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Old TCS Posts 4

[Our young child is] probably brighter than Dear Ol' Dad, but we try not to encourage that thought.
The poster states his best idea of the truth, and then that he does not want his child to believe it. He would prefer his child believe something he considers false. That's awful.
Proof number two came in the form of Anthony
How can you prove something twice? Why bother? It was already beyond doubt after the first proof, wasn't it?
we are firmly in the camp of coercion where necessary


Oops. We LET him get opinions? Yup, and he fiercely defends them, too. Even when (or *especially* when?) they don't agree with ours. Which brings us to: DISCIPLINE.

Here's where all our careful planning landed in oblivion. One moment everything was going according to plan, and the next -- he didn't listen when we said, "No." We were devastated. We were nonplussed, too. Being an actor, my gut reaction was, "Hey! This kid isn't reading the script!"


We slowly learned which forms of discipline were effective (added chores, time outs, rare spanks), and which were complete wastes of time (yelling, hand slapping, grounding)
This sort of speaks for itself. Child gets opinions. Parent disagrees. This brings them to discipline. The problem is the child sometimes says "no" (which is equated with not listening even though it's very different). To parents, this is "devastating". Children are supposed to obey.

So, the parents tried lots of punishments like hitting their child, yelling at him, and making him do chores. (Remember this next time you meet a child who has a chore list ostensibly so he will learn responsibility or otherwise "for his own benefit". Chores are used as to discipline children, and you don't discipline people by making them do what's best for them -- they would appreciate that and want more discipline.) So with time, the poster learned which type of hitting his child was most effective to cause obedience, and which sorts of other ways of hurting child he is most fearful of. We are supposed to congratulate him.

Putting this in perspective, the poster believes in "coercion where necessary" but his parenting included yelling and hitting, and more, which were "complete wastes of time" (i.e., unnecessary). Further, the child-hurting, such as spanking, which he does deem necessary, and indeed all the punishments, were not to save the child from imminent harm or for some other clear necessity. In fact, they were for a bad cause: the child said "no", and the parent wanted to force the child to say, "yes". All this coercion has nothing to do with necessity and everything to do with the parent's irrational attitude that the solution to a child who disagrees is to hit him until he agrees. This could only seem necessary if "coming up with good, reasonable ideas that child would be happy to agree with" is well beyond the capacity of your imagination.
Our key to success has always been showing greater love to the child after having applied the coercion, to show that all things are done in love. This is what keeps our family running.
This is the same post, which grants us some insight into what this means. Child is given a time out and a spanking and then told it's all because they love him. How sweet? They discovered that telling children they love them makes the children more obedient than telling them they are adversaries.

One wonders just what they love. They do not love the child as he is today. They think the child today is so wicked that coercion and suffering is necessary to change him. What they actually love is an imaginary child, similar to their own child, except that he never says "no". And for the sake of this imaginary child, they are willing to hurt their real child. That's the kind of love they are talking about.
In the short week I have been subscribed to this list, I have witnessed it QUICKLY devolve into:

The Name/Name2/Name3 Arguing With Each Other and Calling Each Other Everything But Blatant Evolutionists While Using the Most Verbose and Banal Language Possible List.

I had hoped this list would bear fruit, but fear the fruit has taken over.

Please remove me from it.
This person wants to leave the list because it has unpleasant arguments and name calling. But before he goes, he felt it best to post some verbal abuse. That will really show those people who are ruining the list with verbal abuse!
Sarah Lawrence writes, in part:

Most parents, including unschoolers, disagree with us about whether refraining from coercion is *right.* They say that coercion, as we have just defined it, is natural, desirable and unavoidable, because unless children are treated in some of these ways some of the time, disaster will result. The sort of "evidence" they cite typically includes: *children need to be trained to clean their teeth regularly because otherwise they will lose them in later life;

This is precisely where I part company with Sarah. I believe in letting children do what they want, when they want - so long as it's not dangerous. (If it involves me, there's also a laziness factor involved; I know there are more energetic and willing parents on the various home-ed lists, but I assure myself that in this, too, I'm well in the 99th percentile.) But what should a non-coercive parent do when a child does not like to have her teeth flossed and brushed, and will kick and fight to avoid it?

Sarah will probably say that the kicking and fighting is a reaction to the coercion, and to my reaction to the kicking and fighting, and I partly agree: If I didn't think it was funny/annoying, it wouldn't keep happening. But our oldest, at least, never liked having his teeth brushed, and always resisted. And, this is not something we can just ignore and wait for him to grow out of: He already has a mouth full of cavities (well, $2K worth of fillings and caps, now) and we do *not* want this to happen to his second set of teeth.

