5 Hallmarks of Bad Parenting That Are Actually Good for Kids
Anyone who grew up in the '80s knows that parenting used to be a whole other ball of wax. Allergies were rare, kids roamed the suburbs in roving bicycle gangs and unsupervised adventures were around every corner. Kids who grew up in the '90s couldn't leave the house without a speech on stranger danger and an extra dose of Flintstones vitamins, just in case.
But it turns out there are some things that lazy/negligent parents kind of got right. Like ...
Arguing With Your Kids
"Because I said so!"
Every parent winds up saying this, whether they like it or not. What's the alternative? Sit there and debate with your 11-year-old on the merits of a new toy truck or a face tattoo of them fatally stabbing a policeman?
No, in these situations it's best to quickly put your foot down and make it clear who's the boss. Arguing with them on everything will only undermine your authority and turn your kids into confrontational, spoiled pricks. Besides, what can possibly be gained by arguing with a child?
"You lost, kid. I get your dessert tonight."
The Surprising Benefit:
Actually, science says that those fights provide excellent opportunities for your children to practice their reasoning, discussion and negotiation skills. So as long as they are using rational arguments and calmly explaining their point of view to you, don't immediately go all alpha dog on them and end the conversation with the "Because I said so" trump card. Your willingness to have a discussion might actually save your younglings from a life of alcohol and drugs down the line, according to researchers from the University of Virginia.
Although raising a wuss means you can force them to wear stupid costumes and dance for you.
In their study of 157 13-year-olds over a period of two years, they discovered that teens who learned how to stand up for themselves and intelligently argue their point could later use those skills in other situations. Specifically, against the boogeyman of all parents everywhere: peer pressure.
It turns out that persuasiveness is a pretty useful thing in a school environment, especially when it comes to declining a hit of heroin to the eyeball during recess. In the study, kids who mastered the art of arguing by first practicing it on their folks were then 40 percent more likely to say no to all sorts of vices, while those who were constantly shushed by their parents responded to most bad influences with a submissive "Yeah, sure, whatever ..."
"OK, since it's your roulette gun, I'll take the first three turns."
The thing is, the world is full of tough-guy fathers who insist that their sons learn how to fight, knowing that someday they may need to stand up to a bully. Maybe Dad will even strap on boxing gloves and take the kid into the basement to teach him how to punch. But when's the last time you've heard of parents doing the same with verbal sparring? You know, teaching their kids how to win verbal arguments for the same reason -- that they're sure to need it on the playground. Hell, we bet verbal arguments were a hell of a lot more common in your formative years than fistfights. So why don't we practice them?
Regularly Giving Kids Candy
Everyone knows how damaging refined sugar is to kids. Not only is it addictive, but it also rots your teeth and is the leading cause of the childhood obesity epidemic, which sucks, because fat kids are the worst. Parents who frequently give their kids candy might as well skip mountain bikes and game consoles and buy their offspring extra-large coffins for when they inevitably drop dead at age 40. Right?
"That's enough running for today! It's time to get you back to the fattening pen."
The Surprising Benefit:
Let's be very clear about this: We're not merely saying that candy won't kill your kid, but rather that children who regularly eat sweets can end up way healthier than those who don't. At least those were the findings of researchers from Louisiana State University after a five-year study ... a study that basically boiled down to stuffing a bunch of toddlers, tweens and teens with sugar.
"As long as my check is in the mail, you can give the little bastard LSD for all I care."
The researchers studied over 11,000 kids ages 2 to 18 who were divided into two groups. One group was fed sweets and chocolate about 4 grams above their daily recommended sugar intake, while the other kids received no sweets at all (having to sustain themselves on a steady diet of pity and taunts from the first group). Despite the almost negligible amount of candy they've been given, the results of the study showed that, statistically, the candy-munching brigade were later 22 to 26 percent less likely to be overweight than the kids raised on free-range carrots and vegan water.
The good news didn't end there. Kids who rode the sugar dragon also had lower levels of a protein that has been linked to heart disease and other chronic illnesses, which goes against all the so-called common sense of healthy nutrition. However, the results only applied to typical sugar candy and not chocolate, for no other reason than life just being arbitrary and unfair.
"It tastes like lost childhood and ennui."
Still, these findings aren't a green light for parents to hook up their kids to sugar-filled IVs and calling their parenting obligations done. What the research actually showed was that moderate amounts of sugar eaten frequently over a long period can have very positive effects on a young body. None of that will mean squat, however, if you don't put your kid on a balanced diet or make him kick a ball from time to time.
Or train him how to avenge your death.
Letting Them Play in the Dirt
When you were a kid, did you ever get yelled at because you didn't get dirty enough? Hell, no. It was all "Get out of the mud, you're going to ruin your new shoes!" and "Don't eat that worm, it lives in poop!"
"Stop digging our graves, you'll get worms in your poop!"
Sure, every parent understands that kids absolutely need to play outside, but it should be done in a controlled environment, one where the children will be safe from the evil forces of Mother Nature and her dirt-dwelling microorganism minions. At a sufficiently young age, children don't even have properly formed skulls, much less strong immune systems. And you're going to let them stomp around among the discarded drug needles and hookworms and God knows what else? If it wasn't for modern antibiotics, the leading cause of childhood fatalities would probably be scraped knees.
Hush now, you'll be dead soon.
The Surprising Benefit:
Playing in the dirt can make your kids smarter, stave off depression and save them from future diseases. Bet you didn't see that coming!
