Giving Children Freedom and Self-Control

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
nt institutions.

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.

27 thoughts on “Giving Children Freedom and Self-Control”

  1. It shouldn’t be as extreme as homeschooling vs school-is-jail….not every parent is equipped to be a homeschooling teacher.

    That said, these are the things that my parents instilled in my as a supplement to school: they fostered Critical Thinking, they encouraged Risk-taking, they encouraged Creativity, they encouraged Debate. We had lots of interesting dinner table discussions in my home about politics, history, religion, you name it. We were all readers. My father took me to museums. My mother took me to farms, and camping and into nature. We sat outside in cafes and talked about ideas and my father taught me about existentialism when I was about 10 or so. As I got older there were some classes in high school that I didn’t feel suited me or were necessary, and I did not do well in those classes b/c I would skip class to sit in a cafe and read college-level books on things that did interest me. And I still negotiated my way through college and am working on my second Masters degree. Academia and school is a game, the goal is not to let the game get in the way of real knowledge…use it as a tool, but see beyond it. The map is not the territory.

  2. kaffeeneko,

    Great tips for fostering creativity and critical thinking.

    You’re right, not everyone is equipped to be a homeschooler. However, the comparison of school to jail is quite valid. Two government institutions function and look very similar, the American Prison System and The American School System.

    30% of American kids dropout of school. In many areas it’s 50-80%. People claim we must have public education or else the poor won’t have access to education. That is a canard, they don’t have access to it now. We need small neighborhood free market based education. Something that has the best interests of children in mind, not politicians, not unions, and not corporations. I realize that it doesn’t exist now, but I will work my entire life toward that goal. Our current system is a 19th century answer to a problem that didn’t exist.

  3. I think there are more factors than whether or not you control or don’t control your child with your given situation. With your notion of just letting a child do what he wants, the same exact scenario could very well happen. So what did you gain? In addition, you are greatly over-simplifying the situation and just pointing to control as the causation of that specific situation. I would like to think that I have earned, note I said “earned”, the respect of my child so that a situation, such as you have presented, wouldn’t arise. However, I am not naive enough to be blinded to the fact that every child eventually rebels as they realize that the control a parent once had over them dwindles and they learn to exert their own level of control. In your situation, you have simply traded control from the parent over to the child.

    In all honesty, I have reached stalemates with my son over his homework. We have sat across the table for hours waiting from him to finish as he sat there with his arms crossed. I have lectured him about the values of an education and I have told him that it is entirely possible to achieve success without one. I have cited examples of people who have “made it” with little to no education as well as told him the heights he can achieve with an education. I reasoned with him about the odds of it happening with and without an education and made sure I represented the world fairly. I have even told him that just because he has a higher degree doesn’t mean that he is educated. I have told him my reasoning behind the value I am putting on him homework. In essence, I do not lie to him because I believe he deserves to know the truth and that ultimately he needs to make up his own mind. But I still expect him to do his homework.

    Though I may go through the situation you provide with my son, I still wouldn’t sacrifice the control I believe he requires in the fear of this type of situation. To restate, whether you control or don’t control, this same exact situation could arise. Relinquishing your parental control is no offer of a guarantee. I also would state that children don’t always make the right decisions and how much would you be kicking yourself if you simply stood by and watched them damage their future? Would you say that you did everything you could have? To be fair, they could also succeed as well. But given your many years of experience on them, wouldn’t you want to maximize their chances of success by helping them to avoid some of the pitfalls you ran in to?

    Anyhow, to reiterate point from my previous comments in your last post; control is control regardless of whose hands it is in. What I have been saying all along is control is an ever-present factor in all of our lives, every single day. We are all controlling something and are controlled by something. It isn’t something that one can willingly relinquish. What I believe we should be more focused on is the motivation behind the control.

  4. hashref,

    My point wasn’t that your attempts at control will cause a negative reaction like the one I described. I doubt that will ever happen to you (And I hope it won’t). My point was that your attempt at control is an illusion. Barring violence, the only thing you control is yourself, and the only thing your son controls is himself, everything you perceive as control is only an incentive or disincentive to make a specific decision and the decisions you make will affect your relationships and the things you get from other people. It isn’t really control. You simply trying to incent them into making the choices you think they should make.

    Does that make sense?

    I with you 100% on respect. That is a cornerstone to all human relations.