I submit that "no coercion" is a bad ideal. If Sarah has been able to avoid health-related coercion, this says more about her particular children than the general case.
Hmm, let's see. This parent believes health-related coercion works, and has practiced it. And the result has been ... failure. The proof that non-coercion cannot work is that dental coercion doesn't work. Seriously? Sigh.

If non-coercion was just another way to make children do things like brush their teeth, but nicer and less effective, then we could agree that when stronger methods fail, the weaker ones will too. But it isn't about making children do things! One of the key ideas of non-coercive parenting is that if something is actually a good idea, it's possible for any person to see this. Merit can be explained, argued, and demonstrated. Thus, if a child does not brush his teeth, but should, the knowledge of the value of teeth brushing can be communicated so that child will want to brush. And this is in fact much more effective than trying to force child. When he cares about brushing his teeth, he'll do a much better job than what can be coerced out of him. Just as this poster has so kindly illustrated: coerced brushing was not effective enough to prevent cavities. Something else is needed, like cooperation towards common goals. Which means that step one should not be insisting child "listen" (obey), it should be coming to agree about the goals. If you start by creating a common point, such as agreement about the teeth brushing issue, then it's much easier and more effective to proceed because you won't be working towards conflicting purposes.
The argument that "I, as the parent, have to pay for their mistakes" is easily solved: don't pay for their mistakes if you don't want to. If you don't want to pay their dental bills if they neglect their teeth, then make that clear to them ahead of time and stick to your position. Let them pay (or not) for their own dentistry.

If they don't have any income, then they'll have to take that into account in deciding whether or not they prefer not brushing their teeth and having to get a job to pay for possible dentistry in the future or not. If you tell them: "Do it, but if you don't I'll pay for your dental work anyways," then they've got less incentive to prevent the dentistry in the firstplace.

This is some kind of libertarian insanity. By this logic, you can justify anything at all. "Agree to my rules about your entire life, or I won't pay for your food. When making this decision, take into account how much income you have for buying your own food." And of course your child, who isn't even legally allowed to work, won't be able to afford his own apartment and food and so on (let alone take care of himself alone). So this is simply a recipe for parents to justify any set of rules they want, no matter how coercive. It is worse than conventional parenting, which acknowledges that parents have some obligations to provide for their child.

But then the same person says:
I don't see how the age of the child changes anything. I think what you're trying to say is that if your child is old enough to have been sufficiently indoctrinated into the absolute goodness of what you're trying to get the child to do, then your preferred outcome is more likely. But what I question is why all you care about is whether the child brushes his or her teeth, without caring about whether the child does this because the child thinks it's in his or her own best interest based upon their own independent judgement or whether they do it because their parent said so.
Which is, well, good. Posters do indeed like to imagine older children so they can imagine a child who already agrees with them. And it is indeed important whether your child thinks brushing is a good idea or is just avoiding punishment. Notice, for example, what happens when your child moves out, in each case. Parents claim they coerce to instill habits which will be beneficial when the child is an adult. But the habit of brushing-when-under-threat won't be much use when he's an adult -- no one will threaten him, then.

There's also the further issue that sometimes parents are mistaken, and the policy, "the parent must always be obeyed," does not have any mechanism for error correction. If the parent is mistaken, then a mistake will happen. The rival policy, "the parent and child should come to agree on something, and do that," does have a mechanism for error correction: during the discussion, bad ideas will be criticized and thrown out.
Infants have to be coerced into wearing diapers and clothes, even though they'd probably prefer to avoid the latter.
How parochial! Clothes are the kind of necessity requiring coercion? Why? What disastrous harm will come to your infant from not wearing clothes? He won't get the job as a baby fashion model? His parent will be mildly embarrassed?
the need for and/or justifiability of coercion is inversely correlated with the child's abilities


some teenagers have to be coerced into writing those damn college application essays.
Some teenagers do not want to write college application essays. Let's consider why that might be. Maybe they aren't enthusiastic about college. Notice the child is not allowed any more leeway to make his own judgment when he is older. Parents say that older children with more abilities don't need to be coerced, it's only ignorant babies. But then when it comes down to it, if a child of any age has a different opinion than his parent, this is taken as proof he's still a child at least in some ways, and still must be coerced. Because mother always knows best. Mother is so amazing she even has a logical justification of the statement, "mother always knows best." I'd love to hear it, but unfortunately, she doesn't share it with mere mortals like myself, who probably couldn't understand it anyway.

Elliot Temple on December 29, 2007


What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)