5 Popular Parenting Fads That Make Sense (And Screw Kids Up)
Let's face it: Our kids are going to grow up to become adults who are just haphazardly winging it through their lives the best they can, just like we are now. Still, as a society, we constantly obsess about making sure we're doing parenting right. Fads come and go, usually long before science has had a chance to really see if they, you know, actually work.
Well, we do have data on some of the most popular child-rearing techniques, and we have got to say -- it doesn't look great:
Keeping a Marriage Together for the Kids Is ... Not the Best Option for Said Kids
In today's world, where celebrities get married and divorced just to get their weekly TMZ front-page placement, marriage is far from the unmalleable institution it once was. Yet, even in these turbulent times, many couples -- who look in their hearts and find little love toward each other -- still manage to cling to one good reason to stay together: the old "we'll do it for the kids" card. It makes sense, and it's even heroic in a way. Surely, it's better to suffer from your hated spouse than to force your kids to grow up in a broken home. After all, doesn't science say kids do better with two parents? And do we really want to teach kids the lesson of when the going gets tough, the best solution is to walk away?
As it turns out, yeah. When it comes to divorce, that's exactly what they should learn.
"Remember, son: If a challenge comes along and it's too hard, fuck it."
Sure, it's no secret that divorce is pretty damn tough on the kids. It's very difficult for children to understand the complex nature of love and very easy for them to blame themselves when one parent starts crying and the other invests in, say, a toupee and a convertible. The records are replete with examples of children going through divorce that underperform in school, suffer from anxiety and depression, lose sleep, etc. But, what those studies don't show you is that all of that shit is temporary.
And double Christmases are forever.
You know what isn't temporary? A child sensing and knowing each and every day that his or her parents can't stand to be in the same room with each other. Children, while certainly having a capacity for untold stupidity, are incredibly perceptive little bastards. Studies show that they are very capable of picking up on all of that simmering hostility, and that it has a negative effect on everything they do. A two-parent home might be better for kids, but not if those two parents fucking hate each other. Wait, did we really need science to tell us this? Some of you have lived that shit.
Otherwise, assuming a divorce doesn't go full The Wars of the Roses or that the parents don't spend the majority of their time talking shit behind each other's backs, the kid is probably eventually going to be just fine ... because what's best for the children is knowing that their parents are happy. Now, since a happy marriage is the optimal condition, you do have good reason to try to work that shit out first. So, go to couple's counseling or do whatever you need to do. But, the goal is to actually fix the marriage -- not to prolong a toxic situation while you walk around feeling like a martyr and secretly blame the kids for ruining your happiness.
If you find yourselves negotiating the boundaries of "Dadastan" or "Momstonia," maybe it's time to just call it a day.
Drug Education Increases Drug Abuse
If you went to school any time after the early 1980s, you've almost certainly had a dose of the D.A.R.E. program and/or other methods of substance abuse prevention. You know how these things go: catchy songs, creepy videos, and the occasional horror story about the kid who threw himself from a ledge while tripping on acid. In the end, everyone is scared shitless and sober. We don't have to tell you how this worked out, since you're literally smoking a joint while you read this.
That horticulture elective course certainly paid off in spades, though.
Studies started turning up a few years ago that showed the D.A.R.E. program may actually have increased drug use, thanks to the fact that constantly warning kids about "peer pressure" actually made it seem like everybody was doing drugs but them (instead of the reality, which was that drug users were always a minority). So, all of the "don't do drugs, even if it means you're literally the only kid at the party not doing them!" bullshit actually pushed kids into doing drugs, out of fear of being that guy.
Well, we have since entered a future in which TV heroes cook meth, and cannabis is more socially acceptable than gluten, so it doesn't take a genius to guess that things haven't taken a magical U-turn in recent years. What we're finding is that there is a fundamental flaw in our current fearmongering method of keeping kids informed about drugs. It turns out that's just not how people work, regardless of age.
The fact that Grandpa appears to get all the drugs he wants probably doesn't help matters.
