Sunday, December 02, 2007

How much freedom should parents give to children?

It seems to me that many parents are quite immoral in the tyrannical way that they try to go about controlling their children. Clearly if the important qualities of people are to evolve, it is best that one’s fortune be determined by these qualities, and not by the qualities of a parent or whatever. Where children have no liberty, their success will only half as much be determined by their own qualities, and so, all things equal, people will evolve half as well there. For this reason it is especially morally incumbent upon a parent that children be allowed freedom in making their own moral and relationship choices, since it is imperative for the greater goodness of humanity that these qualities evolve well.

What exactly constitutes appropriate discipline? There are some appropriate reasons for parents to try to force children to do things, and let us try to enumerate these reasons, which will give us an idea of the (limited) disciplinary rights that are natural and appropriate to parents.

The most important occasion in which it is appropriate for a parent to discipline a child is when she thinks that the child is behaving in an inappropriate manner that is not representative of the true nature of the child. This sort of discipline, when honestly given as a result of a correct judgment by a parent, does not reduce the extent to which the behavior of the child reflects the child’s true, innate self. It’s not a question of you getting your way or your child getting his way, it’s a question of you getting your way or whatever controls your child getting his way. Unless, perhaps, the child willingly and knowingly allowed herself to be controlled, but that happens rarely and is not the sort of thing that parents mind much except when they should. This sort of discipline is appropriate mainly in cases of addiction. If your child believes one thing and you believe something else, it is difficult to see why you should force him to behave as if you are right unless he believes what he does on account of some addiction forcing him to believe wrongly and against his nature. Another time this sort of discipline might be appropriate is if your child has been brainwashed as a result of having been exposed to stuff the child never wanted to get exposed to in the first place. But care, I think, should be exercised in disciplining the child in the latter case. It is very easy for parents to try to force a child to be what he is not by merely claiming the child has become deluded. Usually, it is presumptuous of the parent to determine for a child that a child is deluded when the child believes the parent is deluded, unless some addiction be involved. Even if vaguely or otherwise a parent feel peers are to blame for the child’s behavior, that is not in itself a justification for controlling a child unless it is also believed the child had no say in choosing the peers. It should be pointed out, though, that a fair number of things that don’t immediately seem like chemical addictions actually probably are such. E.g., skankiness is probably an addiction to getting sodomized, i.e., an addiction to chemicals introduced in the digestive system, and eating terribly is probably caused by addictive gut bacteria making one eat according as they demand it. Some might say, in excuse for parents having more authority over children, that parents being older are more likely to be wise. However, this is but a lame excuse. Maybe with respect to young children, parents are more wise than children, but to the extent this is the case, it is hard to see why children wouldn’t realize their greater ignorance, thereby deferring to parents. Children who don’t realize that with future reflection, experience and thought can come wisdom are likely to suffer to such an extent that one can’t really explain why children would evolve to be so stupid as to not realize that they might gain knowledge with age; it only makes sense that they have not evolved to be that stupid. Children don’t generally mind respecting parents for their wisdom when the parents are wise and not tyrannical.

It will be admitted that children often behave in crazy ways. However, the healthy way people come to understand their irrational feelings is by humoring them enough to realize their meaning and limited appropriateness and thereby allowing them to realize the limited spheres in which the emotions are useful. Not allowing children to live their own lives and thus to see exactly how their emotions relate (negatively or positively) to particular realities only serves to stifle the children’s emotional development. A child kept on a leash will not learn to live otherwise than on a leash, and it will hurt his/her emotional development. Moreover, a parent who takes away natural liberties from children often loses the respect of the child. Such a child is less likely to listen to a parent’s all important appropriate demands, i.e., freedom from addiction (and from addictive depravity) and will be less likely to respect the parents’ own right to liberty, etc. Parents may think they control their children, but children are not without power, and a parent shouldn’t be surprised if her inappropriate demands cause behavior in children that punishes. Ideally, people should not infringe on the rights of others, but it is entirely appropriate for a child to try to punish a parent if his/her rights are being infringed upon and all options have been exhausted. Everyone is at rights to seek remedy for injustices done against his person, and parents should not be surprised or angered at behavior of their children that could only be considered natural of anyone decent enough to love freedom and liberty enough to resist being tyrannized. Just believing that something your child believes or does is somewhat crazy does not give you the right to demand he be otherwise than himself.

