Children need short answers to questions of authority
While working in my secret parenting laboratory, hidden deep beneath the earth’s surface and accessible only by me and a small, select team of associates, I recently made what I believe is a huge and history-making breakthrough that promises to greatly improve parenting the world over.
For years, I have stood almost alone among America’s parenting pundits in defending the legitimacy of “Because I said so,” perhaps the most maligned four words in all of human history. I have gone on record as saying that “Because I said so” affirms the authority of the parent, provides an honest answer to a child’s demand to know the reason behind the parent’s decision and all but eliminates the possibility of a mutually debilitating parent-child argument.
I have pointed out that adults have to accept the BISS principle — when we pay our state and federal taxes, for example — and asserted that it is in the best interest of children, therefore, that adults make them aware of this reality from an early age. Furthermore, there is no evidence that “Because I said so” damaged the mental health of my generation — the last bunch of American kids to be universally exposed to it; there is no good reason to think, therefore, that it will damage the psyches of today’s children (although they do seem a tad more fragile than we were).
No short list of folks have suggested alternatives to BISS, such as “Because I am an adult and you are a child and it is my responsibility to make decisions of this sort on your behalf and you will not understand my actual reason until you are my age and have a child your age, so there’s no point in my sharing it with you, and whether you agree or not, you have to obey.” Needless to say, the parent lost the child at “responsibility.” Given the choice, I would recommend the simpler, shorter form.
Never would I recommend that BISS be said in other than a kind, yet decisive, tone of voice. It should not be screeched at a child, but then neither should anything else. But all of this might be moot because, after years of painstaking and highly secret research, I have discovered an alternative that is even shorter and, therefore, sweeter: “Trust me.”
Think of it! A child asks (demands to know) “Why?” or “Why not?” and the parent in question simply says, “Trust me.” That pretty much says it all. Most important, it affirms that the parent knows what is best for the child, whatever the situation. The parent knows (but the child does not) that eating broccoli is better than eating deep-fried, processed proto-junk, that play should be balanced with household responsibilities, that “my friends all have one!” is not justification for buying a 12-year-old a cellphone and so on.
Children do not know what is best for them. They only know what they want. And given the choice between what is best and what they want, they can be relied upon to choose the latter. Furthermore, when parents make the right choice for a child, there are no words under the sun that will cause the child to agree. The child will agree when he or she is an adult and is the parent of children who are demanding what they want. No sooner.
In the meantime, all one can do is ask the child to trust. To which someone might say, “But he won’t understand that either!” That’s all right. Faith is a long-term investment.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers questions at www.rosemond.com.