  5. Hashref,

    Perhaps your son doesn’t understand the assignment or how to complete it. Lectures about the value of education won’t make it easier, it will just make him feel there’s something wrong with him b/c it’s so hard for him. Look over the assignment, try to break it down into what the teacher is looking for, and patiently work over the questions like a team. This is not saying you do the assignment for him. Something like “It looks here like she’s asking you to think of something like xyz….what do you think might be like xyz?” Then he might suggest ‘bfy’ and lets say that’s not the right answer so you say “Hm…let’s think about that.” and then discuss the ways in which he might think that’s the right answer and maybe suggest ways in which that might not work out, but perhaps something else might….and hint at something that might help lead him to arrive at what is the correct answer.

    It’s like cleaning a room. Yelling at a kid to clean their room won’t work if they feel overwhelmed by the job and don’t know where to start, but breaking it down into tasks, and instructing how to do the different tasks will really help. Some subjects and kinds of thinking are just not obvious to some kids. I struggled with 4th grade math and it took lots of patience and help from a parent for me to get from pt. A to B. Without that support kids will always look for the easy way out. The think is not to just coerce them into Doing….while idealizing the wonders of the abstract ‘Education’….the thing is to help children learn how to Think….and Reason….and Problem-Solve. These things are not always innate. Lazy schools and teachers produce kids who struggle and hate homework b/c the teachers are doing a terrible job explaining. If you can’t home-school or un-school you could help do some of the explaining that the teachers are not evidently doing. Good luck!

  6. @steve

    I understood your point. However, I believe you are missing mine. Take this as an example. We have certain standards in order for us to communicate with each other. And since we have a standard way of communicating, we are allowed to have this conversation. Both you and I were controlled at some point to adopt this practice. But, what if you and I weren’t controlled into believing that this was the correct way? What if you or I were allowed to just be creative and invent our own new language and applauded as we used our languages regardless of any confusion it may cause? What if our parents just gave us control to do what we wanted in this respect? Would we be freely exchanging ideas so easily?

    My point is that both of our parents, teachers and societies we grew up in controlled us into this idea that having a common language is important. Their motivations, whether they were conscious of it or not, was to help better our lives by giving us a common way of communicating and are we not better for it? Again, it isn’t the control, but rather the motivation behind the control.

    You can call control an illusion, but I call it teaching. I teach my son about the things I believe work in life. It is ultimately his choice to adopt the belief or not. I teach my son about the pitfalls that I know that he will face in his life and make certain rules so that they may be avoided. I teach my son how I believe he can be most successful in life and that certain things, like homework, have value. I teach my son about what I went through to get here and looking back how I can help to make his life easier. To teach is to control. Don’t do this. Do that. If you didn’t “control” a pupil, how can you expect a specific result? But the trick is that as you teach, you know that someday, they will not be your student, but your equal or better. That is the hope anyway.

    To sum up my long winded point, it isn’t control, it is motivation. If one’s desire to control is to keep the controlled beneath them, that is, shall we say, negative. If one’s desire to control is to bring up the controlled to their level and beyond, that is, shall we say, positive. Either way, control is control. However, it’s the motivation behind the control that is far more important.

    I am unsure how to be more clear.


    You are taking a simple statement that I made to convey a thought and making an huge assumption about my abilities to understand my children. What I didn’t say, because I felt it wasn’t really wouldn’t add to the point of my comment, is that I continually offer my son explanations and alternate ways of coming to the same conclusion. Sometimes he surprises me in how he arrives at conclusions and offers me alternate ways of going about it as well. It is a two way street.

    That being said, sometimes you have to look at the facts. The fact is that my son doesn’t like to do homework and doesn’t lift a finger to do it. I understand my son enough to know that it isn’t because he doesn’t understand the work. It is more that he doesn’t choose to understand it (don’t get mixed up in the language). If I didn’t make a stink about it, he wouldn’t perceive it of having any value and therefore it would, in my opinion, be somewhat of a detriment to his future. Not that the homework is contributing to his future, but rather if you are assigned to do something, you do it.

    This was one of the pitfalls that I ran into in my schooling. I knew how to do the work, so I didn’t see the need to repeat something over and over. I would ace all the tests, but since I didn’t ever complete my homework it averaged me out to an average student. If I would have just taken the little bit of extra time to just do the work, I might have gotten into a better university. I might have gotten a better job. I might have had a better opportunity. You can rail against the fact that grades don’t make the education and all that. But you can’t dodge the fact that this is the reality. If you don’t play by the rules, you aren’t in the game.

  7. @steve

    It is my sincere hope that you are taking my comments in the spirit of how they are given. I am starting to feel like we are in a bit of an argument and this isn’t my intention.

    The fact is that I really like your blog and have been silently reading it for a while. Though I disagree with some things (obviously), as a whole, I think you intension are admirable. I really believe that you are looking deeply at some of the conventions that we live our lives by.

