Rarely, the Internet makes me cross enough to blog. This is one of those times.
Somebody posted a link to an article offering “parenting” advice. I won’t link here, because I don’t want to feed it. The advice in a nutshell was: “Ask once, then come down like a tonne of bricks”:
My mom just asked me to take the trash out. What are my risks versus my rewards of obeying?
Well, if I do it right away, my mom will smile and tell me thank you. She’ll probably let me go back to my show because I got up right away.
If I don’t do it right away, my mom will take away my TV privileges for the rest of the day, no questions asked. I won’t get a warning, I won’t get a reminder. Whatever I was doing when I refused to follow instructions will be the thing I lose all day.
I could throw a fit about that, but then she’ll take away a toy. Probably my Legos.
Sounds great, eh?
I’m no hippy parent. I believe that the parents are ultimately in charge, that the default choice should be kids do as they’re told, and that they should damn well do their chores and stay in bed once you’ve put them there.
However, I’ll have no truck with what I call Authority Parenting in general, and this approach in particular. Here’s why.
As a parent, you are also a role model. What you do demonstrates or models appropriate behaviour.
If you go in for Authority Parenting, then you are teaching your kids that it’s OK for somebody in authority to be bully, that you shouldn’t stand up to parent figures. It’s how emotional doormats and abusive spouses are made, and where cannon fodder employees and toxic bosses come from. None of these people are happy in life, and few of them are very likeable. Many develop mental health problems. Some end up in jail.
But wait, it gets worse.
In this particular example, you are teaching your child not to invest in any activity because it will (a) be randomly interrupted, and (b) be used against them. The only rational response is to watch short trashy cartoons, to play shallow video games, and never to really settle down to anything.
The irony is that though the parent may think they are teaching the child discipline, they are in fact preventing them from learning mental discipline. The professional future belongs to those who can do Deep Work, meaning become absorbed by an activity for hours on end.
“Oh”, you cry, “but Activity X is worthless!”
Well perhaps that’s your fault. Have you effectively punished doing worthwhile things? Or, so limited the budget that only trash is available to play or consume?
More likely, have you failed to engage with your child to understand its depth?
Some of my daughter’s favourite Youtube performers are like young Garrison Keillors, spinning vignettes from their lives that, in earlier times, would have seen print and literary acclaim. It’s how she’s found her own voice to talk about the things she loves. My son’s computer games are either horribly complicated strategy simulators that teach him about economics and project planning, or else fierce shoot-em-ups requiring 3D thinking, cooperation with strangers, and tactics on the fly.
So what am I saying you should do?
Nothing different… nothing different from what you’d do with an adult. In other words, your first approach should be to model adult behaviour:
Me: (Knocks on door, waits to be invited in) Hey, Morgenstern, can you pause your show?
Morgenstern (10): (Sighs. Pauses show)
Me: How long as your show got to run?
Morgenstern: Four minutes.
Me: OK when it’s done will you please gather up the cups from around the house and bring them to the kitchen?
Morgenstern: OK Dad.
And she does it. Seriously, this works.
Oh, had the show had 20 minutes to run, I would have said, “Can you stop at a convenient moment and…” If it had been a movie and I’d walked in at a dramatic moment, I’d have bowed out unless I knew she’d watched it before. And if the chore had been actually urgent, I would have gone, “Sorry to interrupt. But I need you to help me right now.”
What if they don’t do it? Well generally they do. But if they don’t, that’s when you firmly interrupt and have the task done Right Now. Those sorts of interruptions are usually annoying enough that they’ll do as they’re told next time.
On the other hand…
Go ahead ignore my advice. No reason.