To­day’s chil­dren are in­suf­fi­cient in ‘vi­ta­min N’

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - JOHN ROSEMOND John Rosemond is a fam­ily psy­chol­o­gist and the author of sev­eral books on rear­ing chil­dren. Write to him at The Lead­er­ship Par­ent­ing In­sti­tute, 1391-A E. Gar­ri­son Blvd., Gas­to­nia, N.C. 28054; or see his web­site at rosemond.com

I call it “vi­ta­min N.” It is the word chil­dren need to hear most, but it is cur­rently the word chil­dren hear least. It is ar­guably the most char­ac­ter-build­ing word in the English lan­guage, but then help­ing chil­dren achieve great things (or cre­at­ing the il­lu­sion that they are achiev­ing great things) has eclipsed help­ing chil­dren build strong char­ac­ter. That is un­for­tu­nate in­deed be­cause high achieve­ment alone does not pro­duce solid char­ac­ter, but a per­son with solid char­ac­ter will al­ways do his or her best.

Chil­dren do not know what is in their best in­ter­ests. They are short-sighted, plea­sure-seek­ing, im­pul­sive and in­stant-grat­i­fi­ca­tion ori­ented. They have great dif­fi­culty re­al­iz­ing that pain of­ten leads to gain, and that putting off re­ward of­ten re­sults in even greater re­ward. The job — it is their pri­mary job, in fact — of par­ents and other adult care­givers is to de­ter­mine and do what is in chil­dren’s best in­ter­ests. That some­times means in­cur­ring wrath, which is one of a short list of rea­sons why adults should never, ever want to be liked by chil­dren. The fact that an adult knows he loves the child who mo­men­tar­ily hates him, loves the child enough to make the supreme sac­ri­fice (which the child can­not grasp and will not un­til he has chil­dren of his own), is suf­fi­cient.

When peo­ple of my gen­er­a­tion get to­gether, the con­ver­sa­tion of­ten gets around to what we see go­ing on with to­day’s par­ents. We share our ob­ser­va­tions in large part be­cause many, if not most, of to­day’s par­ents are not in­ter­ested in our ob­ser­va­tions. They see their chil­dren with tun­nel vi­sion and can­not fathom that their pre­oc­cu­pa­tion could pos­si­bly be a hand­i­cap to them­selves and their kids. Tun­nel vi­sion is, af­ter all, a form of blind­ness.

The above con­ver­sa­tion al­ways, without ex­cep­tion, comes down to one con­clu­sion: To­day’s par­ents, de­spite their good in­ten­tions, are their own and their chil­dren’s worst en­e­mies. The so-called “is­sues” they are hav­ing with their kids are the log­i­cal re­sult of their par­ent­ing be­hav­ior. They com­plain about these dif­fi­cul­ties, but God help the baby boomer who points out, how­ever diplo­mat­i­cally, that they, not their chil­dren, are the prob­lem.

They ar­gue with their chil­dren not be­cause their chil­dren are ar­gu­men­ta­tive, but be­cause they ex­plain them­selves. Their chil­dren do not do what they are told be­cause the par­ents do not tell, they sug­gest. Their chil­dren are petu­lant and un­grate­ful be­cause they in­dulge. Their chil­dren have never learned to pay at­ten­tion to adults or take adults se­ri­ously, there­fore they dis­obey and are dis­re­spect­ful. And so on.

Per­haps the most ubiq­ui­tous of all con­tem­po­rary par­ent­ing com­plaints is “My child can’t take ‘no’ for an an­swer.” It is the au­ral equiv­a­lent of “My child won’t eat broc­coli.” In both cases, it is the ab­sence of what the child sup­pos­edly can­not take or eat that causes the child’s aver­sion. The so­lu­tion to a loathing of broc­coli is broc­coli, as in, “Your din­ner is two flo­rets of broc­coli. When you have eaten them, you may have am­ple por­tions of what the rest of us are hav­ing.” Like­wise, a child who can­not take “no” for an an­swer sim­ply needs lots more of it.

The best “vi­ta­mins,” af­ter all, are those that are the hard­est to swal­low.

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