The problem in American parenting is the 1960s. Among other things that defined that very interesting (ref. ancient Chinese curse) decade was the replacement of rationality by emotionality. It was during the 1960s that the media, various self-appointed spiritual gurus, and the mental health professional community urged people to “get in touch with their feelings.” And it was during the 1960s that parents were told by mental health professionals that children had a right to express their feelings freely.
I was in graduate school at the time. My professors taught that (a) feelings – especially children’s feelings – held deep meaning, (b) therapy was all about helping people recover the feelings their parents had made them repress, and c) getting in touch with one’s feelings was the key to happiness.
To be polite about it, a crock if there ever was one.
I now know – and beyond a shadow of doubt – that with rare exception, one’s feelings are more apt to deceive than promote good decisions. I also know that pre-psychological (pre-1960s) parents insisted that their children control the expression of emotion for the good of those children (as well as the good of everyone who was ever in contact with those children). I also know that people who are ruled by their emotions – people who cannot think straight, in other words – are not happy people. In their own enslaved minds, they are perpetual victims. Furthermore, the undisciplined nature of their emotions is destructive both to themselves and others. Undisciplined emotions destroy relationships, property, and spiritual health.
Fifty years later, America is paying a terrible price for having ever believed that when it came to children (and most other things), mental health professionals knew what they were talking about. They claimed, without evidence, that insisting upon emotional control was repressive and authoritarian (and therefore harmful). They claimed, without evidence, that enforcing shame upon a child who had behaved anti-socially – they named it “shame-based parenting” – would result in psychological problems (when the opposite is true).
Granted, shame can be taken to extremes, but shame is essential to the formation of a conscience, which is essential to responsible self-government. Children are not naturally disposed to shame. It must be trained into them by loving parents who are not supposed to enjoy what they must do. A child so trained is destined to become a compassionate, responsible human being, not an emotional basket case.
Happiness is not a matter of letting “it” all hang out. Quite the contrary, it is all about holding most of “it” in. It is about self-control, respect for others, and responsibility. It is about a value system that places others before self. A certain amount of repression is a good thing.
America needs a “Make American Parenting Great Again!” movement. When all is said and done concerning the many political concerns of the day, one indisputable fact remains: a culture’s strength ultimately depends on the strength of its child-rearing practices. Building a strong infrastructure is fine and dandy, but building emotionally resilient and responsible future citizens is even more fine and dandy. In fact, it is the most important thing there is.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: www.johnrosemond.com; www.parentguru.com