Opinion: Parent traps

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Every parenting expert, including a few who became expert just by being good parents, will tell you that the best way to raise successful and well-adjusted children is through generous use of shame, manipulation and fear to get them to fall in line. Always make sure to include countless inconsistent and evolving directions and, if they resist or question absolute authority, label them stupid, or worse, and tell them that they deserve for bad things to happen to them. Plus, make it clear that adults are infallible and entirely devoid of self-interest.   

Not so much. Today, beating our kids into cooperation is more likely to get one arrested than awarded the gold star for childrearing. Happily, since Attila the Hun’s parents launched him into the world, most of us have figured out that a lighter hand produces a superior result. Belittling and demeaning supervision may work in the short-term but rarely produces more than resentment and hostility in the long-term. Still, it frustrates to answer their constant questions. “Just do it because I said so, or else!” is the endgame of one unwilling or unable to back up their edicts. Some is good. Most parents work to keep the kids safe and on course. Some is not so good. Others just want the kids to believe like they do. Dissent is not tolerated, and any method to enforce the orthodoxy is acceptable and warranted.    

Yet, how do we expect parents to behave? Do we Americans continue to value civil discourse as the primary mechanism to move political agreement, or has our general ethos leaned into shame, threat and finger-wagging as the go-to way to “force those idiots” to agree with us? If America becomes a bad parent to our youth, how will these generations emerge – fearful and submissive or resentful and angry?


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