Do Bad Kids Equal Bad Parenting?

John Rosemond: A Primer

I want to make one thing plain from the start: I hold author John Rosemond in very high esteem.

He and I have never met, and given my relative youth in the profession, for me to invoke the name of someone who has written 15 books and presently possesses national newspaper syndication for his column could come off as some sort of attempt to boost my own following, especially when what follows could seem like an attack. But this is not Twitter and I am not the self-promoting type. I just want to share more information and clear any confusion.

All of what Rosemond writes is good and much of it is exceptional, mostly because it bucks the mainstream, challenges conventional thinking, and yields results. Some people would have you
believe otherwise (go ahead and check his Wikipedia criticism page – that third one from Kentucky is a real treat), but I have learned recently that we often only catch flak when we are over the target.

Furthermore, as a proud bucker-of-conventional thinking myself, I endorse his attitude,
willingness to lay things bare, and present unvarnished truths. But – and there must be a “but” if I spent three paragraphs lauding the man – a recent column of his about how “bad kids don’t
necessarily mean bad parenting” has an inappropriately assigned title, which is not his fault.

Bad Headlines Don’t Necessarily Mean Bad Articles

Now, I am not interested in turning this into a trashing of John Rosemond, because he does not
need trashing. Far from it. What I want to do is point out that while the title is worthy of a column – or maybe even a book – the premise of Rosemond’s article does not follow with it. That is called bad copy editing, not bad writing, but nevertheless the average reader knows no different and poor Dr. Rosemond suffers the slings and arrows while he likely grits his teeth at home.

Actually, after spending 40-plus years in the field, the man is successful enough not to care
about what headline some editor slapped onto his work but knowing the body of his work, he
probably does care on some level.

But I digress.

The larger point is that this is a good headline but for a different piece. Rosemond’s article
explains that children are not dogs and cannot reliably be “trained” in a traditional sense, and as such parents should take heart that not all of their kids’ bad behaviors are their fault. That part is true.

However, what is lacking as far as the headline is concerned, are the numerous possibilities
through which parents can truly divest themselves from the parenting determinism (the notion that parenting yields the person) that Rosemond mentions, while knowing confidently that they are, in fact, doing a good job with their kids despite some unpleasant behaviors.

Some of those aforementioned possibilities include, but are not limited to: bullying, social awkwardness, team sports rituals, internal anxiety, perfectionism, love interests, academic stress, sexual orientation, biological development, and peer pressure. And remember, the list goes on.

Our Job as the Parent

Children do not always speak with their parents about their struggles even when the parents are parenting well. I wish I had a dime for every time I sat down with overly concerned parents and their child, conducted my interview, and eventually asked the kid, “Before this conversation, did your (insert reliable adult here) know about that?” only to discover that the the child never mentioned it.

In counselor school they beat into our brains that we are not responsible for someone’s change. Rather, our responsibility is to create an environment conducive to change. In other words, if the space I give my clients is not safe enough for them to share stuff with me, they won’t.

Sometimes that means a comfortable chair and a warm smile. Sometimes it means tossing
them a baseball while I draw on the whiteboard. Sometimes it’s a certain flavor of wax in my
Wolf Pack-themed Scentsy. It varies for everyone.

Similarly with parenting, our job is not to have all the answers for our kids or to jump in front of every possible harm that might befall them. Instead, we want to ensure that the home
environment is welcoming and safe for them to bring any topic to us in case they are struggling.

If not, we may never know, then that list I laid out two paragraphs ago may never surface at the
kitchen table (author’s note: you should be eating together!). And then you will truly not have
control over their behavior simply because it will not be up to you to influence at that point.

The Art Inexact Science of Parenting

Parents should aim to be structured but not rigid, inquisitive but not judgmental, loving but not permissive. Parenting is an inexact science, not an art. Art leaves far too open for interpretation the methods and we have buckets of research that suggest lots of things rooted in science.

A handful of concepts ring true no matter what, and among those are consistency, compassion, love, forgiveness, and authority.

However, I happen to believe that authority matters most. In a world of postmodernist thought, where everything is a debatable, including our kids’ place in the family hierarchy, Rosemond strikes the proverbial nail on its head with this quote: “…no method, technique, strategy, or consequence is going to work for long (if it works at all) unless it is delivered by a parent who is unequivocally convinced of his/her authority over said child. A right attitude is more important than a right consequence.”

We cannot have parents reading an article with a headline like the one I referenced and
throwing their hands in the air while saying, “See? It’s not my fault! The psychologist said so!”
That was not Rosemond’s point, it was the editor’s gaffe and an unfortunate one.

Parenting is a balance in the midst of extreme possibilities. We want to establish authority without being authoritarian and the bridge to that is through love, compassion, consistency, and forgiveness. Remember that your kids are walking the earth for the first time and that you have a head start on their experience. Meet them through that lens and you will likely find your audience with them growing rapidly. Then you won’t have to wonder what they are up to
because you will already know.

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