Written By: Anton Sawyer
This article is part of an ongoing series. In an attempt to be thorough, each video and/or course I research will be readily available to all (the free stuff). I would love to sign up for their complete online courses, so if you would like to see me go in-depth to one of their official courses, then please “buy a coffee”. I will use those funds to “advance my education” through the “prestigious” University that is Prager.
When I saw that Prager University offered a course called “How To Get Kids To Listen,” it piqued my curiosity. You see, when I was married to my second wife, she had a daughter and a son from her first marriage. Her son went to live with his father, but the daughter lived with us. I helped raise her with my ex-wife for the first six years and then was a stay-at-home dad during the last four years that her mother and I were together while I was doing music journalism. From ages 8 to 12, I took her to school, picked her up and walked home with her, made dinner for the family, and took care of anything involving her schooling. Because her mother worked the graveyard shift, I attended all parent-teacher conferences, assemblies, etc. Though I am not an expert like the presenter of this video today—family counselor and author John Rosemond M.S.—I do have some real-life experience with this matter. This fact, combined with a thirst for learning about human psychology and some research I’ve dabbled with on my own, I dove head-on to see what differences may lay ahead. So let’s take a peek, and see what Rosemond has to say …
Because conservatism and religion have become so intertwined, I am going to have to preface this entire article with one quick thought. Given that a majority of the advice given in the video is about unquestioning obedience and allowing your actions to be dictated by those in positions of authority completely, it is a video that makes complete sense with the business model of organized religion. If I had to add the phrase “unless you are living in a strictly religious household” in every rebuttal, it would get really old, really quickly. So keep in mind that my responses are written in such a way as to remove organized religion from the conversation, or we’d both be here all day.
In an attempt to maintain complete transparency, all research and statistical fact-checking for this article, and all articles, can be found at our site's bibliography linked here.
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To keep things clear, all statements from the video will be in bold, and my responses will be in italics.
When was the last time you heard a child referred to as “obedient?” It’s probably been a while.
OK, this is starting things off with a bang. What I find so bemusing in this opener is the fact that the conservative portion of America claims to value individuality and the sovereignty of self. They have also claimed many times that the values which are taught in the home are paramount to any others that may encounter the child. So, if the child is told to do something by an adult that contradicts those values taught in the home, it can cause utter confusion and fear in the youth. Not to mention psychologically helping to remove a sense of self when it comes to questioning whether what they are being told is genuinely in their best interest or not.
That’s too bad because the best research tells us that obedient children are happy children. And from my experience as a family psychologist, the parents of obedient children are happy parents.
It’s important to keep in mind that the speaker of this video is John Rosemond. When he says that “the best research tells us,” he offers no sources … other than himself. When learning more about him, he has been yelling (literally and figuratively) the phrase “obedient kids are happy kids” for years. He is often cited by conservatives as an authority, but his views are often at odds with The American Psychological Association—including those which espouse blind obedience. An article published in 2017 by Columbia University graduate Laura Markham, Ph.D., shows that there is a direct correlation between unquestioning obedience and the unintended fallout that can come from such a thing. The prior 12 months at her practice before writing the article saw her helping young patients that had been raised with this blind obedience as a core value. Some of the worst cases involved a 3-year-old being molested by an older child, a 5-year-old being molested by an older child, and a 14-year-old being date-raped by a boy at a party.
Dr. Markham makes it clear that there was more than one factor that contributed to these events saying: “Are these children responsible for what happened to them? Of course not, and neither are their parents. No matter what. And if they had been able to say ‘No!’ louder, would these events still have unfolded as they did? Maybe. Maybe not. We can't know. But we do know that bullies and molesters select targets who they think won't stand up for themselves.”
And the last sentence made by Rosemond about obedient children having happy parents … really? It took years of dealing with a myriad of different families and their problems before being led to the conclusion that children who are obedient and do whatever they are told, no questions asked, have happier parents? I could have saved you a lot of money John and allowed you into the “Anton Sawyer School Of Common Sense”—it would have cost a lot less.
Since all parents want their children to be happy, the question becomes, how does one get a child to obey? Is there some trick to it? Well, there certainly are a lot of parents who think so. They believe that proper discipline is a matter of using the right methods, techniques, and strategies. What I call “consequence delivery systems.”
This entire series of statements made by Rosemond is in complete contradiction as to what is accepted by the psychology community at large. It also minimizes the complex emotions a child must traverse on a daily basis (especially when it comes to the incredible amount of extreme emotional bounces a child can have if most of their free time is spent online). In an article about the three major risks of too much screen time for teens, published during 2018 in the UC-Berkeley “Greater Good Magazine,” Christine Carter, Ph.D., notes that more teenagers now feel left out and more lonely than ever before; that a surprising 48% more girls and 27% more boys felt left out in 2015 compared to 2010. For Rosemond to simplify what is required for children to be happy down to obedience is missing the bigger picture.
Parents have been using these behavioral modification-based methods since they became popular in the 1960s, seemingly to no avail. Would anyone argue that today’s kids are more obedient than kids were several generations ago? I don’t think so. The reason these methods and techniques don’t work is that proper discipline is not a matter of proper methods; it’s a matter of a proper attitude on the part of the parent.
