[Previous] Old TCS Posts 5 | Home | [Next] Lowest Common Denominator?

Old TCS Posts 6

"Wow, you put all your laundry away all by yourself. I'm glad because now we have time for an extra story."

This is one reason I *loathed* the *How to talk so kids will listen* books. Quite simply, the statement quoted here is a *lie*. This is horrible manipulation.
That's Sarah talking. I agree with her point. But she is rather hostile. This raises an interesting question: How did TCS grow when the majority of posters were hostile to the core ideas, and the most active founder was hostile to people who who express relatively normal parenting ideas? Sarah goes on to take apart this person's statement in detail and explain what he "*really* means" and how it is coercive.
"You sure got dressed quickly this morning. Now you have time to paint before lunch."

Well in that case, the child would have *even more* time if she did not bother dressing at all, wouldn't she? But that would not fit in with the behaviourist plans of the authors of that book at all (despite its undoubted practicality for such a messy activity).
Well, it's true. But it's Sarah being hostile again.

There is a second unquestioned assumption which I'd like to point out. It is the fixed lunch time. You don't have less time to accomplish things if you wake up later in the day, and move lunch correspondingly. When you have lunch, and how much is done before it, actually has nothing to do with how much you can get done in a day. Lunch takes the same portion of your waking hours regardless.

Oh damn, there's only this one Sarah post this month. It was hard to tell from context, but she might be less hostile than it seems. Maybe someone asked if the type of statements quoted are good ideas instead of actually advocating them. I guess I'll find out later.
My children have so many choice - they wear what they want, they control their own learning (they don't go to school and don't do any schoolwork) etc., but in somethings there can be no choice.
What things? As usual, no details are given of specifically when and why a child must be coerced. But despite not being able to think of a single strong example, this poster is very attached to defending the principle that coercion is sometimes justified. Presumably it will help him feel better about those times he hurts his child.
In our case, our noncoercive philosophy is easy to follow when it comes to clothes, hair, education, bedtime and yes, even toothbrushing, but I don't start the car unless everyone has a seatbelt on, I don't let kids smash private property and I don't let them hurt each other.
This is a later post by the same author, and gives genuine examples! Coercion is justified over seat belts, vandalism of others' property, and sibling violence.

Well, maybe. He doesn't start the car until people buckle up. Prima facie, that sounds helpful, not coercive. It keeps his children safe even if they are forgetful. Wouldn't they appreciate this concern? So why does he think it's coercive? Do his children want him to start the car and drive around with their seat belts unfastened? If so, then they'd be in a state of coercion if this is refused to them, and they still want it. This sounds fairly unlikely. I wonder if the real issue is that the children don't want to go on the car ride at all.

But let's take it at face value for a moment. Events take this form all the time. Any time a child forms any preference at all, and his parent does not immediately comply, we have a situation like this. But coercion is usually avoided. How? Sometimes the child comes to agree with the parent. Sometimes they discuss it and find a new point of view they both agree with. Or they discuss it, and then the child gets what he wanted once some kind of understanding is reached -- the parent gives some safety advice, or just realized he was mistaken. There is no reason for a disagreement to end in force or coercion. It can be resolved amicably.

So even in the interpretation of the seat belt scenario where the child initially wants something which the parent initially refuses, coercion is still far from assured. We have yet to depart from normal life. The same thing happens among friends all the time. The only reason this situation would reliably result in coercion is if one or both parties had an entrenched irrationality.

What about vandalism? Or violence against another child? Well, what about it? What if my child wants to assassinate the President? Prima facie, all these problems are extremely easy to solve. They are much easier than the seat belt problem. The reason is that the case against doing each of these things is extremely strong. The case for brushing teeth may be hard to make, but the case against violence and criminal actions is easy to make! They are very bad and easy to argue against. Easy to show downsides for. Easy to suggest better alternatives to. As in the seat belt case, the only reason these would present a chronic problem is if there is an entrenched irrationality involved. And if there is, the solution has nothing to do with the ostensible problem. The problem is about the irrationality, and the details of how it works and the how the other parts of the person's personality can help get rid of it or circumvent it. It isn't vandalism that is hard to deal with, it's irrational theories and behaviors that contain mechanisms to sabotage rational criticism and prevent changing to better ideas.

Children are not born with entrenched, irrationalities. Parents, at the time of the birth of their children, already have many entrenched, irrational theories. So the theory that the irrationality is "probably in the child" is ridiculous.
It is all distilled into what I tell squealers who try to tattle tale to me - Unless someone is hurting or being hurt, is endangering themselves or others or is destroying someone's property, I don't want to hear about it.
Squealers who tattle tale? Why does this poster think of children in terms of demeaning schoolyard terms?

