One morning, as I dropped my son Bud off at his school's front door, I cautioned him, "Be careful!" He had a fragile art project in his backpack and something squashable in his lunch bucket.
"Okay!" Bud gasped, in a hurry, as always. Out the car he dashed, leaving the car door open, swinging his lunch box around by the strap, flopping his unzipped backpack, running on the ice, let me count the ways. It came to me then that children do not know how to be careful, that we have to teach them in particular, bit by bit.
This, of course, makes us nags: "Don't run on the ice (in the house, in your stocking feet, in the hall, on the basement stairs). Zip up your backpack (put on your gloves, wear your jacket, tie your shoes) before you leave the house (the car, the classroom, the parish hall). Don't swing that lunchbox (belt, jump rope, leash)."
"How many times have I told you…?"
"Nearly All Parents Yell at Their Kids -- Survey," proclaimed a Reuters headline a week before Christmas vacation.
Dr. Murray A. Straus of the Family Research Laboratory in Durham, New Hampshire, surveyed 991 parents, and found that "98 percent had used some form of psychological aggression, such as yelling, threats of spanking, and name-calling, to discipline their children by the time they were five years old."
("Only 98 percent?" my wife asked. "Some lied," I answered.)
Dr. Straus "questioned whether yelling and similar reactions from parents are ever justified." "I believe it is not," he said. Dr. Straus advocates "discussing the problem" and other such methods of child correction.
The study was published in the November issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family. Ridicule of it occupied the first hour of Boston wiseacre talk show host Howie Carr's show the next day. One caller cordially invited Dr. Straus to come over and get his kids ready for school some morning. (Another thing children cannot understand: "We have to leave right now.") Another offered to leave her children with Dr. Straus and see how long he lasted.
Unfortunately, "experts" like Dr. Straus have taken over a substantial swath of law enforcement in a number of states, most especially our fair Commonwealth here. As Carr said, you always have to worry about some busybody dropping the dime on you for child abuse, and then you find the Department of Social Services on your doorstep. You could be led away in handcuffs.
This raises an interesting question. Where do social service weenies come from? What motivates them to nag, threaten, and intimidate not children, but adults? Suppose you took away their subpoena power, their Soviet system of snoops (daycare centers, pre-schools, schools, all "mandated reporters"). Suppose you took away their power to inspect and license.
Suppose you left them, in other words, in the position of parents, with only the day-to-day power to influence behavior by word and restraint and punishment and example in the persons of the ones they love. Just a few people. Just their own children, who cannot be replaced. Who offer you only one chance to raise them right, to get them through school with some success, yea, verily, to keep them alive. ("You HAVE to wear socks! It's winter!")
Do you suppose they might, once in a while, yell, "Don't run away from me in a parking lot! You could get hit by a car!"
I suppose they would have had a discussion in their safety-approved minivan beforehand about the dangers of parking lots. Yes, we all do that, too. We talk about how important it is not to fight or tease or taunt, and to stay together in the mall.
Children run away anyway, until they are trained not to. Children display awful behavior, over and over. Okay, Dr. Straus. There goes your three-year-old, toddling off in the jetway of a parking garage. Dr. Straus, your eight-year-old has your two-year-old in a hammerlock and will break the baby's arm in less than two seconds. What are you going to do now?