Almost everyone agrees that adults have the right to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, and the right to live their lives any way they want without being coerced. But almost no one is willing to extend the same rights to children. So in our society, children are told what they should think, how they should behave, in most cases are forced to be members of the same churches or the same religion as their parents, and are punished in some way for not behaving the way their parents or society want them to.
Let's suppose that an adult who I work with has different spiritual and political beliefs than I do. Do I respect that person's right to believe differently than me, or do I try to do something to them to get them to believe the way I do? Do I see it as my mission in life to change everybody's mind so they agree with me? Would I at any time consider using physical force to convince that person to change their language, thoughts or behavior? Of course not. If you use physical force against an adult, that is called assault, and it's a crime. But many parents feel perfectly justified in using mental or physical force to make a child do what they want. Why is using coercion against an adult a crime, but using coercion against a child, the smallest and most defenseless member of society, considered "good parenting"?
I understand that parents want to pass down to their children their religious beliefs, their work ethic, their social and political beliefs, and their moral values. And it's perfectly fine to have discussions about these things with your children. Our family does this all the time. But we do NOT force our children to adopt our beliefs. Think back to your own childhood and adolescence. Did you enjoy your family dictating to you what you could and could not do? If you disagreed with them, what recourse did you have? There was no place to go to appeal their decisions. You as a child were forced to do whatever your family said was "right." Even if you disagreed with their beliefs with every fiber of your being, you had no voice, you could not say, "I do not agree and want to live my life another way." Most children are reduced to disobedience, violent acting out, and even crime in order to try and gain a small modicum of respect for their ideas. Or some simply fall into depression or more severe forms of mental illness.
Most children hear during their lives "If you are going to live under MY roof, you are going to follow MY rules." Have you, as an adult, ever said this to your SPOUSE? Your spouse would not tolerate you trying to control them. But your kids are FORCED to because they are dependent upon you financially. If they had their own job and enough money to live on their own, they would leave. But only because you control their financial status do you control their life.
If you've read our Non-Institutional Education page or our Unschooling page, you know that our family is what YOU might consider unconventional. We do not believe in adopting certain views just because the rest of society holds those beliefs. We do not force our children to go to school, we allow them to educate themselves and adopt those beliefs that they find compelling. We do not force them to accept our religious beliefs, but allow them to embrace those beliefs which make sense to them, and attend or not attend whatever church they choose. Although we did spank our children when they were very small, we saw the damage this was doing to them, and stopped that practice very quickly. We do not believe in punishment of any kind. As adults we don't punish each other, so why should we punish our children?
The most obvious answer that you are probably thinking of is, so that they will have some discipline and learn that they can't just do what they want. By following this line of reasoning, we should put our kids in jail for a while to teach them not to disobey the law. That's the same as taking away my kids freedom as punishment for not doing something I wished they would do. Punishment does not cause true learning, or change people's ideas. You may change their behavior in the short term, but it does not produce the kind of thinking, feeling, open and loving person that I want my children to be. Modeling and frequent discussions about right behavior is the only way to produce this. Of course, you must be prepared to allow them to adopt some other model than yours if they choose, but this is OK with us. We have found that most parents are on a real power trip. They demand that because they are older, and they are the parents, that they are automatically right. Whether you are right or not is a matter of opinion, mostly yours. There are many ways of life, yours is not the only one. Your kids have the right to decide for themselves, based upon experience, what is right for them. If the only way of life they ever experience is yours, how can they truly decide what is best for them?
I know that you want to teach them your way of life because you believe yours IS RIGHT, or else you wouldn't live that way. We live in a society where each person is allowed to decide for themselves what is right, and to be responsible for those decisions. You may say, "Kid's aren't responsible, though." They aren't responsible because we haven't allowed them to be. We haven't allowed them to truly experience other ways of life and to live with the consequences of those ways. We want to spare them from having to experience anything unpleasant. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, gained his superior wisdom by allowing himself to experience whatever his heart desired. Only then did he truly know what was right for him. The trouble is, even if most people were to allow their kids the freedom to think, believe, and behave as they choose, they are always running behind the kids trying to fix whatever they did wrong. DON'T. They need to learn to deal with the consequences. Most of the time, parents don't want their kids to suffer the consequences because that means that somebody might find out it was YOUR kid and might think you were a bad parent because of what your kid did. You care more about how you look to others than about your child truly learning about himself.