Still, it does seem to me that if a parent feels extremely strongly that a child ought to be doing one thing he isn’t doing, then if the child doesn’t feel extremely strongly the other way, the parent might be excused for trying to force the child to behave according as how the parent sees fit. The parent, after all, is half like the child, and the differing views, differing in magnitude, are suggestive that the child would feel similarly to how the parents feel if only circumstance had occasioned different influences upon the child. The child might not even mind, especially if he is given the same right in reverse, i.e., to resist parents who are behaving in a way that he really dislikes. This sort of thing should be engaged in with moderation, however, or the child will become stubborn and indifferent, feeling his rights have been violated, for example, when they have been, thereafter not being at all willing to have his rights ridden upon.

Another case where it can be appropriate for a parent to demand of a child certain behavior is if the behavior of the child interferes with the rights of the parent to live his life in the way he sees fit. For example, it is a nuisance to a parent for a child to have to pick up after a child. And actually, it is useful to a child to gain the habit of putting things away when he is done with them—to constantly keep an eye toward his general surroundings looking out for stuff that should be put away, until such noticing and constant organizing becomes second nature and pleasant. Thus, it seems to me that a parent is not wrong to (good-naturedly) demand of a child beyond a certain age that the child clean up after himself, at least if the parents sufficiently put things away themselves that it becomes easily obvious when something is left in the wrong place. It is important, though, that the parent not make not cleaning seem as screwed up behavior. Gaining good habits of putting things away has nothing to do with being respectable and not screwed-up. Or if a family has so many chores that need to be done it is great stress for parents to do them all, it is not wrong to expect children to do some chores, which after all can be not particularly unpleasant to do in moderation. Exercise and basic life skills can be gained thereby. Another even more obvious example is that if a girl wants to get pregnant she shouldn’t expect her parents to be willing to take care of her children unless the parents want to help. Similarly, if a child is a nuisance to parents, the parents shouldn’t feel like they should have to take care of him after he is grown, unless they want to do so, of course. Parents also have a right to their freedoms, and just as it is inappropriate for parents to try to force children to be otherwise than what they are, it is inappropriate for children to try to control their parents, unless of course addiction or something similar is controlling a parent, in which case the child, like a parent would be with him, is at rights to try to force the parent away from that addiction to the extent it is in his power, which may be rather limited , say by trying to make the addicted parent ashamed.

Why do parents tyrannize children so much? Part of the problem is that power is not shared equally. Parents tend to have more power over children than vice versa, parents usually controlling the money and society giving them more rights. Not infrequently, men abusive to their wives will abuse children just to make controlling and tyrannizing seem more generally natural and appropriate than it is. Something similar occasioned no doubt the fierce opposition in the antebellum South to resisting attempts to abolish slavery. The Rebels were basically willing to fight a war over it. Probably, if one studied the matter carefully enough, one could demonstrate that child abuse and the belief in the appropriateness of tyrannizing children is more common in the South than otherwise, a remnant of the antebellum pro-slavery notions having held sway there less than 150 years ago. What I have noticed, is a tendency of parents who don’t believe shame has any purpose to be especially disciplinarian. Parents know that there is a place for controlling children. They should realize that mostly they should be disciplinarians only when addictions are involved, i.e., when shaming would be appropriate if necessary. Believe shame has no useful purpose (or is useful only as a weapon to get back at those shaming you), and you will not understand the sphere in which discipline mostly should apply, i.e., to behavior that deserves shame when persuasion won’t suffice to stop it. And presumably there are other people who try to make their children feel shame whenever they are trying to change their behavior; this too is inappropriate.

There are a few basic matters of politeness that also should apply when there are disagreements between parents and children. It is almost always wrong for parents to feel anger at their children. They should never scream at them unless screaming is necessary to be heard (e.g., on account of distance separating parent from child). Anger is only an appropriate emotion when you feel like you are fighting something trying to sodomize you, and it is not like children sodomize their parents (or at least, it is something extremely rare). And saying the same thing over and over to a child is a form of tyranny. True conversation contains thoughtful unfamiliar ideas likely to be of interest to the hearer. A parent explaining to a child why the parent feels the child is not being true to himself can be useful as a way of demonstrating to the child that whatever discipline meted out to the child is just. That would be useful conversation. Just saying the same thing over and over and over again is not useful conversation but will appear as underhanded punishments dressed up as something it isn’t for presumably wrong deceptive reasons.