The Role of Authority When Raising Boys

I will not attempt to summarize the "how to" elements in my first book for parents and teachers, entitled The New Dare to Discipline, or the others I have written on the subject of discipline. It might be helpful, however, to offer some additional suggestions of relevance to boys. Let's begin by examining the role of authority, which is pivotal to the proper training of boys and girls—but especially boys. The key for parents is to avoid the extremes on either side. Over the course of the past 150 years, parental attitudes have swung radically—from oppressiveness and rigidity at one end of the continuum to permissiveness and wimpiness at the other. Both are damaging to kids. During the Victorian era, children were expected to be seen but not heard. Father was often a repressive and fearsome character who punished his kids harshly for their mistakes and shortcomings. Nurturance was sometimes provided by the mother, but she could be a pretty tough lady too. These overbearing and punitive techniques reflected the belief that children were miniature adults who needed to be whipped into shape, beginning shortly after birth and continuing well into young adulthood.

That rigidity eventually pushed the pendulum to the other end of the universe. By the late fifties and early sixties, parents had become decidedly permissive. What was called the "child-centered" approach tended to undermine authority and create some little terrors at home. Indeed, the baby boomers who were raised during that era came roaring through adolescence just in time to turn society on its ear.

Although the revolutionary spirit they generated has now subsided, today's families are still influenced by it. Many representatives of the sixties and seventies generation eventually raised their children by the same permissive techniques they had witnessed at home. They had no idea why it was important to teach respect and responsibility to their sons and daughters, because they had never experienced it personally. Now, a third generation has arrived on the scene that is even more unfamiliar with traditional principles of child rearing. I'm speaking in general terms, of course, and there are many exceptions. Still, it is my opinion that parents today are more confused than ever about effective and loving discipline. It has become a lost art, a forgotten skill. Well-meaning moms and dads have been misled by the liberal tenets of a postmodern culture, especially when it concerns naughty or rebellious behavior. Just watch the interactions between parents and their kids in public. You will see frustrated mothers screaming at their sassy, disrespectful, out-of-control kids. Even the uninformed observer can recognize that something is wrong here. It was from that perspective that I told the woman in the supermarket that I thought she was a good mother.

These trends are not simply my own observations of the changing social landscape. They are validated by research. A recent study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago confirmed that today's parents are more lax and permissive than a decade ago. The perfect child in the opinion of the participants is an "independent thinker" who is a "hard worker." Adherence to rules, standards, and prescribed behavior is of lesser priority. Center Director Tom W. Smith summarized the findings this way: "People have become less traditional over time with a shift from emphasizing obedience and parent-centered families to valuing autonomy for children. Parents now expect their children to be self-disciplined."

Book: Bringing Up Boys

By Dr. James Dobson

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