First of all, trying to terrify people with anecdotes doesn't work on anyone who has actually started using drugs -- recent research suggests that not only are drug users completely undeterred by health warnings, but they're already more aware of the risks than the rest of us. It makes sense, really -- nobody knows more about the dangers of sticking a penis into a pool filter than the guy who sticks his penis into pool filters. Likewise, no heroin user is in the dark about how exactly heroin can go wrong -- they saw that shit firsthand, last weekend. They do it anyway.
On the other hand, if the teen hasn't started using, then cautionary tales about weed-induced schizophrenia are still going to be lost on them. That's because there's a fantastic chance that even if they have never touched a bong, they know someone who has ... and they know that person didn't die from it. This is what the grown-ups simply couldn't wrap their heads around: That a single weekend -- spent with a happy, functional stoner -- trumps a million scaremongering bumper stickers. Humans always trust what they see with their own eyes.
Which is especially problematic when those eyes are tripping balls.
So, what's the alternative? Incredibly, those grown-ups have started to learn this lesson in the last couple of years and figured out anti-drug programs work better without the fear element. It's a combination of focusing on positives that teens actually care about (such as independence and having control of their own lives) and teaching them realistic social skills to help them refuse drugs in a way that doesn't put them on a one-way street to Wedgietown. In other words: the exact opposite of "Just Say No."
The new slogan just didn't have the same oomph though.
Children Learn Nothing From "Timeouts"
Before we delve deeper into this one, let's make something perfectly clear. Criticizing "timeouts" does not, in any way, mean: "Hit your kids instead." It's just one tiny point in a spectrum of different ways to handle bad behavior.
It's a surprisingly wide spectrum.
So, a timeout is a popular, non-violent disciplinary action where a parent banishes their tantrum-throwing child to an isolated environment to chill out for a period of time (i.e., "Go stand in the corner"). You might have been subjected to timeouts as a kid or as an adult (often called "jail"), but, even if you haven't, you should be able to partake in the following thought experiment:
Imagine a situation in which you're misbehaving, and the nearest authority figure's first reaction is to send you to your bedroom. Do you take the opportunity to examine your behavior and better understand just why it was you being punished? Or, do you just use the opportunity to vent your anger on Fruit Ninja or whatever until said authority comes to check on you -- because fuck them and their random-ass punishments?
"I WISH MOM WAS MY REAL DAD!"
Of course, most of us choose the latter, even as adults who should be able to figure out what we did wrong. Now, imagine you're an actual child when that situation arises: Children lack the experience and social intelligence to understand why it is that they're being punished, much less the ability to analyze their own behavior -- little kids' brains just don't work that way. So, the kid remains unrepentant, stewing over the fact that their parents suck and have wrong opinions, and, when they grow up, they'll make up their own set of random-ass rules that everyone else has to follow. Basically, that's how you get politicians.
So, what do you do instead? Well, see, the point of parenting -- however you do it -- is that you have to be there. A timeout is saying, "As a punishment, I'm going to stop parenting you for a while." Withholding parental interaction as a punishment is like taking away their toothbrush. The opposite would be what some experts call a "time-in" because even scientists are terrible at naming things. Another name for it could be "actually take time to talk to your kids about discipline every day, whether they're acting like assholes or not."
"Welp, you made it a whole day without calling your brother a cuntweasel. Good job, boy."
It won't seem to have an effect right away -- no discipline method can simply fix a kid, Dog Whisperer-style -- but, over time, you get a child who can actually think through their actions. And you don't wind up sending the unintentional message of "Your parents only want to interact with you when you're being good."
"Maybe if I do nothing, child services will eventually come take them."
On a similar note ...
Tightly Controlled Schedules Kill Your Kids' Initiative and Make Them Fat
It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and, unless you prepare your kids for the inevitable basic realities such as having to be in the office at a certain hour, chances are they're the ones who wind up on the menu at some point. After all, that's why the more responsible parents hold their children to a strict schedule -- school, sports, piano lessons, homework, dinner, yoga, and bed. If you don't fill that time with productive stuff, who the hell knows what your little bastard will be up to? They only get one childhood -- don't waste it!
