I’m going to say something that might be controversial here. Seriously, especially among Christian circles, this is something difficult for me to say. But I’m just going to say it. Ok here goes: Having obedient children is not my top priority. Ok, there. I said it. Judge me if you will.
But, seriously. Of course I want my children to obey, and I know that it is important. But in the grand scheme of things what is more important – obedience or good judgment? I am working on developing good judgment in my children. If I push for obedience and enforce it by punishing, what will they learn? To be obedient when I am there, out of fear of punishment? But what about when I’m not there? What if they think they won’t get caught? If I’m only training for obedience, how deep does that learning go?
Watch this video and think for a minute.
The question is – how would you want your child to respond in this situation? Would you want him to obey the person in authority? Or would you want him to demonstrate good judgment? When it comes down to it, good judgment is what I’m aiming for. I want my child to do what is right, because in his heart he knows it is the right thing to do. I want him to have that inner strength to make those hard choices and go against the grain when it is the right thing to do. That takes strength. That takes courage. That takes knowing deep inside what is right and what is wrong. I don’t think punishment will teach that. But love will. So that’s what I’m striving for.
This is when it gets really serious for me. Listen to what John Holt says about this experiement,
“People who learn to obey official authority out of fear of disgrace or punishment – sullenly, blindly, like Dr. Milgram’s subjects – irresponsibly – are almost certain to lose the ability either to recognize real and natural authority or to submit to it, willingly, responsibly, and with a whole heart. It is only people who know how to obey for the right reasons who will not obey for the wrong ones, and who will not press the torturer’s switch no matter who orders them to press it.”
This is really important! It is only people who know how to obey for the right reasons who will not obey for the wrong ones.
Another important book, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, by Alice Miller, goes into the history of child-rearing in pre-World War II Germany. The practices back then were similar to today – the goal was to condition and manipulate children to obey, using whatever means necessary, believing that it is done for their own good. Parents were encouraged to not respond to the needs of their children, as this would not prepare them for the rigors of life. Alice Miller looked into the background of Adolph Hitler’s henchmen. She discovered they had all been successfully trained to be obedient. So much so that feelings for the atrocities they committed never emerged. At their trials, they all stated they were simply following orders. The morality of the orders was never questioned. Alice Miller believes that people raised with sensitivity could not be turned into mass murderers overnight. Only children of authoritarian parents are able to believe that their parents are always right and must be obeyed. And so, the inadequacies of Hitler were not seen by children raised by parents who called for strict obedience.
What are you striving for? Do you want your children to obey, or do you want them to choose to do what’s right, because they know in their heart it’s the right thing to do? It’s important to think this through, because depending on what your goal is will drastically change the way you discipline and raise your children now.
“Instead of trying to get children to be obedient, I recommend that we strive for them to have good judgment. Obedience lasts only as long as we are in the room with them. It does not help a child know what to do in a brand-new situation. I think every parent has had this experience: Children do something so wild that we never thought of making a rule about it. We usually punish them anyways, because they ‘should have known better.’ But we can’t expect them to have a flexible intelligence to figure out what is right or wrong in a new situation if we have taught them to obey only by enforcing rules. Our world is so complex that children need to have intelligence and good judgment, not just rules.
The goal of most punishment is obedience. Good judgment, on the other hand, comes from talking with children, brainstorming about how they might handle different situations, and discussing moral dilemmas. We have to be on the same wavelength with our children before we can have these types of conversations, so connect first. Connecting with children after they’ve done something wrong, listening to how they feel about it, and telling them calmly how we feel, all do much more to instill good judgment than punishment does.
Children develop into thoughtful, considerate, honest, and kind adults because of love and affection, because of high moral standards, and because of a close relationship with someone who models those values. I have never seen anyone punished into being good. Bribes don’t work either. Promises, threats, rewards, and punishments have been called “the most primitive way of dealing with human beings.” Since humans can think and reason, and because close connections are so important to us, it makes more sense to use loving and talking as the basis for our discipline. “
I know what I’ve been talking about here is a little heavy and a little “out there” for some, but if you made it through and read this whole post, I’d love to hear what your thoughts are.