I was fresh out of grad school when psychologists and other mental health types began recommending that when speaking to a child, an adult should squat down to eye level with said child. Supposedly, this submissive posture is a means of demonstrating respect for the child while, at the same time, avoiding any implication that the child must pay attention and obey because the adult is bigger.
Was this recommendation based on evidence that when adults spoke to children from an upright position, said children felt disrespected, humiliated, and intimidated? Of course not! Has said research since been done? Of course not! As is typical of professional parenting advice, this recommendation was snatched out of thin air. Do mental health types continue to recommend the equal-opportunity squat? Of course!
Around this same time, the most influential parenting pundits in the mental health professions were promoting the democratic family — a family in which there is no effective distinction between parents and children, no clear source of authority. In this utopian family, children are given an equal voice when it comes to family decisions (restaurants, vacations, thermostat settings, and so on), and disagreement between parent and child is negotiated until a win-win outcome is achieved. Oh grand! The only problem with this postmodern scheme, which no one seemed to notice, is that the person who determines when a win-win outcome is achieved is the child. If parents end the discussion, the outcome is not democratic.
The democratic family hasn’t quite worked out. You may have noticed that in many families where parents do the equal-opportunity squat and negotiate with children, the result is tyranny. Need I identify the tyrant? In said families, the parents are afraid of upsetting the tyrants because they want the tyrants to like them. One can readily identify parents who value their children’s approval; to wit, they do not tell their children to do anything. They merely suggest, as evidenced by the fact that every “instruction” ends with the question, “OK?”
Circling back to the supposed need for parents to respect their children, the begging question becomes, “What proof exists of a child’s need for adult respect?” The answer: Not a shred. Sixty years ago, before parents began listening to mental health types tell them how to properly raise children, parents did not claim to respect their children, yet child mental health was far, far better than it is today. Children need unconditional love and unequivocal authority. They do not need, nor have they earned, respect. This is a new idea, and as is the case with most of the new ideas concerning children that have emanated from the mental health professional community over the past 50 years, this new idea is yet another wrong and worthless idea.
But ideas, right and wrong, have consequences. In the case of wrong and worthless childrearing ideas, the consequence is a plethora of parents who are confused, anxious, stressed, and guilt-ridden. They squat, negotiate, make only suggestions that end in “OK?” and try their best to demonstrate their respect for their children.
Unfortunately, their children do not return the courtesy.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.