It's not uncommon to hear people complain about the behaviour of young people today - especially those in their early teens. They're out of cotrol, they're disrespectful, they're arrogant. They act like they own the world and everything in it, and - people say - parents cave in to their demands, spoil them, let them do whatever they want. Where's the discipline? Once upon a time, there was a rant here on just that subject.

What these people probably aren't aware of is the fact that many parents these days are fighting a losing battle when they try to impose any kind of discipline on their kids

Not because they spoil them. Not because they don't want to control them. Simply because society has let the kids get the upper hand.

Abuse of children is bad. Wrong. This is a self-evident truth. But in many societies, things have got to the stage where any punishment is treated as abuse. A stage where a child who writes a story about suicide (and teenagers tend to be obsessed by death, always have been, always will be) is referred to social services as suicidal. From then on, every time you shout at them, or make them clean their room, they can yell "I wish I was DEAD" and everyone swamps them in attention, and folds to their every demand. You, the parent, may know they are just making threats, sensationalising, or letting off steam, but ignore it at your peril, if you don't want your son or daughter taken into care.

Rebellion is normal, a part of growing up, but parents are having the tools to deal with the rebelliouness, so that kids become well-adjusted adults, taken out of their hands. The thing that rebels need to realize is that sometimes, just sometimes, the person in authority has a point - and these days we aren't allowed to make it.

Balance people -- we need to strike a balance between rights and responsibilities while there is still some understanding that the two go together and a right isn't what belongs to you and a responsibility what belongs to other people.

There are two parts to this subject: discipline and rebellion.

The primary fallacy of parental discipline is the belief that a parent needs to impose consequences to teach a child the "right" way to behave. But the universe inherently does this for you. Real consequence-learning come from seeing how a given behavior reacts with the environment, not knowing that mum or dad will spank or ground. Those parents are doing harm by actually insulating their child from the real world and its natural consequences. Only when the natural consequences are so severe that you would interfere with another adult's behavior is it appropriate to do so with your kids. You keep them out of traffic, but let them profane. You don't let them drink a cup of paint thinner, but beer is no problem.

Aside from the fact that this notion of discipline is artificial, it also is largely a failure. Most of the research on child development points to the fact that authoritarians are able to provide short term motivation, but that it almost universally works against the desired outcome in the long term. So really, discipline is harmful in both of the ways that it is supposed to be helpful. (Read Alfie Kohn for reference to supporting research.)

Rebellion is a funny topic. From what I've seen and studied, rebellion is proportional to the amount that a kid is messed with. If you don't want your kids to rebel, then treat them like humans. I know I'm suggesting the radical, but let me ask you this question:

How would you react if someone imposed numerous vectors of micromanagement on every facet of your life?

It's bad enough at work, right? But what if some uncouth boss who really didn't understand your life-needs and -desires also got to dictate when and with whom you got to use the telephone after work? What if she dictated to you how much work you'd have to do at home after working a full day? Would you like to have your free movement restricted through curfew or grounding because your quarterly appraisal wasn't quite up to his expectations?

Fuck that! That's how we treat exactly two classes of people in our society. The first of these is dangerous criminal convicts and the second is kids. And we do all this knowing that people placed in restrictive environments will rebel through any means possible. How stupid is that? We are guaranteeing that our kids rebel. We are pushing them away.

So you're thinking, "Yeah, OK Yonder, ya big know-it-all, so what's the solution? Let the kids run wild?" The first step is to get clear in your head what your role as a parent is. It's not their micromanager. It's not their owner. And never think that they owe you, because they don't! You owe them. You had all the say in whether they would even exist so you took on a great and burdensome responsibility. You get to do the owing.

If you don't want your kids to be rebellious, then don't give them any grief against which to rebel. My kids won't rebel against the rules of my house because those rules (and that house) are ours...not mine. Our only real rule, one that the kids agree with, is that food doesn't belong in the bedrooms. It's a matter of sanitation that could cause house-wide problems and devaluation of the property. And the whole family agrees and everyone is equally bound by it. How and why would the kids rebel?

Remember that you owe them; it's not the other way around. You don't have a special right to their time. You don't have a right to their respect. If you earn their respect then they're eager to give you some of their time. Your job is to help them. Help them to enumerate their goals. Help them to gain the skills needed to attain those goals. Remember that these are their goals, not yours. You don't get to decide the goals for them. Because you can't be in their head, you can't know what's right for them. Only they can do that. You just get to help.

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