One of the more unfortunate consequences of relying on advice from mental health “experts” concerning parenting matters has been a one-dimensional understanding of child discipline. Because of the infiltration of psychological theory into childrearing, most parents conceive of discipline as being all about correcting behavior. Indeed, a child’s behavior requires correction, but raising a child out of the inferiority of childhood into a state of authentic adulthood requires discipline of a child’s thinking and emotions as well. Take it from a recovering graduate student, one is not taught that in psychology school.
Just as children must learn to behave correctly, they must also learn to think and emote correctly. Contrary to contemporary psychological propaganda, not all feelings are valid or deserving of exploration. “I have a right to feel like I do” is correct, but the pressing question is, does one have a “right” to indiscriminately inflict his feelings on other people? No, he does not, and children should be taught that most feelings are private matters and should remain as such.
Feelings make us human, and it is fine for person to express certain feelings in certain contexts with certain other people. But feelings are not, in and of themselves, good things. Undisciplined emotion is potentially destructive to self and others.
Fifty or so years ago, the profession of psychology decided — without evidence, as usual — that understanding children required deciphering their feelings. In short order, good parenting became defined as the ability to understand and properly respond to a child’s emotional output. Parents began talking to their children about their feelings and treating any feeling a child had as worthy of attention and validation.
And so, children began expressing more feelings, which goes a long way toward explaining why child mental health today is ten times worse than it was when there was little parent-child discussion of feelings and parents had no problem telling a child that certain feelings he was having were immature and unwarranted and that he needed to get a grip.
If left to his congenital emotional inclinations — impulsivity and exaggeration, predominately — a child begins to view the world as a drama and becomes a drama factory. He believes that a life without soap opera is a life without meaning. That belief system puts said child at great risk. It should not be encouraged.
Unfortunately, some adults, as well-meaning as they may be, encourage it by engaging children in conversation about it.
Twice recently parents have told me of pre-teen children whose emotional control went down the proverbial tubes shortly after beginning to see therapists.
In both cases, the therapists were talking to the kids about — yep — their feelings.
In one case, a pre-teen girl began cutting. In another, a pre-teen boy began having full-blown temper tantrums when life didn’t conform to his immature standards.
The good news: In both cases, when the parents put an end to the therapy, confiscated the kids’ phones, and told them that limited reinstatement (phones that would call and text only) would depend on them showing immediate and significant evidence of accelerating maturity, the children began repressing their feelings (horrors!) and acting again like reasonably well-adjusted pre-adolescents.
Proving that in the final analysis, straightforward truth is the best therapy of all.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.