JOHN ROSEMOND: Yes, I Am “Old-Fashioned”
An individual who occupies a fairly high-level position in the mainstream media recently told one of my associates that I’m “old-fashioned.” She meant it as a slight, but I hardly took it that way. I do, in fact, espouse a child-rearing philosophy and approach that prevailed when I was a child. To my media critic, I’m a throwback.
When I came out of graduate school in 1972, I was thoroughly indoctrinated in psychological parenting theory and convinced that pre-1960s parenting had compromised child mental health; that it had to go; that its demise would bring about a childhood utopia upon which we – I’d been a radical student activist, progressive to the core – could build a brave new world.
Two wake-up calls came in 1979. I realized, courtesy of my supervisor at the Charlotte (NC) Mental Health Center that clinical psychology, for all of its scientific pretenses, was an ideology that cared little to nothing for research that contradicted its icons and idols. The second came when my son’s very rational third-grade teacher told me that he was the worst-behaved child she had seen in twenty years of teaching.
That caused my wife and I to reverse course and begin raising our children the way we ourselves had been raised: chores, a minimum of after-school activities, the unwavering assignment of personal responsibility, and discipline that was less talk and more action. The results were nothing short of amazing. Within three months, our son had gone from being a classroom sociopath to being, in that same teacher’s words, “a model student.”
I’ve been espousing a retro-parenting message ever since, becoming, along the way, evermore convinced that my profession has caused more problems for children, parents, families, schools, and culture than psychologists know how to solve. I miss no opportunity to say exactly that, which has not endeared me to my colleagues (albeit there are those who somewhat secretly agree with me).
I’m old-fashioned (as opposed to progressive) because I care about research, and the research is clear that emotional resilience, the essence of good mental health, the ability to deal functionally with disappointment and failure, resides best in children raised by parents who adhere, whether wittingly or not, to the pre-1960s paradigm: a whole lot of love and a whole lot of unwavering, unequivocal authority.
I’m old-fashioned because the new paradigm, built on the shifting sands of unproven and even disproven psychological theory, has informed a ten-fold worsening of child and teen mental health since the 1960s. I’m old-fashioned because the old way taught children, within their families, what good citizenship was all about: to wit, respect for and service to others. The new way, by contrast, emphasized esteem for the Almighty Self.
The goal of infusing children with high self-esteem has proven to be a complete bust. No good – zero, zilch, nada – has come of it. In fact, it just might factor highly into the psychology of the typical school shooter. We know, for example, that women in relationships with high-self-esteem males are in significant danger of emotional and physical abuse. I’m old-fashioned because I absolutely know that high self-esteem is a problem, not a solution to a problem.
I’m old-fashioned because the nouveau approach to discipline – based on what I call “consequence-delivery-systems” – has completely failed. I’m old-fashioned because I absolutely know that behavior modification does not work on human beings, that the proper discipline of a child is accomplished with a certain attitude, not certain methods.
My media critic also claims that I appeal primarily to grandparents. She should come to one of my speaking engagements, where the word that best describes the age range represented in my audiences is one she surely appreciates: diversity.
Is there a teen mental-health crisis?
Do we – here in the USA, that is – or do we not have a child and teen mental health crisis and if the answer is yes, we do, then what should be done about it?
Without doubt, the answer is yes, we do have a child and teen mental health crisis. Today’s child, by age 16, is five to ten times – depending on the source – more likely to experience a prolonged emotional crisis than was a child raised in the 1950s. For example, I do not remember, nor have I ever run into a person my age who remembers a high school classmate committing suicide. (No jokes about our memories, please.) Teen suicide happened, but it was rare. In fifty years, it has become the second-leading cause of teenage death.
So, given the undeniable reality of a large and growing problem, the second question: what should be done? The answer – or, more specifically, my answer: Nothing that involves any form of mental health treatment. We have some fifty years of evidence to the effect that neither therapy nor medication has mitigated the deterioration of child and teen mental health. No surprises there, given that the general efficacy of therapy is unverified and no psychiatric medication has ever consistently outperformed placebos in clinical trials.
Point of fact: As the percentage of children and teens receiving therapy and psychiatric medications (A) has increased exponentially, the child and teen mental health crisis (B) has increased likewise. Common sense says that more of A is not going to result in less of B.
The crux of good mental/emotional health is a quality known as “emotional resilience” – the ability to withstand and keep moving forward, chin up, in the face of disappointment, deprivation, prolonged frustration, crisis, setback, loss, and failure. The fact is that what I call “postmodern psychological parenting,” the pig in a poke that mental health professionals sold to America in the late 1960s and early 1970s, turned child rearing into never-ending enabling. Fifty years of PPP have generated lots of business for mental health professionals and greatly increased the pharmaceutical industry’s profit margin, while simultaneously rendering a significant percentage of young people incapable of dealing, chin up, with disappointment, deprivation, etc.,
The obvious solution, therefore, to the ongoing child and teen mental health crisis is for parents to stop enabling, coddling, pampering, indulging, and cocooning children. My mother, a single parent for most of the first seven years of my life, would serve as an excellent role model in that regard. She refused to help me with my homework, for example (and she eventually obtained a Ph.D. in the life sciences!). My responsibilities were mine, as hers were hers. She expected me to entertain myself (without – gasp! – even so much as a television set), fight my own battles, lie in the beds I’d made, stew in my own juices, stand on my own two feet, and other equally character-building things. I was never lacking in her love, but my mother was not my friend. She had a life separate and apart from being a parent.
In the final analysis, whether parenting weakens or strengthens is largely a matter of physical and emotional boundaries, the lack or presence thereof. Along that line, I had no permission to interrupt my mother at anything she was doing, nor did my emotional state define hers. It appeared that my peers enjoyed – and enjoy it was – similar relationships with their moms.
By contrast, today’s all-too-typical mother is enmeshed in a co-dependent relationship with her kids. For some odd reason, that state of mutually-assured-destruction is now, according to the culture, the quintessence of good mommying. Given that ubiquitous state of affairs, it is no surprise that more psychiatric drugs are consumed by women with children than any other demographic.
After all, living one life is complicated enough these days. Trying to live one’s own life as well as someone else’s, well, I can only imagine the level of stress incurred…by both parties.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.