May 16, 2012

Do Kids Really Need to be "Toughened Up" for the Real World?

Some parents believe that their children should be treated with the use of punitive power in order to prepare them for the "real world".

This belief leans toward the idea that in the crass adult world, kids need to be "toughened up" in their childhood in order to survive as grown-ups. Those who belong to this school of thought believe that this tough love should be shown in form of punishment and the use of punitive, parental power. 

Here's why this theory is amiss:

Let's start with the general idea that parents want their children to grow up to become responsible, capable adults. They raise their children to show them the differences between "right and wrong" and the skills needed to fulfill their basic needs. Growing up, children learn a language for communicating with others, how to use numbers, how to drive, etc. Very few of these children take a course that teaches how to communicate effectively with others in order to get their needs met, especially during times of conflict. They learn how to talk with people and how to problem solve by mimicking what their parents do. After all, "modeling" is the most powerful way to teach anyone, anything.

In a world where most of us grow up with the use of punishment and parental superiority, it's no wonder that the "real world" we are planted in is so tough. Imagine millions of crying, whining adults scolding each other, telling each other what to do, striking out in anger and stepping on the heads of others; all of this in attempt to get some need met. The inadequacy of trying to solve problems this way is monumental.

Let's delve deeper into the mind of a child raised this way. What happens to the human psyche when our needs are met with threats, commands, blame, judgement and name-calling (just to name a few)?

These common reactions to children produce a countless number of side-effects. When a child begins to fear a parent, they are also hearing a threat of getting hurt by someone bigger and stronger than they are. While the power might work to modify the child's behavior for the moment, the child will almost ALWAYS fester resentment, which will trigger hostile responses in the future. Alternatively, this may cause a child to become submissive and fearful. 

Parents' use of demanding or ordering their children to do something communicate to the child that the parent does not have faith in the child's own judgement or capability. Patterns like this create reluctance in decision-making and an inability to problem-solve on their own, simply because they haven't been given the chance to practice using their own judgement. The common thought here would be, "I always do it wrong so why try?"

Criticizing and name-calling have some of the worst effects on children. Dr. Thomas Gordon wrote, "A child's self-concept gets shaped by parental judgement and evaluation. As the parent judges the child, so will the child judge himself." Like adults, children will respond with defensiveness even in cases disguised as "constructive criticism." In order to protect their own self image, children can become very hostile in the face of blame, ridicule and disagreement.

Stepping out from behind the microscope, we know how and why punitive parenting causes hostile and apprehensive adults. The failure of many marriages, business partnerships and friendships can be found as a result of "how you were raised" versus "how he/she was raised." It's important to know that the true test of a relationship isn't how many conflicts occur, but rather, how each conflict is handled. Gordon said conflict to be the "true test of a relationship."

When one learns how to deal with their own feelings AND the intense feelings of others, while accomplishing the common goal of each person getting what they need WITHOUT having to compromise, our work here is done.
 By now, you might be wondering: "How can I do that?!" Well, ahem, there are half a dozen books that can explain it all! Check out the work of Dr. Thomas Gordon and Linda Adams here.

And as always, let us know what you think.

written by: Selena George

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