To become responsible adults, the most important thing children need to understand is that they own the power of their decisions. Parents don’t own the child’s decision making power. This doesn’t mean that parents don’t make decisions for their children, they do, but only because the child allows them to. Fortunately until a certain age most kids don’t realize this, or parenting would be hell. A parent has the same power of decision. He owns his decisions and the child cannot make them for him. Both parties should clearly understand this situation by adolescence. Confused? Read on.
This is an insightful comment left by Chris on a recent post about being remarkable:
Steve, the problem with all this is that the time it takes to develop one’s gifts is usually wasted in the modern jail for youth known as school. One’s entire childhood and adolescence is wasted in what Thomas Armstrong correctly calls “the worksheet wasteland.” You’re not given any choice in the matter, you’re just forced to waste all day, every day on pointless, tedious, banal busy work. It’s impossible to develop your God-given talents in this tedious, mind-rotting, soul-destroying context.
I had dreams, lots of them. But they were unachievable, because I spent almost my entire twenties playing catch-up. I had to learn all the things I didn’t learn before. I’m perfectly aware of the need to take risks, but talents are not something you’re just born with. They have to be honed & developed. Yet they CANT be developed unless you had the good fortune to be home-schooled, or realized early enough how pointless school is and opted out. If you don’t realize that soon enough, by the time you’re in your twenties it’s almost too late.
I did not make a series of “safe” decisions, because I did not make any “decisions” at all until the time I needed to hone my talents had passed me by. Everything in my life was mapped out for me. Life just isn’t the way you describe it in this post. Most parents are fearful & timid and project their fears onto their children. They don’t have confidence & will make their lack of confidence in their child clear. The only thing that makes them confident about their child’s abilities is As on a report card: but if a child is compliant and gets lots of A’s, chances are they’ve already sacrificed their own interests and hobbies and talents to comply with other people’s wishes. The very time needed to find out what you’re good at, and “hone them to razor sharpness,” is completely monopolized in youth. I never had the opportunity to find out what I was truly good at, and neither did most people I know. If I’d been home-schooled, or if I’d dropped out of school, it would’ve been different.
People are not miracle workers. They cannot just magically discover what they’re good at unless they have some time to themselves. But to take that time is usually a trade-off resulting in poor marks in school, the very thing that throws most parents into a panic (at least, my parents were that way: extremely over-controlling and over-protective – only it didn’t seem that way to them because their friends are the same way). Most people are never given that time. Most kids today are even more over-controlled, having every waking hour restricted and constricted, than they were in my day. Their parents, teachers, and all the adults in their lives are control freaks. Remarkable people may have been ordinary in most ways, but in one way at least – the chance for self-discovery granted to them – they were extraordinary.
Which closely relates to what Hasref wrote in a comment to this post about being a control freak:
I believe that many people make the assumption that if children are left to their own devices that they will become “blobs of glowing Jello” because of the fact that childhood obesity is on the rise. Though I wouldn’t classify it as an epidemic, my belief is that today’s children have far more distractions that keep them sedentary (e.g. round the clock television programming that fits just about any interest, video games, etc…) than that of the generation of children before them. Couple that with the overwhelming fear propagated in the hearts and minds of the parents that someone evil will snatch up your kids while you aren’t watching keeps children from simply going outside and being kids.
Given that, I believe a measure of control must be exerted to simply break through the distractions the children face and the fear of those that care for them. I don’t believe that we, as parents, should simply just let our kids do what they want. But I also don’t believe in the authoritative, “do what I tell you because only I know what is best for you” either. The key here is balance. I control my kids to show them what I believe to be best for them; however I also try my best to listen to them to help me decide what is best for them.
An example of what I mean comes by way of education. Left to his own devices, my son wouldn’t lift a finger to do his homework. Sadly, he could really care less. I control him by checking his homework and ensuring that A) he does it and B) he does it correctly. He complains often and thinks that I shouldn’t have to check his homework. But the past has shown that if I don’t check, he doesn’t do it. I exert my control for what I believe to be best for him and his future.
Another example is that my son wanted to sign up for baseball this year. I obliged him, but told him that if I signed him up he had to finish out the season. Things were rocky at first and he was pretty adamant that he wanted to quit. I kept reminding him that he had to finish and pushed him out there to be a part of his team. At the end of the season, he had such a great time that there isn’t a question that he will be signing up next year as well. So I exerted my control to make him finish what he started. In this case, it turned out well. But even if it hadn’t, the bigger lesson was to finish what he started.
I certainly wouldn’t classify myself as a control freak, but I do, very much, control my children in order to help them become whatever it is that they wish. Education is opportunity.
As you can see these comments contrast quite sharply. In some ways I agree with both comments. How is that possible? Let me explain.
