There’s so many ways to raise kids, some better than others. Parenting is very different now than even one generation ago.
We used to rely on the wisdom of our families and community. Now, our community is global – and it means that we have access to an inordinate amount of knowledge. Some of it wise, and some of it less so.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter what decision we make, there’s always someone who’ll try to argue about it.
Everything about parenting is contentious, these days. Breast feeding or formula feeding? Co sleeping or separate rooms? Cloth or disposable nappies? Vaccinate or not? Daycare or not? Public or private school (or home-school, or un-school)?
And one of the biggest battles is discipline.
How do we discipline our kids? Do we discipline them at all? Do we use rewards and punishments, and if so, which ones?
Some methods are archaic, in my opinion. Like spanking. Thankfully, spanking is on it’s way out.
Now I know that “spanking” can encompass many different things, and I’m not suggesting that a whack on the butt is the same as a punch to the face.
But, spanking isn’t as socially acceptable as it used to be.
We’re realising that spanking elicits fear and powerlessness in kids, and those feelings can lead to major problems. Psychological problems, like aggression, alcohol abuse, depression, eating disorders, and bullying. Or physical problems resulting from chronic stress, like cardiovascular disease, lowered immunity, and digestive issues.
People who advocate spanking often use the defense “But I was spanked, and I turned out ok”.
And there is no counter argument to that, because we can’t go back in time and discover how that person might have turned out if they’d been disciplined differently.
Some people endure terrible physical and psychological trauma, and go on to be really successful. Did the trauma have zero impact? Or could they have been even more successful, had they not experienced the trauma?
We’ll never know.
Especially since there are some people who have incredibly gentle and loving parents, who never raised a hand to them, and yet end up depressed, or with eating issues, or with substance abuse problems.
I flinch whenever I hear the argument “but I turned out ok”.
Because this statement can be used to rationalise anything. Smoking, drinking, or making poor food choices. We’ve all heard of someone’s grandfather who was as healthy as a horse and lived to 100, and yet he drank a bottle of whiskey every night and smoked a pack of cigarettes daily, and lived on a diet of burgers and bacon.
Does this mean that it’s healthy to drink excessively, smoke cigarettes, and eat a poor diet? Of course not. Because we know that people who drink more, or smoke more, or eat lots of junk food are likely to be in poor health.
It’s the same with spanking.
Just because someone “turned out ok”, it doesn’t mean that spanking is harmless.
Sure, not everyone who is spanked will go on to have physical or psychological problems. But we know that spanking has the potential to be incredibly harmful.
And it’s the same with time-out. And controlled crying (aka controlled comforting). And any method of parenting that involves under-responsiveness and disconnection with our kids.
Unlike spanking, however, time-out and controlled crying are still socially acceptable, and even promoted by some health professionals. Even though there’s mounting evidence that they have the potential to be incredibly harmful.
Of course, not every child who experiences time out or controlled crying will have problems. But we need to know that there’s a huge potential for harm.
I know that there might be specific circumstances where a parent is so frazzled or so upset, that these methods are their only option. Some parents have post-natal mental health symptoms, and for them, using controlled crying or time-out means that they don’t injure themselves or their kids.
Of course, in these situations, the benefits of these methods far outweighs the possible risks.
That’s what this is all about – weighing up the risks of versus the benefits. And there are some parenting methods that do work, but at a price.
And we need to decide whether we’re willing to pay that price. And, are we willing to let our kids pay the price?
Some people might think that I’m making a big deal about nothing. After all, they used controlled crying/spanking/time-out, and their kids “turned out ok”.
Lucky for them.
Because there’s plenty of kids who aren’t ok.
Consider that a quarter to a third of all high school students will experience depression and anxiety.
Consider that the rates of these illnesses are already unacceptably high, and are soaring.
Consider that kids are turning to drugs, binge-drinking, violence, and compulsive gambling to cope with stress – even kids who don’t have a formally diagnosed anxious or depressive disorder. Consider that, despite technological advancements and modern conveniences, people are more stressed and time-poor than ever before.
As a society, have we really “turned out ok?”
Many of us become defensive or downright confrontational whenever these topics are raised. Especially if we used some of these methods ourselves, in raising our own kids.
It’s understandable. We don’t like thinking that we might have caused harm to our kids. It’s much easier to defend the decisions we made at a different time, even though we probably were just unaware or we felt that we had no other option.
What if we just accepted that we did the best we could at the time, with the knowledge that we had?
What if we just forgave ourselves for our past mistakes, and used those mistakes to learn and do better? And what if we took that opportunity to do better, rather than bickering and justifying and defending and rationalising under the guise of “but I turned out ok”?
As we raise our kids, the adults of tomorrow who will be charged with the future of our society and our planet, let’s show our kids what it means to do the best we can, in the situation we’re in. Let’s show them that it’s ok to be imperfect. And let’s show them how to learn from mistakes, and do so gracefully.
It’s when we can embody these characteristics, that we’re truly creating the leaders of tomorrow.