    I just wanted to be sure to have mentioned this since I kind of came out of the gate with descent.

  8. @hashref,

    I understand your point and agree, I just choose not to call what you describe control.

    I don’t have any ill will about this whatsoever. I love this kind of conversation. It gets us thinking and talking and discovering. How boring when everyone agrees.

    These are the conversations I crave, but cannot have in everyday social interaction because they make people too uncomfortable. Conversations like this are why I blog. It fills my need for intellectual stimulation.

    I appreciate your intelligent commentary.

  9. “Lazy schools and teachers produce kids who struggle and hate homework b/c the teachers are doing a terrible job explaining.”

    Not entirely so. Sure, there are plenty of bad teachers out there – many of whom are vindictive, mean-spirited human beings – but plenty of teachers would LIKE to teach differently but simply aren’t allowed to. They have extremely limited lee-way as to how and what to teach. It’s unfair to point the finger at “lazy” teachers OR “lazy” students. It’s a systemic problem.

    Please remember that Jaime Escalante, John Taylor Gatto, Marva Collins, and other teachers with a superb track record – who really inspired and helped their pupils – were eventually either forced out of the profession, or got fed up and quit. Collins set up her own schools, but she wasn’t a PUBLIC school teacher for long. The fate of Jaime Escalante is the rule, not the exception.

    “With your notion of just letting a child do what he wants, the same exact scenario could very well happen. So what did you gain?”

    I think this is a false dichotomy. Most kids don’t want their parents to be their “friends,” not really – hanging out with them, smoking pot, acting like a kid themselves. But like so many dilemmas in the culture, this is largely imaginary. The parent who runs off and leaves a teen to fend for himself or herself, is ultimately showing DISRESPECT for their teen. You are implicitly sending the message you don’t expect anything more of them than reckless behavior. Similarly, the parent who forces the teen to do homework & even map out their entire life & career for them without understanding the reason for their resistance, without trying to find out, is also being disrespectful.

    The over-controlling parent and the blase, indifferent parent are both alienating their own children from them for the same reason: a lack of respect. They don’t respect the child, so they don’t get respect in return. Only the manner in which this lack of respect manifests itself differs. A teenager may have perfectly legitimate reasons for not wanting to do homework. Most homework is not real work, it’s just “worksheet wasteland” busy work. And some of it has a core value, but is taught in an illogical, scattershot manner, so that the material remains largely uncomprehended and unremembered even if worked over extensively by the student. Very rarely are homework assignments the sort of work the child can actually feel proud to accomplish.

    I appreciate Steve’s post – very thoughtful – but I’d put the matter slightly differently. Children need guidance, but guidance is not the same thing as control. John Gatto mentioned in an interview how he’d devote classes to analyzing the systems of control that permeate society. They’d actually sit down together and watch TV commercials – McDonald’s Happy Meal ads or whatever – and he & his kids would really explore exactly how the advertising industry manipulates minds. Of course I agree with Steve that parents shouldn’t give in and buy “video games, candy, and soda pop” whenever kids want it – but ultimately, what Gatto found, and what lots of parents and teachers would find, is that pretty soon his students didn’t even WANT those things. They stopped demanding them – why? because he didn’t tell them, “Shut up and do this, do that, because I say so,” but because he took the time to really engage their intellects – even at a very young age – and pretty soon those ads for this or that junky toy or junk food ceased to have any real appeal. Gatto is quite conservative – he defends spanking children and corporal punishment – but unlike most conservatives, he realizes that a lot of the time, rigid discipline isn’t even necessary if you go about things a little more intelligently and respectfully, starting with the assumption that kids are basically responsible, good, and smart, instead of assuming right of the bat they are rotten little twerps.

    Most of the time, on some deep level, we assume kids are “guilty until proven innocent,” whereas it’s better I think to assume they are “innocent until proven guilty.” The “guilty until proven innocent” assumption, mostly unstated but omnipresent, is what I find most objectionable about public schools.

  10. hashref,

    I need to give you examples:

    If my son yells “Give me some juice!” and I say “No, not until you ask nicely” I am teaching or giving guidance. It is not a form of control. He’s still in control of himslef and I am in control of myself. It’s an education. If you say things a certain way people probably won’t give you what you want.

    If he says I want to drive your car and I say “not until your grades improve.” Then he says then I’ll get a job and buy my own car. And I say, no you can’t get a job. Then he gets a job anyway. Then I tell him if he wants to live in my house he won’t have a job and he goes to work anyway I lock him out of my house. He moves in with a friend and buys a car anyway. That isn’t control. Every decision was his. He learned what I taught him, that I wasn’t going to give him things unless he did what I said. I that case I’d say he is smarter and more courageous than most kids. But I have no obligation to support his decisions. Then again, if he just got better grades and I gave him a car, that isn’t control either. It was his decision.

