Saturday, September 6, 2008

Our Society vs Childrearing

I don't want to clutter up the comments here.


So...when raising children, you should use tactics appropriate on the battlefield?

Let me just say that again.

When dealing with the most delicate and harmless beings on the planet, we should treat them the same way we treat people we're brutally trying to kill.

(And now you can see why it's clutter. If nothing else, I'd rather not sidetrack the debate in this direction.)

Yeah, this is why I don't want to have kids. Either Anonymom is right, and we should punish our children's complaints - legitimate or not - in which case I'm simply not cruel enough to want children. Or, she's completely wrong, but the only well-behaved children who my kids will have to interact with are kids who are treated this way, and again, I'm not cruel enough to want to do that to my children.

Of course, her analysis of the results of progressive childrearing is dead on, hence the well-behaved caveat. Again, it's an incredibly cruel thing to do to children.

While I'm on the topic...take a quick glance at this.

So. When doing it to an adult, it's obviously sadistic. But if that adult is smaller, more vulnerable, and helpless, it's not sadistic! Yay!

No. In fact, this is a great algorithm; could I possibly justify doing this to an adult? If not, you can't justify doing it to a child, either. It's cruelty, plain and simple.

Note that this doesn't even need caveats. For instance, diapers. Sure, putting a diaper on an able-bodied adult, or changing that diaper, isn't justifiable. But notice that I had to say 'able-bodied.' No one, including the adult, would (rationally) object if they are not able-bodied.

Similarly, things which an adult will agree to but a child will not - well, you can justify doing it to an adult, now can't you? Insisting on teeth-brushing, for example. Most adults will appreciate the extra insurance in getting it done - if not now, then later. (Any adult who would object to someone making sure they brush their teeth at all is an adult generally accepted to be slightly insane.)

Occasionally we do more for a child than we would a similarly-abled adult, such as dressing a child that technically can do it themselves. The algorithm doesn't work when reversed - doing more for a child that can be justified for an adult is not proscribed, just as if you really want to do my laundry for me, I'm not going to object. This depends, in both my case, and the child's case, on the subject not objecting, as indeed if you're going to override the wishes of any conscious being, you better have a damn good reason. (Making sure you don't become too angry at your child is a very good reason, and can be used to justify enforcing no-whining policies, for instance, in limited situations.)

But, in almost all cases, if it's cruelty to an adult, it's cruelty to a child. And here's a quick check - if the child could fight back, as an adult can, would you still do it? Especially as children have weak moral checks, almost certainly not. It's almost certainly the case that, for instance spanking is used not because there's any compelling reason but just because power corrupts. Adults can, it gets immediate results, (parents are not stupid - if spanking actually promoted violence, they'd notice) and the children certainly can't fight back. The fact that's it fits the definition of torture doesn't enter the equation.

Unless you have actual compunctions against torture, that is. Basically, with such compunction, you find the least painful effective method of reaching the same goal - or you give up the goal as not worth the moral hazard.

Basically, if you have the physical power necessary to spank your child, you don't need to spank them. Spanking is simply a further step on physical restraint.

All of this is compounded because children are, in fact, very delicate. You can, as I hope is obvious, convince a child of nearly anything, especially if you're their parent. For parents, it's so extreme that you could cut off an arm without anaesthetic and force them to eat it raw, and still convince them it was for their own good. ("Your arm-meat enhances virility." The only reason you don't see this exact thing in primitive cultures is that not having an arm is too much of a liability. They'll cut up basically everything else...)

In the case of spanking, if you tell a child it's "For your own good!" enough times, when they grow up they'll believe it was for their own good. Also, the idea that it's not for their own good will cause a significant amount of pain - as the idea that the spanking is not justified leads to disobedience which leads to spanking, which leads to an indelible association between the idea and pain.

More dubiously, this kind of torture may cause significant cognitive dissonance. In a natural state, it's dead obvious that if someone has the power to spank you against your will, then their is no need for them to do so. (And if they're letting themselves be spanked - again, there's no need. Just use that psychological power to stop the behavior.) To spare the child the horror of knowing they have 15+ years left with this monster, they let themselves be convinced that it is in some ineffable way justified.

