Because I said so
Why kids not only have a right to know why there are rules, they need to know. A lesson in Humanistic Parenting.
I am a Humanist parent. Recently I read an essay by Jon Rosemond, a parenting expert, who was talking about how important it is for a parent to say, “because I said so” to a child. His reasoning is that kids need to learn to respect authority because in the real world, they are going to need to obey authority. Also, he thinks kids aren’t capable of understanding an adult’s reasoning so there is no point in sharing your reasoning with a child.
He’s wrong on both counts.
First, while having an obedient child sounds wonderful, in reality, it’s terrifying. Obedient kids do whatever anyone tells them to do. They never learn how to say no or how to think through moral dilemmas on their own and as a result, they not only get into trouble as adults, they are a constant source of heartache for the parent because they now know they have to continuously provide guidance to their child through adulthood.
If we were to apply critical thinking to the problem we might ask ourselves WHY having an obedient child seems like a good idea in the first place. The answer is that we want a well behaved child. Having a well behaved child and having an obedient child are two entirely different things. Out of the two, I would prefer the well behaved child.
Why, because they are a child who behaves properly without having to be nudged, reminded or scolded. They have developed the necessary thinking skills to self-regulate their own behavior and they have the ability to also choose their behavior to fit the situation they find themselves in. This sort of child sounds absolutely heavenly.
But there is more that I want for my child. I want my child to know when to say no and when to stand alone. Like perhaps when he is offered drugs or encouraged to join a cult. Those are times when it would be REALLY nice if he had the skills, courage and ability to think for himself so that he could make a good decision for himself.
If I set out to make my child obedient, I am not teaching him the skills he needs to be independent. I am teaching him instead to be dependent on authority. And that thought horrifies me. This alone is reason enough to do the extra work required to explain my reasoning to my child and to allow him to challenge me. My feeling is that if I can’t run circles around my 7 year old intellectually and he is able to win a debate, more power to him.
The second reason why I think Rosemond was wrong is when he stated that a child can’t understand your reasoning so why bother. I’m sure there are some kids who are unable to grasp basic reasoning, but certainly that doesn’t apply to all kids. Every child is different and are capable of reasoning at different ages, but if you don’t test them out to see if they are capable of understanding the reasons why you have issued certain rules, like how important it is to hold on your hand in a parking lot or whenever there are cars about, then how will you know when that blessed moment of cognitive functioning has arrived?
Here’s my thinking on this. If my child doesn’t understand my reasons, my willingness to expound at length upon the reasons why a certain rule is in place means that I will win the debate by virtue of outlasting him and boring him into compliance. If it turns out that he can understand my reasoning, then he will grow in his understanding. Either way, he will end up complying voluntarily with my rule and that is so much better and less stressful for both of us than me enforcing compliance through threats of some sort of non-violent consequence should he fail to obey.
What I can’t understand is why anyone would think the obedience way is better. I mean think about it. Which sounds easier and more pleasant? Going through the stress of arguing with a defiant child, removing privileges that negatively impact you as much as they do the child, and providing consequences of some sort? Or …. Enjoying a playful reasoned discussion/debate with your child with the end result being that they choose voluntary compliance with your rules?
Yeah – I’m choosing the playful reasoned discussion which results in a well behaved child who voluntarily complies with my requests and who has learned that arguing with me, while fun, is ultimately rather pointless because 9 times out of 10, I win.
So, tell me fellow Humanist parents, how do you feel about the obedience vs. reason debate?