    I’d call the above things guidance or education and are just the parent protecting his own sense of self. If you want things from other people you have to give them what they want, if you don’t want to give it to them, then don’t, but they aren’t obligated to do anything for you either.

    Now I’ll give two examples of control:

    My three year old is throwing a temper tantrum at the supermarket. He throws himself on the floor screams and kicks and starts destroying the cereal aisle. I pick him up, phisically restrain him and carry him to the car and strap him in his child seat. That is control.

    A policeman stops me walking on campus and tells me to blow in a breathalyzer. I refuse. He says then I’m going to have to arrest you. I say you have no cause. He tries to grab me. I resist by shoving his hands away as he reaches for me. He pulls a taser out. I pull a knife. He shoots and kills me. That is control.

    Barring violence, all interactions are voluntary. Albeit they have benefits and consequences, they are still voluntary. If you can freely choose an alternative to what the other person is asking you to do, it isn’t control and you can always choose an alternative if violence isn’t used, therefore you are always in control of yourself.

    The problem in my mind is that we have many many things in our society that we enforce by law, like school attendance and seat belt usage, that we are willing to allow to escalate to violence if someone objects strongly enough. It is simply foolish.

  11. @chris

    I believe you are assuming that I believe that it is the educational element of the homework that I am valuing. Homework is homework and I never once said that I require my son do his homework so that it betters his education. At least not directly. What I have said directly is that I value the principle of completing what you are tasked to do. I do it at my job everyday. I don’t WANT to get up and go to work everyday. I don’t WANT to have to work several hours at home and/or on weekends when I get behind for whatever reason. I do these things because I am a responsible man who takes care of his responsibilities and does what I have to do to take care of myself and my family. What I do WANT is for my son to have that same quality to accept responsibility for the things that he for which he is responsible. So I control him by requiring that he does his homework. Will this result in that quality? We’ll see.

    This also isn’t to say that I haven’t questioned my son’s teachers about some of the homework that they have asked him to do. I routinely ask my son what he learned at school and if I see something in his homework that doesn’t jibe, I am the first to march in to the school and start asking questions. I am not training my kid to be another cog in the system and just mindless do it because someone told him to. It is called judgment. I don’t mindlessly say “Do you homework because I said so.” But that doesn’t mean that I just give up when we reach a stalemate. Just as we have rules in society, I have rules as well. But my rules aren’t setup to be unfair and they are certainly malleable based on the situation, unlike our societal rules. Again, it isn’t the control, but rather the motivation behind the control.

    I just don’t see how you can honestly raise a child without control. If the child does something wrong, say takes a toy from another child. If you don’t step in and control that behavior, what message are you sending your child? Sure you could show some guidance and explain to them that taking things isn’t nice and if it were you that took it, you would give it back. But let’s not “control” it and watch the chaos that ensues when they don’t accept your guidance because they aren’t capable of seeing the long term consequences to choices like that. I don’t believe that many, if any, children really think in the long term and how decisions that they make now will affect the rest of their lives. Hell, I don’t think that many adults do either.

    Lastly, I have to admit that I am confused at your response from that one sentence that I wrote. I don’t see it having anything to do with your response, but your points are well taken.

    However, I feel you are making a judgment that I am an overbearing parent who forces my kid to do homework and maps out his life. On the contrary. I will tell you exactly what I tell my son and you can judge me on this statement….

    “You can do and be whatever you want to be in life. However, my job to to make sure that you have the opportunity to make that choice instead of it being chosen for you.”

    What I mean by this is that my son would make me proud in whatever he chooses to do in his life. I will love him no matter what. But my goal is to make sure that he has the opportunity to choose the life that he wants, be it a street sweeper, a lawyer, a doctor, a fire fighter, whatever. But I know that society will judge him on what he does in school. Get bad grades and do poorly on the S.A.Ts, you don’t get to choose the university you go to, if you can even get into one. I know that life has a nasty way of catching up to you when you least expect it and you could end up in a dead-end job with no way out. Is this the life I want for my child? No. I doubt you would wish this on your child either. But how can I expect my child, with little real life experience to understand this? Even though I have “guided” him with this reality, he still chooses that homework and school work aren’t really all that important. It isn’t that he doesn’t understand or that it’s just too hard, he thinks that Transformers and Xbox are more important. For me not to control and show him that I am placing value on the things he doesn’t could end up being disastrous for his future.