Here's the problem: Kids who are raised to adhere to a strict schedule are understandably pretty capable of accepting a life with strict timetables, which is great ... if you want to send them to West Point. However, they may find themselves lacking when it comes to utilizing executive function, which is science's way of saying that they're not too hot at independent thinking. What's more, the kids raised in this authoritative fashion are likely a lot fatter than the ones who are allowed more freedom because they don't get to do all of the independent runnin' around that less strictly disciplined kids are all able to experience.
"Have you watched season two and eaten all of your sugar?"
It all amounts to the classic "all work and no play" piece of life advice that esteemed career coach Jack Nicholson gave us in his famed self-help documentary, The Shining. If you subject your kids to a strict schedule without enough free time, you're shaping one dull-minded citizen. Or, to put it another way, what happens to them once you're not there to set their schedules? The lessons of why you were forcing them to get exactly eight hours of sleep a night are still unlearned. To develop properly, kids have to have room to screw up and figure things out for themselves -- hopefully in a way that doesn't result in them getting addicted to meth or losing a limb.
Obviously, a lot of this comes from parents seeing the screeching brats raised by parents who gave them too much freedom -- "We even let him name himself just after he was born! His name is THHFFFFFTHHPTT! -- and deciding there is no mistake to be made in the other direction. But, free time is just as critical to a developing mind as a structured environment because it allows children time to think.
" ... I wonder how flammable this place is."
Zero-Tolerance Policies at School Don't Turn Kids Off Crime
"Zero-tolerance" policies started showing up all over America's schools in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, with the reasoning that a few bad apples have the ability to spoil it for everyone else and that it was imperative that these bad apples be removed for the safety of the school. This is how you get those news stories about a kid getting expelled from school for having a key chain shaped sort of like a knife. That's what "zero tolerance" means -- that you can't be too careful when it comes to the safety of other kids. And "safety of kids" is literally the easiest sell in all of politics.
"Bubble boy suits for all!"
Well, we've previously mentioned the various ways this offers ample opportunities to royally mess up a nation's youth, mainly because it becomes impossible to teach kids right from wrong when you're doling out the same punishment for having a slightly sharpened Popsicle stick as you do for possession of an assault rifle. It just makes all of your rules look like arbitrary nonsense. The concept of crime becomes meaningless when you declare everything to be a crime.
"Try getting into Harvard now. Hope that gum in class was worth it."
But, it's actually even worse than that. Hey, remember what we said about timeouts as punishment earlier? How you're punishing them by taking away something they need (that is, guidance)? Well, now multiply that by a thousand.
Yeah, every time you remove a kid from school, you're essentially resigning them to a life of scumbaggery and minimum wage. Suspension is a remarkable predictor of future academic performance. In fact, a single suspension increases a child's chance of dropping out by a whopping 68 percent, as well as doubles their chance of having to repeat a grade. This also goes a long way to effectively removing them from a fair amount of their social support network. These days, thanks to zero-tolerance policies, one in nine kids gets to experience it.
At least it keeps the class sizes small.
But, what about the other kids? You know, the good children who don't deserve to have their learning cut short by some punk who likes to smoke pot and throw ninja stars at the teacher? Shouldn't we strive to create an environment where they can learn unimpeded? Technically, sure, but suspending a child doesn't actually do that at all. All it does is allow the teacher to remove what they deem to be a difficult kid from their immediate presence for a few days, while the troubled kid gets a free vacation from school, learning absolutely nothing about what they did wrong. Then, they come back and probably get suspended again.
A cynical person would say that society seems to be full of disciplinary measures that are super easy to dole out -- but don't actually accomplish anything other than making the disciplinarian feel better. Kicking a troublesome kid out of a classroom is easy and probably very satisfying. Actually teaching that kid how to be less troublesome is hard. But, as the adults in the situation, isn't that, you know, kind of your job?
Don't worry teachers, we'll remind you again after spring break.
For more ways we're messing our kids up, read 7 Things 'Good Parents' Do (That Screw Up Kids For Life). And also check out 5 Hallmarks of Bad Parenting That Are Actually Good for Kids.
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