First, I’d like to ask Hasref what he would do if his kid got up from his homework, said fuck you, walked out the door, lit up a Marlboro, and got in a car with his friends and waved good bye with his middle finger? Fortunately for you and your son he hasn’t realized that this is an option. That is exactly what I did. There is very little a parent can do about it without resorting to violence. I’m not advocating this, I’m just pointing out that your control is an illusion.
Second, I agree with nearly all of what Chris wrote, my school experience was soul crushing, and it took most of my twenties to catch up. I recommend home-schools or small entrepreneurial Sudbury or Montessori schools and avoiding all large government institutions.
The vast majority adults in America went through the same crappy institutions Chris and I attended, and yes they wasted years of our lives, and in some cases suffered irreversible damage, but the fact we wasted 15-20 years of our prime on a lie isn’t an excuse to quit living. Letting go of resentment is the key to positive change. You are never too old to live your dreams. I met a couple who started their dream business in their sixties and it is still growing in their eighties. Never, ever, give up.
I write about the evils of forced schooling not to whine and complain about it, but to warn young people and new parents about what they are about to subject themselves to. I pray for the day we will stop jailing our children in govern
But regardless of my ideas about forced schooling and the worksheet wasteland, in my experience children need boundaries and guidance. I cannot control the greater culture, so while I don’t personally value traditional education, I understand my values will not override the beliefs and values of the dominant culture, and my children must live in this dominant culture. The consequence of forgoing traditional education is the loss of credibility in the greater society. Sure people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates found credibility outside academia, but if you ask more than a few academics to judge them, you would find many academics describe them as cretins. Under current law, neither of them would be allowed to teach business in a public school because they aren’t “qualified”, which is a perfect example of how asinine it is to license teachers. The simple fact is, there are very serious consequences for not completing traditional school. It does not matter what you and I believe, there are people who will stop you from doing certain things without specific credentials. If you don’t abide by their rules, they will lock you in a cage (try practicing law or medicine without a license).
My oldest son says he wants to be a scientist, and he has interest and aptitude for the discipline. Now, in base reality, you don’t need a traditional education to be a great scientist, but in our modern caste system you do, if you want to be taken seriously. Education has become religious dogma. You must have the blessings of the priests to earn your credentials. I can’t tell you how damaging I believe this is, but it is unlikely to change soon, so I’d be remiss in my parenting if I didn’t teach my son about the system. And until he is old enough to understand it for himself, I am going to make damn sure I keep him on the path of his dreams and talents, and that means I am going to teach him there is value in schoolwork, if he wants to be a scientist. On the other hand, if his dreams and talents appeared to be trending toward motocross racing, I wouldn’t worry too much about his grades. Even if he doesn’t make it as a motocross racer, his interests won’t require education credentials to blossom. I always tell them that good things happen to people who put in the greatest effort. Nothing much happens to people who wait around for someone to give it to them.
With the exception of violence and imprisonment all external control is an illusion. Outside of violence, the only thing you can do to control another person is to offer incentives or disincentives for making certain decisions. But that isn’t really control, is it? The person still makes the decision for themselves. So the only real control is self-control, and that is what I believe parenting is about, instilling self-control and helping them understand that they own their decisions. There is no one to blame. I will teach them that you control your destiny through your decisions. If you are afraid a friend will call you a pussy unless you steal, the decision to steal is still yours. If your teacher says you will fail unless you turn in your assignments, the decision to turn in the assignment is yours. If, like Hasref wrote, your dad tells you must finish your baseball season, no matter what your dad thinks, the decision is still yours. You can always say no. I suppose your dad could use physical force and drag you out on the field but he couldn’t force you to engage in the game, and you must understand, if you make that choice, he’ll probably cancel the cable TV and throw the Playstation out, and he may even put you in treatment for oppositional defiant disorder. You’ve got to understand the consequences of your decisions.
Many people believe freedom is action without reaction, or decision without consequences. That isn’t freedom, that’s la la land.
Now there is the other side of this that always seems to get missed, the authority figure’s freedom. The authority figure could be a teacher, parent, government agent, or whatever. I will use parenting as an example. When our children demand something of us, it is our right to refuse to do it. Refusing to do something your child wants teaches them about freedom, because doing everything they want doesn’t make them free, it turns them into tyrants. It teaches them the exact opposite of freedom. My children are not allowed to control me or my wife. They try, and it is our job to resist their control when necessary. I am not required to give them video games, candy, and soda pop simply because they might feel sad or angry if they don’t get it. It is my choice to take that action, I have every right to refuse it, and they need to learn that. No one is entitled to someone else’s labor, it must be given voluntarily. Like adults, kids offer incentives and disincentives for compliance. In the short run it is easier and feels better to just give them what they want, but in the long run it can ruin them.
I will teach my children about freedom. But I can’t give them freedom, because real freedom isn’t bestowed from the outside, real freedom isn’t controlling other people, it isn’t action without consequence, real freedom is internal, it is inside you, the core of true freedom is the only legitimate form of control, self-control.