  12. @steve

    I don’t see how you say that in all of the scenarios you provided weren’t control. You are certainly controlling his behavior in all of these situations. Do this or else. The only difference is that in your last two examples you are physically controlling them and in your first you are mentally controlling them. You are demanding a certain behavior. That is the desire for control.

    In scenario #1, you are attempting to exert your control over his. He demands you get it, you demand that he asks you nicely. You, as the parent, are attempting to shaping his behavior by doing it only if he does what you demand. You have just controlled his behavior. What was your motivation? To serve yourself or to better the child?

    In scenario #2, you are still attempting to exert your control over the child. However, you failed. You said, get better grades and the kid told you to pound sand. Again, my point is that you don’t continually have control. Once the student becomes the master all bets are off. I believe I have said this before. The point is that you are both battling for control of the situation. Control isn’t an illusion, it just shifts around based on who is willing to accept the control for whatever reason. Again, I would like to point out, what was the motivation behind your control and what was the motivation behind the child’s control?

    Scenario #3 and #4, we both agree that these are control, so I won’t go into them.

    You can twist the words around and say you are educating, but the bottom line is that you are attempting to control their behavior and mold them with your set of rules for what is right.

  13. hashref,

    I understand what you are saying, but then isn’t every transaction in the entire free market system a form of control.

    “Give me bread”

    “Not until you give me $3.00”

    “Wash my windows”

    “Not until you give me $100”

    “Give me a job”

    “Not until you have a degree”

    “Work for me”

    “Not until you provide health insurance”

    “Get an education”

    “Not until you show me the value”

    “Join the Army”

    “Only if you give $70,000 for college”

    This is all voluntary. I choose. You choose. It is all about teaching kids to make decisions that create the results they want. That is power.

    I can’t make you do anything. But I can provide incentives for you to do something, then you can choose whether or not to do it for yourself, but you don’t have to.

    You don’t control your kids, you only control your reaction to what they do.

  14. @steve

    Not just every transaction in a free market system. Everything.

    You are right. You can’t make me do anything, but for you to expect me to do anything is your desire to control (which is where this all really started from in the first place). But your expectations (read motivations) are key. Look at it like this. I give you $70,000 for college. If I were truly motivated to better your life, I would simply give it to you no strings attached. If I were motivated for me, I would not only expect you to return it to me, but return it to me at a profit (charge you interest). In the first scenario, I exerted my control to have you get a better education and better your life. In the other I exerted my control to be greedy. It is a really overly simplistic scenario and doesn’t take into account your control over your own actions. But hopefully you understand what I am meaning.

    What I have been saying all along is we are all either controlled or controlling every second of the day. This is how we live in a society together. This is how we survive. Without control, we would be, well… out of control.

    I have to say, Bingo! You finally are beginning to understand my point. I have been saying all along, you cannot avoid control or being controlled. What you do and how you use the control is what matters (the motivation behind the control).

  15. “This also isn’t to say that I haven’t questioned my son’s teachers about some of the homework that they have asked him to do.”

    That is you. That isn’t most parents. Most parents don’t ask those questions and don’t rigorously differentiate between busy work and serious work when it comes to homework. Crede experto (I did all the work, the good the bad and the ugly – and ALMOST all of it proved to be a complete waste, as I realized when I hit college and realized I didn’t actually know anything! to devote yourself to completing mountains of busywork won’t prepare you for life, since busywork, by definition, is not real work, real knowledge, or real substance)

    “However, I feel you are making a judgment that I am an overbearing parent who forces my kid to do homework and maps out his life.”

    I’m not making any assumption about you, since I don’t know you and have no idea what goes on in your house. I am making a point about control. I reject your definition of “control” and the necessity of it. I’m not telling you how to raise your kid, I’m making a general statement about what I see as going wrong with modern society. There’s a widespread belief that kids have too much freedom today. I think it’s just the opposite. They are more restricted and controlled than ever before. The freedoms they have are trivial and illusory sops (e.g. the freedom to wear designer labels, or tongue-piercings).

    “It isn’t that he doesn’t understand or that it’s just too hard, he thinks that Transformers and Xbox are more important.”

    But I can remember being that age, and stuff like that only seemed important to me and my friends because of the LARGER restrictions, the larger curtailments. It’s a compensation for something else that is lacking. I remember guys who were fanatically into board games like RISK, or computer games, or Nintendo playstation, or poker, or Dungeons & Dragons, because of the sheer tedium of the rest of their waking hours.

