by Father Daniel A. Lord, Questions People Ask About Their Children

Should a father or a mother be the one to say yes or no to where the children go and how late they stay out?  

Why not a decision based on consultation between both parents? The direction will come with more authority if it is backed by an agreement of both parents.

America tends to give parental authority more and more to the mother. Yet often enough it is the father who most probably knows more about the situation and can judge it more objectively and more realistically.

I suggest that the parents talk the decision over together. Then when they give their decision, it will stand without the kind of division between father and mother that can result in a child’s confusion, delusion, and inevitable insubordination.

So many modern children seem to be vandals. They recklessly destroy property or deface it. What is to be done about this?  

There again I’d ask: Are the children so much different from their elders? We have done a lot of wholesale destroying in the past few years. The war was a masterpiece of destruction accomplished with scientific thoroughness.

But in general . . . . have you noticed how supposedly grown-up people deal with the property of others? Their careless use of books from the public library? The way they set wet glasses on the top of your apartment grand piano? Their destruction of hotel property when the party gets a little loud?

The way apparently adult men act at, let’s say, some of the American Legion conventions, ex-servicemen’s associations or on New Year’s Eve?

Their wholesale theft of silver, linen, knickknacks from hotels and restaurants? Their utter thoughtlessness in the way they put their feet on the seats of public conveyances? Their use of linen towels in train washrooms to wipe their shoes?

We should give a lot of thought to that phase of the seventh commandment that regards proper care for the belongings of others . . . . including, I might add, the property we share together in parks and public buildings . . . . , and the property of large corporations, who according to some people have no rights at all.

The approach to youth — here as always — is first of all good adult example.   I then suggest a re-teaching of that seventh commandment and a stressing of its importance for the whole of decent living.

Manners have a great bearing on conduct of this kind. Children who from infancy are taught not to handle things that do not belong to them are likely to develop respect for the property of others.

A quite justified if slightly selfish convenience may be appealed to: We in turn have to use things that are used by others. If a boy vandal cuts up a chair in the movie house, it may be our bad luck to sit on it afterward. If the washbowl is clogged up because someone carelessly tossed a towel down the drain, we may not be able to use the washbowl.

Vandalism hurts everybody. Everybody pays tribute in annoyance to the vandal.   Example and education — use both in your teaching.   And of course this is all tied in with God’s basic commands, which remain sound common sense and good pedagogy.

Do you believe that children should be spanked? Or should parents reason with their children?  

I find it hard to see how even the most skillful parent could reason with a child under the age of three. He would have to be a child prodigy.   Reasoning is, almost by definition, possible only when the child has reached the age of reason.

A swift little spank on the sector that nature seems to have designed for that purpose — a nerve center padded against any real harm to nerves or muscles — is often the one convincing argument.

Irresponsible spankings are of course usually the sign of an inadequate, nervous, or already beaten parent. A swift little crack (“Not on the head, Morris!”) need not be a manifestation of parental petulance or of the failure of parental psychology. It may be the most reasonable thing in the world.

The baby hand continues to grab after the parent has spoken; a swift little slap on the hand serves as a deterrent to the baby. He would have had the same lesson from a fire into which he might have thrust his hand — without however the saving fact that the pain of the slap is soon over (the pain of the burn would have been of longer duration).

Spankings should be very rare . . . . though there are situations in which spankings are emphatically called for.   Spankings should not be the common form of discipline. They should not be so recurrent that the child begins to regard his parents as tireless whipping machines. They should be almost a last resort.

Some children can early be shown what is right and what is wrong, and they accept reasonably parental commands.   Some children need the fear of a sharp but not lingering physical pain to hold them back from evil and harm to themselves.

But if the right discipline is given early, the spanking can later disappear completely from the discipline.

It is very bad to spank adolescent children, who dread the pain not nearly as much as they hate the humiliation and resent the fact that there is no way for them to strike back.

How should a parent deal with teenage impertinence?

Head it off  before the children reach their teens. The correct training in good manners, self-control, and morals during the formative days of infancy and childhood will mean few outbursts of temper or temperament in adolescence.

Parents and elders in general must be sure that what they regard as impertinence really is impertinence.

Boys of adolescent age often have voices that slip strangely out of control. So they become embarrassed, and do and say strange things. They are crude with their hands and clumsy with their feet. Since they deal all day long with boys of their own gangling and juvenile age, they find it hard to change completely to good manners at the family dinner table.   Besides they are often preoccupied with temptation and troubled by physical problems to such an extent that they are snappish and short and rude. Such seeming impertinence rises sometimes to answer a fierce struggle that is raging in their own natures. A wise parent is aware of this and not too quick to be resentful of it.

Then too all young people tend to develop a language of their own. It sounds flip, crisp, cryptic, sometimes a little vulgar, and frequently quite unintelligible to their elders.

If they use the language around the house, it is because like most human beings they follow the fashion of their peers. Yet slang is not always impertinence, and the cryptic jive talk of youngsters may indicate merely that they are demonstrating that they are in the know.

When, however, a teenager first shows signs of real impertinence, he or she should be clipped immediately. Once more: No scenes and emotional displays. None of this appeal to parental dignity and rights — “How dare you talk like that to your mother?”

Rather the quiet and final answer: “I consider that distinctly impertinent and the sort of thing that is not to happen around here again — ever.”

If elders take such a stand early — the stand based on a well-planned course of childhood and early-youth training in good manners and right conduct — the single reproof may be enough.

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