Most of us can't turn on the TV without seeing a well-groomed woman begging us to buy her antiseptic germ killers to protect our families from disease ... as if we're the bad guys if we don't. What well-groomed Lysol lady isn't telling us is that exposure to dirt -- actual full-on dirt -- is what exposes kids to a bacterium called Mycobacterium vaccae, the good guys of the bacteria world.
They're like Superman! If billions of him covered every inch of your body.
In one experiment, a group of mice that were fed dirt containing M. vaccae could suddenly navigate complex mazes twice as fast as the other mice. Another study from Bristol University found that the bacteria also made the mice's brains secrete more serotonin, which is the happiness hormone. That explains why hippies look so content. Other than the weed.
And the elective lobotomies.
But even contact with non-mutant-power bacteria can be very beneficial for children, as it preps their immune systems to handle bigger challenges down the line. It's the same principle as the verbal arguments we covered earlier -- it's practice, this time for their immune systems. The more pathogens a baby has to fight off before the age of 2, the less chance that baby has of developing health problems like asthma or heart disease or OCD.
Allowing Risky Play
The soundtrack to every young boy's play time is an adult voice saying "Get down from there!" or something like it (such as "You'll shoot your eye out!" or "You can't smoke that!"). That's the sound grown-ups make when you get up on the roof with the intention of seeing if you can skateboard right off into the pool.
"This still looks pretty tame. Maybe we could cover everything in broken glass?"
Researchers refer to it as "risky play" -- any form of playing with a risk of physical injury, usually performed outdoors without adult supervision. So, tree climbing, bike riding, rollerskating, somersaulting and raccoon wrestling all are forms of risky play. It's the kind of fun that today's parents have a hard time granting, because it requires letting kids out of the bounds of privacy-fenced, postage-sized yards. After all, how many kids a year die from tragic play-related injuries?
Instead of dead children, here's some budgies totally about to throw down.
The Surprising Benefit:
Yes, we actually do know how many children die each year due to risky play, and those numbers are very high ... on the Jack Shit Scale. All in all, injuries sustained by kids from falls and tumbles almost never result in any permanent damage, with death occurring basically never. Bruises and fractures are common, but they are a small price to pay considering the end result: protecting children from crippling phobias in their adult lives.
"Just a second, guys, I don't want to break my feet."
Psychologists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology claim that children who are exposed to stimuli like heights or high speeds at an early age are less likely to fear them as they grow up ... especially if they get injured in the process. That's right: You face the sprained ankle, and you realize it's not the end of the world. So from then on, the ladder looks less scary. In fact, by exposing themselves to more and more dangerous forms of playing, children are basically doing what trained doctors recommend for patients trying to get over their fears -- a form of "cognitive behavioral therapy of anxiety."
"Just throw 'em under a car. They'll learn."
It's easy to forget that playing is a form of learning -- that's why we do it. And the whole "suicidal drive" that kids have on the playground seems to be an evolutionary imperative meant to acquaint our young with the real world and the many potential dangers it holds, specifically so that they can handle them later in life. The injuries are just part of the process.
So in the end, it seems parents will have to make a choice: Do they want to pay to treat their child's broken bones and bruises, or for their psychotherapy? Might want to check with your health insurance provider first.
Obsessively Forcing Extracurricular Activities
We've spent a fair amount of time in this article mocking overprotective parents, giving the impression that you really just need to let kids go and let nature take its course. It seems obvious -- after all, what's worse than those parents who force their 5-year-olds to take lessons in tennis, violin and gymnastics, rather than just letting them be kids? You see these kids spending hours a day in practice and figure one day they'll just flip out and join a cult.
And then comes the dreaded "succubus and incubus" talk.
There's actually a term for this kind of oppressive parenting: "concerted cultivation." And just like with actual cultivation, it requires your child to eat a mountain of shit. As a response to this obviously wrong parenting trend, "free-range parenting" has lately started to become more and more popular.
"No, you can't come inside. But you're free to range about the backyard."
The Surprising Benefit:
The term "free-range parenting" is actually very apt because, just like "free-range chickens," it's completely bullshit.
A study titled "The 'Hurried' Child: Myth vs. Reality" from the University of Maryland concluded that scheduling a child's entire day can be very stressful and annoying ... for the parent. The kids, on the other hand, are apparently all thriving emotionally thanks to sports and art programs, and love every second of it. Among kids between the ages of 9 and 12 from 43 families, those who had participated in roughly two hours a day of organized activities were more active and socially mature, and had more self-esteem, than the kids left alone to explore the world on their own.
"Not seeing you and learning taekwondo have done wonders for me, Mother."
Taking an active part in your children's play time doesn't necessarily mean hovering over them constantly -- as with the candy thing, the key lies in moderation. They say a child shouldn't participate in more than two after-school activities at once, and that parents should be careful not to tire themselves out. If the kid seems annoyed, it's entirely possible that he likes soccer, but doesn't like hearing you bitch about how you're constantly having to drive him to soccer.
Because the kids are probably fine. They're more durable than we give them credit for.
"After I'm done pooping, I'm fitting the entire ball in your mouth."
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a freelance English-Japanese-Polish translator, tour guide and writer. Contact him at email@example.com.
For ways we're ruining our children, check out 7 Things 'Good Parents' Do (That Screw Up Kids For Life). Or discover the 5 Horrific Ways Bad Parents Turn Their Kids Into Good Money.
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