Traditional Parenting Still Works

In a letter to the editor of a newspaper, a reader writes (referring to me), "If we must have a 'parenting expert,' aren't there some out there with fresh and original thoughts?"

Without intending to do so, she hit the nail on the head. First, I am not a parenting expert, not in the usual sense of the term. Through trial and much error, I became an expert at raising two children, both of whom are grown and giving me opportunity to become a "grandparenting expert."

Second, I do not have original thoughts. I believe there is nothing new under the sun as regards to child rearing. I am the Great Parenting Plagiarist, and I'm proud of it. I'm proud to be the upholder of traditional values and a tried-and-true approach to what we now call "parenting." I may come up with an original way of expressing something that our foremothers and forefathers took for granted, but in that regard I am nothing but a creative copycat.

America started going down the road of original parenting ideas in the 1960s, and a slippery slope this road has turned out to be. Statistics confirm that regardless of what someone might think about the old-fashioned parent's methods, her children were better behaved and more well adjusted than are today's kids, kids whose parents are likely to have employed original ideas.

The good news is that traditional parenting still works! Recent research reveals parents whose child-rearing style reflects the traditional paradigm (big on love, high expectations and strict, "no excuses" discipline) raise the most - again - well-behaved, well-adjusted children. Does someone out there have a better deal?

In my travels, I collect a good number of "parenting testimonials." I've yet to hear one that verifies the effectiveness of the permissive, "let's be friends" parenting that has resulted from parents listening to original voices. For example, whenever a baby boomer testifies to what great parents he/she was blessed with, the description is always of parents who loved a lot, expected a lot and disciplined (punished) little, but when they did, they disciplined such that permanent memories were created - memories we boomers cherish today - and misbehavior was nipped in the bud.

On a recent flight, I found myself sitting next to a fellow who told me he owned a small business that employed around 30 people ranging in age from 25 to 60. He's noticed, he told me, that the work ethic of employees above 40 is dramatically different from the ethic of those below 30 (the intervening decade being transitional). Those above 40, he said, "know it's all about how you perform, your actions, your behavior," while those below 30 seem to think it's all about how one explains his behavior.

That makes sense. Most of us boomers weren't given a lot of explanations. Our parents and teachers did not try to persuade us to obey. Rather, they compelled our obedience. Nor, when we misbehaved, did they often allow us to explain ourselves. They told us there were no excuses - no ifs, ands or buts. They didn't just tell us we were responsible for the choices we made; they enforced that responsibility. And thus we learned - the hard way - that choices result in consequences.

An 18-year-old came up to me after a recent speaking engagement and said, "You know, I wish I had parents of the sort you described tonight. You made me realize my parents have been trying for 18 years to be my friends. I guess I'm just gonna have to do for myself what they should have done for me."

So much for original ideas.

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