    You cannot treat teens as infantile beings the whole time they’re in school, and expect them to be mature when they’re at home. In schools, kids can’t even use the bathroom without raising their hand. Don’t you see what infantilizing them does to their general mentality? How on earth did it ever become acceptable to exert control over something as basic as bodily functions? That’s fine when it’s a little kid, but not a 17-year-old. In a few schools now you even have the absurdity of teens only being “permitted” three bathroom breaks a day, and having to log their bathroom breaks on charts. Now this is just ridiculous, okay? This is how lunatic society has become. To treat a 17-year-old or 18-year-old like a little baby – “how many times have you gone wee-wee today, Timmy?” – don’t be surprised if they turn out to only care about skateboarding, X-box, Lindsay Lohan’s tits, and porn. The truth is, schools help CREATE and EXACERBATE the very immaturity they are ostensibly there to solve.

    I am not blaming you for your son’s interest in X-Box. It’s a cultural problem, not something that’s the fault of individual parents. I’m saying we need to look at what society is doing to kids to keep them immature and solipsistic. This needs to begin with an honest assessment – like that provided by John Gatto, the late John Holt, Ivan Illich, and others – as to how badly awry the public school experiment has gone.

    “Get bad grades and do poorly on the S.A.Ts, you don’t get to choose the university you go to, if you can even get into one.”

    What makes you think university is such a grand prize? While there are some extraordinary professors out there whose classes are truly life-changing, there’s also plenty of nonsense and wasted time. Many university classes are no great prize and DONT encourage intellectual development or provide any great stimulus. Even at Yale and Harvard, plenty of classes are intellectual dross. Maybe your son doesn’t want a piece of paper. Maybe if there were actually something of importance behind that piece of paper, maybe if diplomas inevitably signified something other than “the chance to get into…. the chance to be….” What if they accurately reflected a person’s knowledge and wisdom (which the don’t)?

    Maybe your son is like some of the kids John Gatto described in his books.

    Read the story of Hector Rodriguez (scroll down to “Hector of the Feeble-Minded”). How do you know your son isn’t feeling some of the same things “Hector” felt? And how do you know a strategy like the one Gatto devised to help Hector wouldn’t do him a world of good?:

    Or how do you know he isn’t feeling some of the things Bruce E. Levine describes in this column about “shutdown” strategies? maybe that has something to do with his X-box addiction:

    Or maybe his school environment is toxic, as Mark Ames analyzes the link between poisonous environment and anti-social behavior:

    Or maybe he’s unconsciously rebelling against the sort of growing restrictions on youth described here:

    Anyway, as someone who did extremely well in school and now thoroughly regrets it, I’m suggesting there are perfectly valid reasons not to be enamored of school, especially the idiocy known as “homework” (why on earth are kids given hours of homework each night, when that’s the only time they’ll even see their parents – no wonder families break apart – when else is family bonding going to occur but in the evenings? the very hours of “family time” that homework eats away – and if they the kid has an after-school job on top of that, forget it – the so-called “family time” simply vanishes into oblivion).

  16. From the page: “because of the fact that childhood obesity is on the rise.”

    Blame it on anti-psychotic and anti depressant drugs. If you look at the statistics of how many children are on them and the rate of obesity associated with them, it explains the entire rise in obesity in the entire population since 1994. It’s silly and in a denial of reality to run your mind in circles around what else it could be (fast food, video games, whatever). The scientific evidence is ironclad. I wish this page would speak more about that, because the issue they are on about and child drugging go hand in hand. I tried leaving school when I was a child to try and pursue my interests in life and it’s exactly what destroyed it. 44 drugs by the time I finally got out of that system (partly) when I was 14 and by then my mind was so blown and I was going through so many tardive problems that my life was over before it even began, and now society is to chalk it up to some imaginary brain disease that the same drug pushers created.

    “That is exactly what I did. There is very little a parent can do about it without resorting to violence. ”

    Ridiculously wrong.

  17. “because of the fact that childhood obesity is on the rise.”

    Blame it on anti-psychotic and anti depressant drugs. If you look at the statistics of how many children are on them and the rate of obesity associated with them, it explains the entire rise in obesity in the entire population since 1994. It’s silly and in a denial of reality to run your mind in circles around what else it could be (fast food, video games, whatever). The scientific evidence is ironclad. I wish this page would speak more about that, because the issue they are on about and child drugging go hand in hand. I tried leaving school when I was a child to try and pursue my interests in life and it’s exactly what destroyed it. 44 drugs by the time I finally got out of that system (partly) when I was 14 and by then my mind was so blown and I was going through so many tardive problems that my life was over before it even began, and now society is to chalk it up to some imaginary brain disease that the same drug pushers created.