A "squealer" is usually a child who has a problem with another child, and wants parental help. Or he is a child who is acting obedient to adults, and helping them enforce the rules they say are very important. Or, sometimes, he is trying to use an adult to hurt another child, which is a very unfortunate state to be in deserving of much sympathy. Don't you feel sorry for someone who doesn't know how to be happy and is so desperate that he would hurt someone else in a futile attempt to improve his life? What have his parents been doing? He needs help!

And why doesn't this adult want to hear about it? Apparently the child considers it important! There is a problem of some sort. Or if there is no problem, then the child has a misconception that there is a problem, and this misconception is itself a problem which could be solved. So instead of "not wanting to hear about it" the poster should listen carefully and try to help. Ignoring child who reach out to adults is hugely irresponsible.
Next, I disagree with your premise that survival consists of taking actions that fend off immediate death. Survival and hygene properly consist of pursuit of a optimal state of health, not just staving off death.
LOL. This is pretty funny. First he says coercion is justified if the child would die otherwise. Coercion for the sake of survival is justified. Then he goes on to explain how survival actually means maintaining an optimal health state complete with tooth brushing (it is a thread about tooth brushing and this was specified in the surrounding text), eating vegetables, daily exercise, staying on top of current medical advice, becoming rich and funding life extension research, and so on. So, for example, your child can't become an artist because that doesn't usually pay very well. I know children should only be forced when necessary, but that extra income will pay for better medical care, so it's justified. It's a matter of life or death!
Why is it, in your view, that initiation of force is wrong? In my view, it is because that force overrides the judgement of the victim - and that judgment is a human being's means of survival. For an act to be coersion, it must be overriding a capacity that the victim actually has. In the case of children, if you're forcing a 16 yr. old to brush his teeth, its coersion, but if you're forcing a 2 year old, it is not - since the two year does not have the capacity to understand tooth decay or the relationship with brushing preventing it. I'm not talking about strapping the child down
Of course not. Why would you strap a child down? They are small and easy to control without straps :)

Seriously though, parents today usually use threats instead of a whip. They threaten to withhold love, withhold approval, be upset, act grumpy and unhelpful, withhold stories and various kinds of help. Or they use emotional blackmail. These are ways of coercing children too. They are ways of making children do something while not wanting to do it.

Force prevents rational discussion. When force is used, it means that the stronger person gets his way, independent of the merit of his ideas. This is bad because it more often implements bad ideas than a rational approach. It's also bad because it hurts people.

The poster has used an ad hoc reasoning for why initiating force is wrong specifically designed to give him an excuse for forcing children. He has gone out of his way to fit in a clause about whether the victim is capable of judgment, so he can exclude children as possible victims. And anyway, choosing to move a brush back and forth, or not, is a capacity a two-year-old has. The whole point of coercing children is not that they are unable to make a choice, but that they have made one the parent does not like. Anyway, imagine you didn't have the capacity to understand something, say quantum physics. And you had to make an important decision that depended on details of quantum physics. And imagine your father is a world class expert in the field. What would you do? Of course you would want to recognize your ignorance, and to ask for advice. Children have it even easier than that. Their parents tell them about their ignorance, and volunteer the dental information, and any other relevant, helpful information. If they go wrong, it isn't due to a lack of capacity for understanding long term dental consequences. Those are not relevant -- the child can make a rational decision without understanding them. Just like you can make a rational decision about the quantum physics issue without learning about it. You can ask your father, and make a judgment about whether he is an expert, and whether what he says seems to fall within his expertise, and makes sense as far as you can tell. Similarly, a child can make a judgment about whether his parents' advice has generally seemed to help him or hurt him, and act accordingly. This is, in fact, what children frequently do. The only problem is their parents already have a history of hurting them. Then they take the refusal of the child to trust them as proof children are stupid, and so they start claiming force and violence are justified to overcome the inborn stupidity of children.

Have you ever watched a parent with a baby? You will see things like the parent hardly paying attention, and then when the baby reaches for something, for half the items in the area, the parent will move it out of reach because he doesn't want the baby to have that. Why did he put it in reach, then thwart the baby when the baby reached for it? Why doesn't he watch his baby and look for a way to help him? Why doesn't he form theories of what his baby is interested in, and think of new ways to explore it? This sort of parenting is common place. And fully explains why some parents cannot seem to reliably get their children to take their advice. As well as, you know, the fact parents commonly give bad advice. How many parents actually read scientific studies carefully before giving their children health advice? Instead they read a magazine article which summarizes a summary of a study, and they have no idea if the study is valid or not. They read some guy, who might be an expert but they don't really know, misquoted by a journalist who definitely isn't an expert and wants an exciting sounding article, and they then insist they know an important truth.
You have said age isn't a factor. This is puzzling to me because it seems fairly obvious that children do not have the same capacities as adults. How do you take this into account?
By taking into account ability, skill, and ignorance directly, when they are relevant, instead of using a one-size-fits-all judgment based solely on age.

Elliot Temple on December 30, 2007

Comments

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)