Having gone through the opposite - I was truth loving even when very small - I can state with conviction that realizing I had 12 more grades stuck with some of the most monstrous 'humans' on the planet was not preferable to the illusion. The stress of the situation simply adds to the stress of knowing you can't end it.

The fact is, wrong is wrong is wrong. If imposing your will on another concious being is wrong, it's always wrong. The age of the being is but one irrelevant variable. Physical aggression is always wrong except in self defense. Spanking for punishment is always wrong.

My mother, despite her many faults, did not ever punish me for whining. Did she get a lot of whining? Not in her book. In fact, I was told I was a good kid not just by her but by everyone with such reliability that I got bored of it and stopped paying attention.

If your children whine, it's not because you're punishing them insufficiently for it. It's because you're doing something very very wrong. If they're having a tantrum, nine times out of ten it's becuase you provoked a tantrum.

However, none of this contradicts this little fact. If they're defying's because you let them. The tenth time they have a tantrum is because you let the tantrum work, so they decided to try again.
"And so they are sweet and compliant, as long as everyone knows who is really in charge. "
Your children should never be confused about who's in charge - you. This is a physical fact which you cannot change. If your five year old says, "NO! I don't wanna go in the car!" Assuming you've done your 'if it was an adult' due diligence...don't argue with them. Just pick them up, and put them in the car, and lock the doors so they can't get out. No need to let them upset you, or work overly hard to convince them. Just pick them up, and put them in the car. Poof. Problem solved.

If they're hitting their playmate...tell them to stop. If they don't, then pick them up, and take them out of range. If they can't not hit, then they can't play. Simple as that.

Pretending otherwise is the flaw that breaks progressive childrearing. If the child demands something, then the algorithm applies - if an adult arbitrarily demands something from you, do you give it to them? Why on earth would you accede when they're smaller and incapable of hurting you? Even research has shown that even children prefer knowing an adult is in charge. Again, from my own experience, knowing that my parents were kind of useless - that if I had a problem, basically it was up to me to fix it - was not a fun thing to know.

Something else from the cognitive dissonance camp; the relationship people wanted with their parents is the one they demand from the state. Coincidence? Probably not. It could be that this is an example of unsatisfied needs getting ossified and being brought forward into adulthood. Again, from my own experience, I was allowed to indulge my hyper-materialism as a child, and so I got over it, and I now live without a car, air conditioning, cable TV, or very much in the way of decoration. My need to be supplied with stuff was satisfied, and so the need went away. (For actual parents; you don't have to give in to every little desire, as obviously children will always ask for more, often even if they're already sated. Just figure out what a 'lot' is and satisfy a lot of their materialism. As always, this doesn't work for all children - they have to be like me in some sense.)

Now, with teenagers, obviously this physical dominance is fading. However, if you really had no control over your child...then forbidding anything would never work. But it does. In fact, I was constantly surprised at how effective parental edicts were. (Or teacher edicts, or state edicts...)

For example, the punishment "Go to your room!" (I was sent to my room a grand total of once, and it was for breaking a sensible rule I knew about beforehand. I was seven or so.) So, if you actually didn't have the power to fix their problem behavior...that psychological leverage...would they actually go to their room? That is, without you physically hauling them there? Would they in fact stay in the room (or in the 'time out' spot) for the full duration, or just until you weren't looking?

No, if you have the power to punish them at all, then you have the power to stop them from doing anything they need to be punished for in the first place. (Mostly.)

It's actually the rare exception for most kids to do anything but exactly what they're told. There is some testing of limits of course - which is when you need to let them know that you're in charge, because that's exactly what they're trying to ask. Similarly, children forget or make poor judgement calls. ("I can totally keep the ball away from the lamp...") However, for most kids, obedience is the rule.

I don't know how this works exactly, but it does. Just as your ability to easily pick up a child is waning, the ability to get them to understand, remember, and carry out your directives is waxing.

So, don't be a wuss - use that power to make your kids behave. Don't be a terrorist - if you have to punish, it's because you're weak or you failed. (Mostly. Again, use your judgement - I obviously haven't reviewed every single situation, and so maybe your particular instance is an exception.) Do be firm to unyielding, do allow yourself your comfort, do take responsibility for being a parent to your child - not their equal.

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