- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

My recent series, “I’m ready for the 1960s to be over and done with,” set off nervequakes in some readers. My theme was American parenting began its continuing downhill slide in that dumbest and most deconstructive of decades. (For those of you who missed it, the entire series is still available at www.rosemond.com.)

One fellow, obviously intent upon lowering my self-esteem, speculates that I either have yet to emerge from the Stone Age or just crawled out of the bomb shelter my parents stuffed me into in 1959. He refers specifically to my contention that children should not be allowed to express feelings freely. He writes, sarcastically, “Like love, maybe?”

Well, since he mentioned it, yes, children should not even be allowed to express feelings of love freely. The problem with this fellow’s thinking is the problem in contemporary American parenting. He implies that children should be allowed to do what adults are not. In so doing, he inadvertently nails the problem. That very “child-centered” philosophy is the prime reason for the general degradation of parental discipline and therefore child behavior since the 1950s.

Once upon a time, when a child of even toddler stage did something rude or anti-social, he was told, in no uncertain terms, to stop, be quiet, apologize, give it back, leave the area or whatever was appropriate to the situation. Silly attempts to reason — as in “You’re making bad choices” — were not a feature of the Stone Age parent’s vocabulary. In this way, children learned, early on, to control the expression of certain behaviors and feelings in certain situations. That is how, by the way, a child is socialized, and it is in a child’s best interest to be sensitized to social norms as early as possible.

Take love, for example. If it is inappropriate for an adult to blurt out “I love you!” whenever the feeling strikes, then I submit it is inappropriate for a child of a certain age and in certain situations to do so as well. In both cases, the spontaneous expression of feeling may cause the individual who is the object of said emotion to feel very uncomfortable.

Let’s use some common sense (a Stone Age trait) at this point. It is cute for a 3-year-old boy to blurt this out to a female playmate. It is not necessarily cute when an 8-year-old boy does the same thing. Somewhere between the two ages, children need to be told that expressing spontaneous love to someone outside of one’s immediate family is to be done only after great forethought and always with prudence (a Stone Age virtue). Besides, in today’s paranoid school system, expressing love toward a classmate may result in reassignment to a third-grade re-education camp somewhere in the Mojave Desert.

The same (sans the re-education camp) applies to the expression of any emotion. The lack of emotional self-control is uncivilized. The exercise of same is civilized. Therefore, I am arguing for nothing more radical than the restoration of civility to child rearing.

As I write this, in an airport waiting area, a mother is following her toddler as he runs up and down the rows of occupied seats, yelling incoherently, causing a general disturbance. Mom is smiling, as if she thinks this is cute. No doubt she would agree with my critic. Her child wants to run and yell in a public area; therefore, he should be allowed to run and yell (and she should run grinning after him, doubling the disturbance).

I’m certain the Stone Age mother would have removed her child from the area, insisted that he calm down and taught him to sit quietly with her. And everyone, including her child, would have benefited from her repressive, draconian attitude.

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

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