Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

In 12 Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson warns, do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them:

Recently, I watched a three-year-old boy trail his mother and father slowly through a crowded airport. He was screaming violently at five-second intervals — and, more important, he was doing it voluntarily. He wasn’t at the end of this tether. As a parent, I could tell from the tone. He was irritating his parents and hundreds of other people to gain attention. Maybe he needed something. But that was no way to get it, and his parents should have let him know that. You might object that “perhaps they were worn out, and jet-lagged, after a long trip.” But thirty seconds of carefully directed problem solving would have brought the shameful episode to a halt. More thoughtful parents would not have let someone they truly cared for become the object of a crowd’s contempt.

I have also watched a couple, unable or unwilling to say no to their two-year-old, obliged to follow closely behind him everywhere he went, every moment of what was supposed to be an enjoyable social visit, because he misbehaved so badly when not micro-managed that he could not be given a second of genuine freedom without risk. The desire of his parents to let their child act without correction on every impulse perversely produced precisely the opposite effect: they deprived him instead of every opportunity to engage in independent action. Because they did not dare to teach him what “No” means, he had no conception of the reasonable limits enabling maximal toddler autonomy. It was a classic example of too much chaos breeding too much order (and the inevitable reversal). I have, similarly, seen parents rendered unable to engage in adult conversation at a dinner party because their children, four and five, dominated the social scene, eating the centres out of all the sliced bread, subjecting everyone to their juvenile tyranny, while mom and dad watched, embarrassed and bereft of the ability to intervene.

When my now-adult daughter was a child, another child once hit her on the head with a metal toy truck. I watched that same child, one year later, viciously push his younger sister backwards over a fragile glass-surfaced coffee table. His mother picked him up immediately afterward (but not her frightened daughter), and told him in hushed tones not to do such things, while she patted him comfortingly in a manner clearly indicative of approval. She was out to produce a little God-Emperor of the Universe. That’s the unstated goal of many a mother, including many who consider themselves advocates for full gender equality. Such women will object vociferously to any command uttered by an adult male, but will trot off in seconds to make their progeny a peanut-butter sandwich if he demands it while immersed self-importantly in a video game. The future mates of such boys have every reason to hate their mothers-in-law. Respect for women? That’s for other boys, other men — not for dear sons.

The neglect and mistreatment that is part and parcel of poorly structured or even entirely absent disciplinary approaches can be deliberate — motivated by explicit, conscious (if misguided) parental motives. But more often than not, modern parents are simply paralyzed by the fear that they will no longer be liked or even loved by their children if they chastise them for any reason. They want their children’s friendship above all, and are willing to sacrifice respect to get it. This is not good. A child will have many friends, but only two parents — if that — and parents are more, not less, than friends. Every parent therefore needs to learn to tolerate the momentary anger or even hatred directed towards them by their children, after necessary corrective action has been taken, as the capacity of children to perceive or care about long-term consequences is very limited. Parents are the arbiters of society. They teach children how to behave so that other people will be able to interact meaningfully and productively with them.

I remember taking my daughter to the playground once when she was about two. She was playing on the monkey bars, hanging in mid-air. A particularly provocative little monster of about the same age was standing above her on the same bar she was gripping. I watched him move towards her. Our eyes locked. He slowly and deliberately stepped on her hands, with increasing force, over and over, as he stared me down. He knew exactly what he was doing. Up yours, Daddy-O — that was his philosophy. He had already concluded that adults were contemptible, and that he could safely defy them. (Too bad, then, that he was destined to become one.) That was the hopeless future his parents had saddled him with. To his great and salutary shock, I picked him bodily off the playground structure, and threw him thirty feet down the field.

No, I didn’t. I just took my daughter somewhere else. But it would have been better for him if I had.


  1. Dave says:

    It would have been better had he tossed the kid, but in our post modern dystopia, he would have been subject to potential criminal prosecution.

    I had a similar situation happen when my son was 2. Another boy, a nasty little sh*t, came up to him on the jungle gym, and out of the blue, shoved my son hard enough to send him over backwards, head over heels. Luckily, my son was at a low enough level that no physical harm was done. I saw all this and verbally exploded, angrily chastising the little monster to his face. He was utterly shocked that an adult was screaming at him, apparently for the first time in his life. His nanny apologized to me, but I gave her a piece of my mind as well.

  2. Gaikokumaniakku says:

    The problem for some parents is that they hate everything their child does and thus they must limit their child’s actions to a point where the child cannot function under any circumstances.

  3. McChuck says:

    Gaikokumaniakku: “It was a classic example of too much chaos breeding too much order (and the inevitable reversal).” Over discipline is much less common (because it takes constant effort) than the simple refusal to discipline (which takes no effort at all). This rampant form of neglect is rooted in the pop psychology of Dr. Spock’s abysmal book, and the “do what feels good” hippy love culture. These grew into the participation trophy, “self esteem is all important” mantra that is destroying civilization.

    It is also enforced by the State, which has nearly criminalized sane and sensible child rearing. You spank two year olds on their diapered bottoms, so that you don’t execute twenty year olds.

  4. Isegoria says:

    To be fair, in my day the jungle gym deserved its name. It was a jungle out there.

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