    “That is exactly what I did. There is very little a parent can do about it without resorting to violence. ”

    Ridiculously wrong.

  18. While I agree with everything you’ve written here, I would stress that self control isn’t the only qualifier for true freedom. If one suffers under the yoke of violent oppression, one can not have self control and therefore can’t be free.

    Sadly, the yoke is attached to more and more Americans every year. This is made possible by the fact that there are tens of thousands of pages of laws, statutes, and codes that make us all criminals. Although most of us live with the belief that we’re in a free society, there is a law somewhere that makes it possible to lock you up if one of the oppressors decides you have become bothersome.

    It used to be easy to say, “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” Today, we are all doing crime of one sort or another.

    I know this isn’t completely on topic, but it does tie in somewhat.

  19. @Mithotyn,

    No doubt our kids are over medicated. Great comment.

    About this portion of your comment:

    “That is exactly what I did. There is very little a parent can do about it without resorting to violence.
    Ridiculously wrong.”

    Did you see the context? If your kid decides to walk away from you. You can’t make them return without physically grabbing them. You could call the police, but they would have grab and restrain them as well. To me grabbing, restraining and forcibly moving a person who is just trying to walk away fits the definition of violence. In fact if someone did it to you, it would be called kidnapping.


    That is the exception to the self-control idea, externally imposed violence or threat of violence. If you are under constant threat of violence, which many American’s and other people around the world are, you are not free.

  20. @chris

    Concerning homework, I believe I spelled out my reasonings behind homework. It isn’t solely about the educational element. I don’t think I could be more clear.

    Concerning teens, I also said that eventually you must start to give them more and more control over what they do as they progress in age and life experience. The student will eventually become the master. Again, I think I was fairly clear on this as well. You keep saying “teen”, when my son is 10.

    Concerning blaming me for my son’s interests, that seems a bit silly to even mention who you could or couldn’t blame me for the interests of another. Logically, if I can’t make him want to do his homework, how can I make him want to play xbox?

    Concerning my desire to have my child go to a university, like it or not, this is the measure our society uses. You can call it a waste of time all you want. The fact is that in order to maximize your chances at succeeding in life, that worthless piece of paper is what is required. I am not saying it isn’t possible to succeed without one, but I am noting that it maximizes one’s chances. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that education is what YOU make of it.

    Whether or not my son goes to a university is inevitably up to him. However, I will not stop guiding him in that direction. Though you may consider it useless and a waste of time resulting in a worthless piece of paper, I do not. Without one, one’s chances are stifled.

  21. hashref,

    In general, a degree has nothing to with succeeding in life. However it is required to get certain jobs. Success is a definition you set for yourself. If your definition of success is getting a specific job, then I suppose getting a degree my be necessary for success.

    In my mind, who you marry has a much bigger impact on your hapiness than educational attainment.

  22. @steve

    In no way would I say “In general”. This is false. I believe that most careers require you to either have a degree or some sort of specialized certificate in order to even be considered for the position. Again, this doesn’t mean that one can’t “succeed” without an education. I have never said that. It does happen. However, I would like to point out that even you mentioned that society measures through education. You said it wasn’t fair, which I agree, but the fact remains that this is the ruler we are measured. My point is that I believe in giving my children all the opportunity I can. Though a degree doesn’t guarantee opportunity (there are no guarantees in life), I believe it would give them an edge on their competition. Of course you can say that life isn’t a competition, but I my particular experience says that it is.

    Secondly, what if I didn’t push my son to get a better education. Then when he gets older he realizes that he wants one of those careers that requires a degree but can’t. Where is the victory in that? At least when my son gets older he will have known me to have valued education (real education, not just a degree) and the reasons as to why I valued it. Personally, if my son found himself to be in this position, I will consider myself to have failed him. I knew better and didn’t do shit about it because I am afraid that he might not feel like he was in control.

    Third, lets take this hypothetical. Say you were sick and in need of surgery. You had one of two doctors you could go to. Doctor A has a degree. Doctor B doesn’t. Both sound like they really know what is wrong with you. Both agree on the diagnosis and are willing to do the surgery. Both have really clean records, no lawsuits, etc… Which one would you go to? Maybe its your child that is sick. Which one would you take them too? Which doctor would you be willing to take a chance with?

    Concerning happiness, I have never once equated happiness to education, so I am not exactly sure where you are going with this. But I would say that perhaps YOU believe marriage to have a bigger impact on happiness, but I wouldn’t say this is even remotely valid across the board. Everyone is different and it isn’t up to anyone to say what makes the other happy.

