in more hot water. Their happiness is not of first importance, but learning to obey with a respectful attitude is.

The other guarantee in life that we teach on a daily basis is that money and things DO NOT bring happiness. They may bring temporary fun and relief but do not provide what God alone can give We are surrounded in our area by wealth (not ours but others) and it is a constant battle with one of mine to impress this on his young mind. "Things" do not fix discontentment, only God can do that!

My children know and will tell you that I make a lot of mistakes. Its a hard thing to begin, but admitting to your children when you mess up(like hollaring and throwing an adult sized tantrum) and asking for forgiveness sets an example that will serve them well in later relationships. Its amazing how forgiving children can be!

Time with my children is a tough one for me now. Honestly I'm tired of being home for the last 11 1/2 years with children under foot. Having a home business is a great distraction but being home with them does not guaranatee that they have my attention. That takes discipline on my part to look for all those teachable moments and not be so distracted that I miss out. One of the things that help my children most is when I share myself with them. They will give me their full attention when I share stories of growing up, the mistakes I made and how I came about making decisions. They remember those examples more than anything else! They love devotional time, book time, game time and Friday night family nights. My advice to myself and anyone else reading is don't miss out on those precious years chasing after the wind:)

Not sure if that qualifies as teaching "goodness" but those are my thoughts.

Charles North said...

Thanks Kerrie. You have wonderful kids and you are a great mom. Whatever you're doing seems to be working. I know there is no "one size fits all" answer, so I just offered up some thoughts. I'm sure there are many more ingredients to making good children.

Kerrie said...

Thank you for the confidence that really means a lot. I guess we'll see in a few years how they turn out as adults. There are no guarantees really no matter what we do. You know Proverbs talks about training up a child in the way he should go...and not departing from it. I'm not sure if this is speaking about parenting or not. It doesn't seem to always hold true does it?

I especially liked what you said about not humiliating our children. I think its so easy to slip into the habbit of complaining about and sharing too much personal info about our kids and that can be humiliating to them. Anyway, This post has been a real reminder to me about my priorities so thank you for taking the time to write.

William is a very lucky little boy to be starting his life off surrounded with such wisdom and incite! Oh, and I can't believe that sweet little fellow is really throwing any tantrums yet:)

William said...

Thanks Kerrie! I don't throw tantrums - mommy and daddy are just uncooperative - that's the problem. Daddy's blog makes me laugh. I think I have the coolest parents ever!

David said...

Hey Charles,
Good post. Sarah and I miss you Holly and William and your blog seems to be a great place to reconnect with other people we miss too like Jenn and Mark.

So about your post.

I confess that I have no kids (though that will likely change in the next year or so) so I am not speaking from any experience whatsoever, but I do think that most of parenting has become child worship. Now I am not saying that we should not love our children that they should not be our main mission field or any of that, but what I am saying is that when most of our parenting consist of taking them to every practice/lesson/extra curricular activity under the sun, when we are caught up in nothing but affirmation with no discipline, and when we let what our child desires or what is best for them inform every parenting decision, I do not know what else to call it but child worship. As you hinted at in your post, a family with worshiping God as their main focus will have different values. All of a sudden training your child in ethics, helping them see God's vision of the world and their place in it, becomes more important. Again, this is more of an overall vision rather than a step by step guide but I've always been better at theology and big picture stuff that's why I consider myself an academic first and a minister second as much as I try to pull off the latter.

David said...

Oh, and yes, I have grammatical errors in my post. I guess its all those years I spent at conservative Harding. Also, I don't read through my blog posts with the same level of scrutiny as I would a paper for Dr. Hamilton!

Charles North said...

Thanks David. I once heard a psychologist on the radio say that most parenting is too "child-centric." At first I thought that was an odd thing to say, but I now see what he meant. It's what you were saying as well.