Parenting theories come in waves, like fashion trends, and if any of the following applies to your relationship with your child, you may be missing the movement back to disciplinary basics.
When your child doesn't like the dinner you've planned, do you say pleading things like, "There's cold turkey in the icebox. Can I fix you a sandwich?" Do you cave in and buy designer labels when you hadn't intended to?
Do you watch the television program your child selects rather than the one you prefer?
Do you feel nervous tension before you have to confront your child the same as before you have to confront your supervisor?
When your child misses curfew, do you change the curfew? How often when you've caught him cold turkey does he get to cop a plea?
Or, as Fred Gosman so engagingly sums up the problem, "If a telemarketer called your home and asked to speak to the head of the household, would you - if you were honest - have to hand the telephone to your child?"
Gosman is not a family therapist or a cultural theorist. He is, he says, "a father with a receding hairline" who has written a book called "Spoiled Rotten," published by Bashford and O'Neill, $17.95, (414) 524-5005, about the need for firm consequences and high expectations to correct our underachieving, misbehaving, bratty kids. We're crippling them with kindness, says Gosman; they should be on pedals, not pedestals. We give second chances endlessly. Nobody wants to be the bad guy and say no.
"We defer to our children. `What restaurant do you want to go to?' `What movie do you want to see?' We try to make their existence pain-free, instead of teaching them to cope. Discipline's a dirty word. I honestly feel there are millions of people out there who are tired of their kids running their households," says Gosman.
If the sales of the book are a barometer of public feeling, Gosman's right; he's speaking for the oppressed majority. "Spoiled Rotten" sold out of its first printing of 3,000 books in nine weeks, and Gosman has a sheaf of press clippings by family page writers who sense his plain-spoken message is timely. Here's some of it:
Question: Where'd you get the idea for the book?
Answer: I've got two boys, 11 and 15. When my oldest was in the sixth grade, he came home with stories about kids dancing on desks in the classroom. I figured he was exaggerating. I figured the educators were on top of it. Then I go to a parents' meeting, and I find out it's true, and I find out that all the other parents have been hearing the same stories, but they were afraid to speak up.
We were spending millions of dollars on schools, and there was so much time spent controlling misbehaving that no one was being educated. I headed up this parents' committee, and we decided we wanted consequences - not sympathy.
You know national test scores have declined. How is that possible with what we spend on education? We are producing a nation of underachievers. We tell them, "That's good. You tried a little. You get an 'A.' "
Used to be, if you were a "C" reader, you got a "C." And you didn't drop out of school because of it. You worked and maybe raised the grade to a "B." And, boy, did you feel good!
Q: Why have parents spoiled their kids?
A: Well, I'm not a psychologist, but I think there are different reasons. Some of the problem is this craving to be empathetic, to understand your child, to be a friend.
Popularity is for teens, not for parents. People do so much for their children, and yet if they have to withdraw one privilege, they're shattered.
We can't even say "no" to kids going through the grocery checkout lanes. We have to get store managers to put in no-candy lanes and do our dirty work for us. Why can't we just tell our children "no"?
Q: That's what I was going to ask you.
A: As I said, part of the failure stems from our wanting to be sympathetic, part of it from the need to be loved. You know, it used to be a basic of Parenting 101 that if a kid did something wrong, he was going to get a consequence.
That does not mean that a parent has to be unduly strict. Some houses may have liberal curfews. Some parents may impose a penalty for not carrying out the garbage; some may have other chores they deem more important. Discipline is individualized, but - do it.
Q: What's the worst thing a parent can do, as far as disciplining is concerned?
A: Make a consequence and not follow through. Negotiation. Appeasement.
Kids should not have an inalienable right to filibuster. At some point, you have to say, "The subject is closed. If you mention it again, you get 14 days without the car instead of seven."
Q: What are some indications that a child is spoiled rotten?
A: If they view treats as entitlements.
If they know you rarely follow through with consequences for bad behavior.
If they are not expected to occasionally help pay for expensive items like Nintendos and designer clothes.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service