This is the second in a series loosely titled “I Don’t Know About You, But I’m Ready for the 1960s to be Over and Done With,” in which I lament the destructive effect of that decade on American child rearing – since known as parenting.
Last week’s column concerned the corrosive idea that children should be allowed to express their feelings freely, which all too many of today’s kids obviously believe is their prerogative. If you missed it, and you’re interested, go to my Web site at www.rosemond.com (http://www.rosemond.com/) and click “Weekly Column.”
The 1960s were marked by several assassinations, the war in Vietnam, recreational drugs, ersatz peace and love, and a plague, still with us, of general stupidity when it came to children. A prime example of the latter is the notion that parents should not answer challenges to their authority with “Because I said so.” The new parent-babblers – mental health professionals, mostly – maintained that those four words insult a child’s intelligence, damage self-esteem, stifle curiosity, engender feelings of insignificance and powerlessness, and send the message that might makes right.
The upshot of this nonsense was that parents began explaining themselves to their children. These explanations lead almost inevitably to arguments. The arguments lead to frustration, resentment, yelling, guilt, stress, anger, and other symptoms of family dysfunction. What’s that old saying about good intentions?
As did most members of my generation, I heard the four words in question as a child. I heard them fairly often in fact. I did not like them, but neither did I suffer from “Because-I-Said-So-Induced Trauma to Mental and Emotional Capacity.” I just didn’t like them, but then children do not like lots of things that are in their best interest.
“Because I said so” is a simple, declarative statement of leadership, of authority. Leadership is primarily a matter of decisiveness, and effective leaders (as opposed to politicians) do not often justify their decisions to the people they are charged with leading. In justifying an executive decision, the executive begins to sound less than completely confident in the direction he is taking.
Effective leaders act like they know what they are doing. “Because I said so” is simply part of the act – an important part, no less. It also keeps things simple for those being led. They do not have to know what the leader knows; they simply have to trust. So, as regards to children, those much-maligned four words are an economical way of saying “At this point in your life, you are incapable of understanding how I make decisions. Explanations, therefore, are superfluous to your happiness. For now, all you need to do is trust me. I’m taking care of business for you. Isn’t that great?”
“But John,” a reader might well reply, “if a child asks a question, doesn’t the child deserve an answer?”
Yes, but “Why?!” and “Why not?!” – in belligerent response to parental decisions – are not questions. They are challenges to parental authority. If they were genuine questions, children would listen respectfully and at least occasionally agree. Instead, they interrupt and begin arguing, and not some of the time, but all of the time.
Which is to say, there is no such thing as an argumentative child. There are only parents who are not comfortable with their authority and cannot bring themselves, therefore, to say “Because I said so.”
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site at www.rosemond.com.