  23. hashref,

    I really don’t see what you problem is. You sound deeply offended, yet reading over my posts, it’s hard to see why. Steve juxtaposed a post I made and a post you made, and therefore I further elucidated my original statement, to clarify my thoughts on this matter.

    There was no hostility or condescension towards you expressed anywhere in my posts, yet now you are claiming that my posts are “silly to even mention” certain things. But I mentioned them because you brought them up, & claimed I was “judging” you to be a bad parent, when in fact I wasn’t “judging” YOU at all. I was pointing out, correctly I maintain, that just because YOU do certain things doesn’t mean ALL or even MOST parents do the same. I stand firm in my assessment that MOST parents are far too controlling and too fearful, and worry too much about report cards, as if report cards are an accurate measure of comprehension. They simply aren’t. I know this, because I was almost a straight A student (barring one subject) all through school and college, yet I never felt truly knowledgeable, since the curricula are so watered down and superficially explored these days, that an “A” is almost meaningless. If schools really are, for the most part, “worksheet wastelands,” and they most certainly are, then all the A’s in the world can’t mean anything, because getting a simply meant you devoted yourself to completing a bunch of silly little worksheets and fill-in-the-blanks. No true, deep learning can result from such banal activity.

    “Concerning homework, I believe I spelled out my reasonings behind homework. It isn’t solely about the educational element. I don’t think I could be more clear.”

    And I don’t think I could be more clear: as someone who NEVER skimped on homework assignments, I emphatically reject your logic. That is your opinion on the value of homework. It is an opinion I reject entirely. Nothing you have said convinces me otherwise. Homework didn’t teach me good work habits: since in fact part of life is distinguishing between valuable work, needful top priority work, and work that can be avoided because it is trivial, redundant, and unimportant. Whereas in school, you don’t decide, the teacher decides for you how you should spend your time. Separating dross from gold isn’t permitted, whereas in real life it is essential.

    Whether or not this applies to your situation is irrelevant. You could be the perfect parent, and it wouldn’t have any relevance to my larger point about modern culture. The infantilization of teens I described, the pumping young people full of behavior-modifying drugs that Mithotyn so poignantly described, really does occur. I stand by all that I said about schools, and Mithotyn’s sharing of his/her painful experiences being force-fed meds with serious side effects only reinforces my convictions.

  24. @chris

    I am not deeply offended by any means. I thought we are having a discussion. Perhaps my use of the word “silly” was not exactly what I meant. I do apologize if what I said was taken that way.

    However, I do believe that you are mischaracterizing my idea of control. You are stuck on the value I put on homework and that is one tiny factor that you and I obviously disagree on. I would like to point out that I do not “emphatically reject” your opinion on homework. As you said, it is an opinion.

    Let me ask you this, do you work for someone else? If so, do you do things that you feel are unnecessary? If so, why? This may or may not pertain to you, but I am quite certain that this is where many of us find ourselves. Though I have a good job, I don’t agree with some of the things they make me do. I am in a position to say I don’t agree and at times I am able to sway opinion in my favor. But still, when push comes to shove, they will win every time. What should I do? Not do it because I don’t agree with it? Seems to me that I would have a tough time keeping a job. Like I said, it may not be in YOUR experience, but I would venture to guess that this is somewhat universally true.

    This isn’t limited to just your employment. You have to jump through hoops to get a drivers license, to get married, to own a business. We all do things we feel are meaningless and trivial just because someone said we had to do it that way. We may question it and work to change it, but the end result is that we will probably end up having to do it or replace it with your idea of what is valuable (which is no guarantee that it won’t be meaningless to some other segment of the population).

    As far as the bigger picture of to control or not to control, when your child is an infant, you control their entire world (meaning you make all of their decisions for them). Why is this? Because they can’t. Do you ask them, “What kind of diapers do you want to wear?” Do you ask them, “Do you want to breastfeed or drink formula?” Do you ask them, “Do you want to take a bath today?” Of course not. You use YOUR judgment as to what is best for the child. YOU control THEM. However, when they start to get older, you can start to allow them to control more of their lives. What kind of underwear they want to wear. What type of foods they like to eat. My point being that control is a factor and you slowly relinquish control over to the child as their maturity level increases and they are able to make these decisions for themselves.

    You may think that my son is mature enough, at 10 years old, to make lifelong decisions for himself. I do not. I doubt that any of my sons friends are able to make decisions like this for themselves either. I know I wasn’t able to make lifelong decisions for myself at 10 years old. Maybe this isn’t your experience, but it is mine.

    Regardless of what you think about education, I do not necessarily share those opinions. I don’t emphatically reject your opinions on it though. I see it as your choice.

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