The statements “to no avail” and “these methods and techniques don’t work” have no comparative analysis, or even by which method of testing he’s referring to. Are we talking about the number of children in juvenile detention centers of the 1960s through today and cross-reference that with the amount of obedience that the parents used in their methods and compare the two? Or is it from some other test that has qualitative results? It’s misdirection. It makes his entire statement about the potential usefulness of the upcoming examples of parental “proper attitude” on shaky ground out of the gate.
Let me illustrate the point. Let’s say that for a week, I observe the classroom of a grade school teacher who has the reputation of being the best disciplinarian in her district. She consistently has fewer behavior problems than any of her colleagues. What is she doing? She’s making her expectations perfectly clear. Which means first, she communicates in simple, declarative sentences. She doesn’t use 50 words when she could use 10. The more words you use to communicate your expectations, the less confident you sound.
Second, she prefaces her instructions to her students with authoritative phrases like “I want you to …” and “it’s time for you to …” She says, “It’s time for you to take out your math books and turn to page 25.” As opposed to, “Let’s take out our math books and turn to page 25, OK?” Third, this teacher does not explain the motives behind her instructions to her students. Why? Because she knows that explanations invite arguments. Whenever parents tell me they’re dealing with an argumentative child, I know that these well-intentioned people are explaining themselves. They tell their child why they want him to pick up his toys for example, and he argues because you can always pick apart an explanation. If you don’t explain yourself when you give an instruction to a child, then the child, being a child, is almost surely going to ask for one. He’s going to ask “why?” Or “why not?” At which point, get ready for a big surprise, your answer should be “because I said so.” These very useful four words—and no, they will not cause psychological damage to your kids, quite the contrary—are a simple, powerful affirmation of the legitimacy of your authority. Say it calmly, don’t scream it. Nothing good is ever accomplished by a person who screams.
Last, but certainly not least, when giving instructions to a child do not—let me repeat, do not—bend down to the child’s level. Getting a child to do what he or she is told is a matter of looking and acting and talking like you have complete confidence in your authority. Bending down to a child’s level does not look authoritative. It looks, in fact, like you’re one movement away from being down on your knees in front of a king. I know, you’ve read somewhere that you should get down to a child’s level when you talk to him. Well, all I can tell you is, there is a lot of bad parenting advice out there, and that’s but one example. Speak to children from an upright position. That causes them to look up to you, and that is a good thing for them, and for you, both. –Rosemond ends with credits.
Usually, I break up the videos into nuggets, but this entire section orbits the same core: respect for the child (and lack thereof). When looking at each of those statements he made and combining them, Rosemond is saying that if you build a relationship with your child which mirrors that of an inmate and a prison guard, then you are being an effective parent.
It seems a little weird to me that the people who believe in the teachings of Rosemond don’t understand how there could be a direct correlation between being raised in an environment of an authoritative regime that shows no respect to the child, to the same child growing up and being saddled with depression.
In a Psychology Today article about parenting and respect, parenting specialist Jim Taylor, Ph.D., laid the case out succinctly. He notes that respect is a two-way street, and that respect starts at home. “If you can teach your children to respect you, themselves, and others when they are young, they're likely to carry that value with them as they enter the real world and use it to become successful, happy, and contributing adults.” He continues the correlation with “When you earn your children's respect, they also learn to respect themselves. Respect is so important because, without it, children can't value themselves or others. Children who don't respect themselves are more likely to drink alcohol, take drugs, have sex, and treat others badly.”
Knowing how it feels to be minimized as a child by my mother and her favorite statement “because I said so,” I refused to use it on my stepdaughter. Whenever I would hear my friends who were parents use it on their kids, it would make me cringe because it shows how little you value the questioning of the child. I know that Rosemond makes it a point to say that children will use the opportunity to question authority whenever presented (and he isn’t wrong about that), so you have to get creative. Think two “why” questions ahead.
Allow me to give an example.
Me: You need to brush your teeth before going to bed.
Me: Because it can cause bacterial decay. Bacterial decay, if left untreated, can enter your bloodstream, and cause all kinds of nasty illnesses. I know you don’t like doctors or shots, so brushing your teeth will prevent that. Also, oral bacteria can cause heart disease and other issues with your heart when you’re older. Given that the rate upon which women are seen to suffer from heart attacks, and that their symptoms are different than men, brushing your teeth is a great way to prevent that as well.”
After the second time she questioned me when I told her to do something and I gave her an answer like the one above, she never asked again. She knew that I would give her a “grown-up” answer that is incredibly boring. She learned that I know what I’m talking about and that when I would tell her to do something, she instinctively knew it was for her benefit.
There is one last thought that I want to leave you with when it comes to this piece of “education” I dissected today. Though I know it’s a statement made without the consideration of self-awareness, there was one sentence Rosemond spoke in the last segment I transcribed that I know is unequivocally true; “All I can tell you is, there is a lot of bad parenting advice out there.” I only wish that someday the level of self-awareness I possess can transmit to Rosemond so he can see the twisted irony in his own words.
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