Because I Said So

June 15, 2009 By: erik Category: Parenting, Stuff I Found 430 views

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Because I Said SoThis article was published in the Charlotte Observer – which I think is some sort of paper-based RSS feed – on March 24, 2009, the day that my daughter was born. My parents clipped it out and brought it to me on their recent visit. Of course I agree completely with what John Rosemond has said here. The underlying part about leadership depending on confidence is right on, too.

Because I Said So

Last week’s column concerned the corrosive 1960s idea that children should be allowed to express their feelings freely, which all too many of today’s kids obviously believe is their prerogative.

This week we’ll look at the notion that parents should not answer challenges to their authority with “Because I said so.” The new parent-babblers – mental health professionals, mostly – maintained that those four words insult a child’s intelligence, damage self-esteem and send the message that might makes right.

The upshot is that parents began explaining themselves to children. These explanations lead almost inevitably to arguments. The arguments lead to frustration, resentment, yelling, guilt and other symptoms of family dysfunction. What’s that old saying about good intensions?

Effective leaders act like they know what they are doing. “Because I said so” is simply part of the act – an important part, no less. It also keeps things simple for those being led. They do not have to know what the leader knows; they simply have to trust.

So, as regards to children, those much-maligned four words are an economical way of saying “At this point in your life, you are incapable of understanding how I make decisions. Explanations therefore, are superfluous to your happiness. For now, all you need to do is trust me.”

“But John,” a reader might well reply, “if a child asks a question, doesn’t the child deserve an answer?”

Yes, but “Why?!” and “Why not?!” – in belligerent response to parental decisions – are not questions. They are challenges to authority. If they were genuine questions, children would listen respectfully and at least occasionally agree. Instead, they interrupt and begin arguing.

Which is to say, there is no such thing as an argumentative child. There are only parents who are not comfortable with their authority and cannot bring themselves, therefore, to say “Because I told you so.”

To be honest, there’s an awful lot wrong with the parenting trends of the last decades. In the US, at least. Spanish kids are still pretty free range.

 
  • You may have already seen this somewhat related article, as it was on Kottke. Don’t, however, see my linking to it as taking a contrarian position. ‘Why?’ is verging on an obscenity in our house these days.

  • Josh

    sgazzetti: Loved the link. I’ve long been of the opinion that many of Spain’s major issues could be resolved by introducing a high school Speech & Debate program. I don’t think that the two points are necessarily contradictory. I’ve had times, in a classroom setting, where “because I say so” is the answer to the question. If barely rational students can accept the brilliance of the rhetoric, why shouldn’t my daughter. …at least in theory.

    Eric: You must be in old, pre-euro Spain. More and more, I see Spaniards retreating from their previous, free-range mentality and adopting a fear culture that would make America proud.

  • Yes, sgazzetti, that link was brilliant. I’ve been planning ways to make my kid as persuasive as I can. That article will help for sure.

    Josh, I live in small-town Spain and see 5-7-year-olds running around in unsupervised packs all the time. I plan on Nora being one of the first in her class to walk to school by herself. It is true, though, that the Spanish media love nothing better than a missing child story.

  • Josh

    Erik: Let’s hope that your pueblo can keep its charm and freedom. I’m in BCN, and my mother-in-law warns the family not to let my nephew attend summer library camp programs, because it’s a known fact that “paedophiles hang out at libraries.” It’s hard to imagine a parent in my neighborhood allowing a kid to go down to the park by himself, or even with another kid’s parents. Kids here no longer play unsupervised — one kid, one observer seems to be the general rule.

    I agree with the tremendous value of having kids spend unsupervised time, but it’ll be a hard sell for my “Live with your parents until you’re 30” Spanish mentality in-laws.

  • Another effect of the “live with your parents until you’re 30” lifestyle is the huge surplus of immature young adults. Living by yourself is so maturing. If my kid makes it to 18 without spending a couple months abroad, I’ll be surprised. Being alone in a foreign country was such a valued character building experience in the lives of my wife and I that it will be demanded of highly encouraged for our kids.

  • Uncle Neil

    Somebody makes choices, if they can, and then you live with them. Whatever it is you miss out on everything else. You must miss some of the possiblities of that path as well. Another issue is that I am sure that much less than 1% of the world population can consume the resources to travel much beyond 10 kilometers from birth to death. Lifestyle, I’m not sure that lifestyle is the right reference?
    I believe that character can well be built living within 10 kilometers of birth perhaps with more substance to the earth.
    Neil Rasmussen
    Eagle River, AK

  • Josh

    Neil: Clearly choice plays a role in things, “two roads diverged in the yellow road…” and so on. You don’t need to remind someone who has chosen to raise his daughter in a different country, of the consequences of choice.
    As far as the “lifestyle” quibble goes, you may not understand the cultural back story here. A large percentage of the Spanish population chooses not to leave the parental home, not because of a lack of resources, rather due to a combination of family pressure and comfort. In much of the first world, young adults get a taste of responsibility, hardship and freedom by living on their own, or with roommates. In Spain, however, the same demographic would rather continue to eat home-cooked meals, enjoy a free live-in laundry service, etc. This lifestyle has a devastating impact on the economy, as well as producing a society with an expectation of comfort.
    While character can certainly be built anyplace, it is clearly more difficult to do so in an atmosphere of mollycoddling.

  • Erik, Yes, experiencing international travel broadens one’s perspective, outlook, and thinking in ways that I think can never happen any other way. Other than your clan there, I’ve certainly traveled more outside the US than any family member we have, except your folks since you moved abroad. But I’ve never stayed for more than 3 weeks before and never moved there, so you have a perspective I’ll never have.

    But I understand where Neil is coming from too. When I moved to Alaska I was living in a tiny and very rural community of 500 people which was the largest town for an hour in any direction. I was living in “the Brian house” (the guy who built it 63 yrs before), shopped at Brian’s hardware store, bought gas at Brian’s, and … you get the picture; the Brian family founded that town and its bank, and every offspring stayed around it seems.

    Heck, I remember when I was young and wishing my dad was a farmer, so we’d not be able to move any more… the grass is always greener…

    And Josh, I hear you, but there’s a rule here in the US: Uncles ALWAYS get to remind nephews of anything they want. I suspect but don’t know that this rule holds in Espana as well, thus the reason for the existence of the Spanish word “tu'” in addition to “usted”.

    Erik, I call for a ruling. Same rule still holds there?

    P.S. Erik, as the heir to the reins to The Committee, you’ll have to be comfortable issuing a ruling when needed, so I’m just doing my job here.

    P.S.S. Uncle Neil’s sig line indicates AK. Do we now have two family members living in Alaska? (Yes, I was the youngest… 🙂

  • Josh

    Steve: In Spain, any family member (yea unto the umpteenth generation) has the right, indeed the obligation, to immediately weigh in on any matter even vaguely concerning the family. Perhaps the reason that people stay at home into their thirties is just to avoid having a constant stream of opinionated family members trooping through their own houses.

    I’ve never been to AK, but did spend some time in a very rural part of northern NM, and understand the “company town” worldview fairly well. Comforting and creepy at the same time.

  • Josh: Yes, those two C words you used describe it better than I did, thanks.

    And I’m glad to hear that I guessed that ‘the rule’ applies there too. Being Norwegian, of course I like being *right*.

    Whoops, we hijacked Erik’s thread…

  • Josh

    Steve: Just claim “Uncle’s Prerogative”.

  • I love it when an active discussion takes place here. Even more so when it’s interesting like this one!

    Hopefully I’ll get around to implementing threaded comments here sometime soon.