This is the second in a series on “parent-babble,” as in the same-old, same-old nonsense the mental health industry has been passing off as sound parenting advice since the late 1960s.
Last week, I skewered an online article by mindfulness parenting coach Hunter Clarke-Fields in which she references psychologist Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center, to support her claim — which she further claims is shared by “many researchers” — that punishment causes all manner of mental, emotional and behavioral harm to children.
In the late 1960s, psychologists began beating the “punishment is bad” drum and they’ve been beating it since. To conceal their complicity in the post-1960s decline in child mental health and concurrent rise of behavior problems that were rare exceptions when I was a kid (e.g. belligerent defiance and tantrums in children older than 3), they alter their terminology every few years. So, for example, what is now “mindfulness” parenting was called “democratic” parenting in 1970, and what defined a brat in 1970 now defines a disorder that calls for brain-altering medication.
Clarke-Fields claims that “many researchers” (meaning any number greater than three) have discovered that punishment for misbehavior causes children to (a) harbor long-term resentment toward their parents, thus damaging the parent-child relationship, (b) develop all sorts of psychological problems (this is especially true, according to the “experts” HCF consulted, concerning spanking and being yelled at), (c) become self-centered and lack empathy for others, and (d) lack an “inner moral compass.” YIKES! I ask the reader: Can it get any worse?
Clarke-Fields does what psychologists and other mental health professionals have been doing for 50-plus years: She invents psychological boogeymen, cutting them from whole cloth, which she then inflicts upon the unfortunate parents who read her mindful babble.
Are there people with doctorates in psychology who teach at prestigious universities like Yale who actually believe that punishment for misbehavior will wreak unholy havoc on a child’s mental health, dooming him to life in a refrigerator box under an overpass or in solitary confinement? Yes, Virginia, there are. Do the doctors in question qualify as “researchers”? Not unless anyone with a Ph.D. and an opinion is a researcher. Let me assure the reader that the research in question is about as shoddy and non-objective as shoddy and non-objective gets.
But lest I stand accused of simply having an opinion, over the course of the last 40-plus years as a “parenting expert,” I’ve privately asked hundreds of adults two questions: As a child, were you punished when you misbehaved? and Do you believe that as a direct consequence of said punishment you suffer some mental or emotional problem? I’ve yet to find a person who was not punished for misbehaving. Nor have I found someone who reports that being punished caused psychological harm. “I sometimes thought it was unfair” is about as bad as it gets. Mind you, I disqualify anyone who reports having been repeatedly abused as a child, but they are relatively few. Lest I be accused of hypocrisy, I freely admit that my poll does not qualify as science; nonetheless, the consistency of its results is a slam-dunk to the disingenuous notion that punishing a child for misbehavior is equivalent to abusing the child.
The mental health professions have embraced the postmodern notion that with enough of the right sort of social engineering, it will be possible for the engineers (themselves, mostly) to create utopia. The logical place to begin the engineering in question, should it ever come about, is with how children are raised. Expanding the definition of child abuse to include what is currently regarded as necessary to a child’s best interests would be a shrewd strategy, indeed.
If you think this is just a war of opinions of whether to punish or not to punish, think again. There’s a lot at stake here.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.