My kids are now 13 and 19. If I go to them and say, "OK, today we are going to learn about atoms and molecules and we are going to memorize the Periodic Table" they are going to say "No Way!" That is boring and I don't need to know it." Telling them what we are GOING to do has produced no results. So I don't approach it that way. I sit down at the kitchen table with some interesting materials and start making models of atoms and molecules of the different elements. If they pass through the kitchen and find it interesting, they stop and ask to participate. If they don't, then I don't force them to learn it. It's that simple. Another time and place will come where they WILL be interested, possibly. Offering learning to someone produces much better results than FORCING it upon them.
Or, how about when they learned to figure perimeter and area when we put new flooring down in our house. They saw me measuring the room and figuring how many packages of flooring we would need. They saw it in real life, without having to sit down with boring books. They helped me lay the flooring, and that was a good lesson.
Here's another thing that really bugs me: parents pushing crying children around in shopping carts in the grocery store. Let's say that you went to the store alone with your spouse. If your spouse said to you, "I'm feeling tired (or sick), and think we need to go. I can't do this anymore" you would probably try to end your trip as soon as possible and go. You wouldn't say to your spouse, "Oh, now come one, you can do it, I don't want to hear your complaining, you're not that sick, stop this immediately or you won't get to watch the football game later, and if you don't I'm going to take you over in the corner and slap you until you stop this nonesense." Come on, you would never say that to your spouse, you would respect their feelings. WHY DON'T YOU RESPECT THE SAME FEELINGS IN YOUR CHILD? When small children feel tired, out of sort, hungry, thirsty, or feel their feelings have been ignored, they often cry, kick, scream, wine, and other things parents find objectionable. And for three reasons: 1. They don't know any other way to respond 2. They don't have the vocabulary to explain to you what is bothering them 3. Even when they do tell you, you ignore them, or you try to convince them that what you have to do at the store is more important than their feelings.
When your child is sitting in the shopping cart wining, crying, or other behavior you don't like, STOP! There is a need that child has that you are not meeting, and are possibly ignoring. This is not only rude, it sends the wrong message to your child about his worth, and about how we deal with our feelings. We don't stuff our feelings down and go on with what we are doing, we stop and deal with the problem. If they are hungry, get them something to eat or drink. Don't bring them to the store in the first place when they are tired. If you do that, you deserve whatever you get! If they are crying because they have to sit in that cart (which is understandable, they are NOT comfortable) let them get out and walk. If you aren't prepared to pay attention to their needs while you are at the store, don't take them, or don't go at all! Or, take two parents or a parent and a friend or older child so the other person can walk with them and tend to their needs while you shop. But don't put your child in that cart and expect to shop for two hours and then also expect perfect behavior from your child!!!!!!
If you are one of those that believe children should obey the first time, immediately, without any discussion, well, all I can say is, you are trampling your child's rights every day. Whether you believe your child has those rights are not, they do, and you are doing great damage to the wonderful relationship that God designed you to have with your child. I am a Christian, and let me tell you, the Bible does NOT teach that children should be punished. That is a false teaching that has been perpetrated for hundreds of years by frustrated, controlling adults. I can prove to you with scripture that the Bible does NOT teach this.
Whether you are usurping your child's rights because of your religious beliefs, because that's how you were raised, or because you don't know any other way to do it, STOP! There are other ways, and I hope you will check back to this website often to learn about them.
I am told constantly, by religious and non-religious, Christian and non-Christian, strangers and friends, permissive and authoritarian parents, that my kids have turned out WONDERFULLY! You don't have to punish to turn out great kids. And by the way, don't try and take credit for how wonderfully they have turned out. I know, it sounds as if I was taking credit for it above, but really all we did was let our kids unfold and become whatever they were intended to be, and be there for them when they have questions and need guidance. That's all it takes. Parenting is not this terribly difficult endeavor that you just grin and bear for 18 years or until your child leaves the house. Parenting can be fun, fulfilling, and insightful for both you and your child. My kids didn't turn out great because of something I DID, they turned out great because they were great kids to start with, and I didn't get in the way of that by trying to DO something to them that didn't need to be done.
For those that believe that God punishes us and therefore we should punish our kids, I don't believe that is true. See our page entitled "The Bible Does Not Teach Spanking."
Then there is the issue of how to start your kids out right, how to parent so that your children develop a secure attachment to you, which is the most important element in their emotional development. We believe in Attachment Parenting, a method of parenting infants (and older kids as well, but it works best if started during infancy) which takes into account their unique needs and meets them consistently and sensitively. No feeding schedules, no cribs, no letting them "cry it out." Instead, we try to find out what our children's needs are and meet them while they are fresh instead of letting them work themselves up into a frenzy because we are not paying attention to them, or forcing them to live by unrealistic expectations. To learn more about this model, visit some of our other pages.
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Copyright 2015 Judie C. McMath and The Center for Unhindered Living