- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dilemma of the week: A mom recently told me her daughter’s first piano recital had been scheduled for the same weekend as her college football team’s bowl game. She got Granny to go to the recital, and she and her husband went to the bowl game. Granny disapproved of the parents’ decision, but stood in for them anyway. Mom asks, “Did I do the right thing?”

In the interest of full disclosure, I am obligated to tell the reader I would rather watch a faucet drip than go to a football game. Or a basketball, hockey or baseball game for that matter. I liberated myself from any interest in sports many years ago, and I am a happier camper as a result. Notwithstanding my cultural heresy, I approve the parents’ decision.

If the child was disappointed, so be it. Into every life, some disappointment must fall. Furthermore, everyone needs to learn that it’s not all about them, and the earlier that’s learned, the better. Let’s face it folks, a first piano recital is not in the same class as a bar mitzvah or a tonsillectomy. Besides, it may well be that the girl performed better knowing her parents were not watching. And I’m absolutely certain the parents had a better time at the football game, even if their team lost.

(At this point, my editor compels me to also disclose that I’d rather go to a football game than to a child’s piano recital.)

Question of the week: The mother of a preschool boy asks whether and how she should discipline him when he is suffering one of his recurrent ear infections. The youngster is generally well-behaved, but is “bad” when he’s in aural discomfort.

My general rule is that if a child is not sick enough to be confined to bed, then normal behavioral expectations and, therefore, normal discipline should prevail. On the other hand, if a child’s physical discomfort does not require bed rest, but causes his behavior to slide downhill, then he ought to be put to bed, thus reducing, if not eliminating, the need for discipline.

Research findings of the week: The Onion, a satirical news publication, reports on a recent “study” allegedly published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. While the article, the study and the expert quoted sprang from the creative minds of the Onion’s staffers, there is a grain of truth to the tongue-in-cheek piece, which concludes that 98 percent of children younger than 10 are unrepentant sociopaths who are incapable of empathy, genuine remorse and who will do anything to get their own way.

The article then quotes “Dr. Leonard Mateo,” allegedly a developmental psychologist at the University of Minnesota and lead author of the study, saying, “It’s as if they have no concept of anyone but themselves.”

Using the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, a reputable clinical tool, Mateo and his colleagues supposedly found that 684 of the 700 children enrolled in the study exhibited such sociopathic characteristics as superficial charm, pathological lying, manipulative behaviors (e.g. whining and tantrums), and a grandiose sense of self.

“The depths of depravity that these tiny psychopaths are capable of reaching are really quite chilling,” commented the good “Dr. Mateo.”

Of special interest to me was the “study’s” finding that although any adult is capable of falling for a child’s pathological scheming, grandparents are especially susceptible. Much to our chagrin, my wife and I immediately recognized ourselves and resolve to never again enable our seven grandkids’ anti-social tendencies. To quote the inimitable Pete Townshend, we “won’t get fooled again!”

c Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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