In Response to Jordan Peterson’s Parenting Advice (Rebuttal)

In Response to Jordan Peterson’s Parenting Advice (Rebuttal)

I have many concerns with Jordan B. Peterson's advice on parenting. Going into his book, I already knew that my views on the matter differed, but I didn't expect it to be by such a wide margin.

Full disclosure: I have little experience with children. However, studying how one can best raise children has been a focus of mine for more than 5 years. I partly pursue this because it's a great form of self-therapy and partly because I want to eventually use what I learn to be the best parent I can be (if I ever become one).

It's also worth noting that I was once a child and I've spent a lot of time trying to make sense of that time. Because of this, I think I can bring a special, though by no means complete, perspective on the subject. 

Introduction

In his book, particularly chapter 5, JBP promotes the use of behaviorism on children. To be clear, this is a parenting style that is already the norm. Everyone I know was raised with this method, including me. Most parents do use rewards and punishments to get children to behave and to "teach" them to stay out of danger. Under threat, they are made to say please and thank you, share with others, be quiet in public etc. Almost all schools use rewards and punishments too. 

With this method, the reason why children do the actions you wish to see does not matter. What matters is that they appear to emulate good behavior. 

What Peterson seems to be going for is a refinement of behaviorism, but I think that's a very low bar to aim for. Aim higher, Peterson! I think there is an even better method altogether, a method that exists outside the paradigm of manipulation. I'm talking about parenting with Nonviolent Communication (or NVC). In short, this is a method that views the parent/child relationship as a partnership rather than a perpetual fight for dominance. Kind of like any truly healthy relationship. With this method, it is understood that connection, rather than manipulation, is the best path to get our needs met in the long-term. 

Side note: I'd also refer to this approach as peaceful parenting, attachment parenting, or parenting with an unschooling philosophy.

JPB's Perspective Vs NVC

In chapter 5, JBP presents many false dichotomies of how you can treat children:

  • You can chastise them, or overlook unwanted behavior
  • You can discipline them, or neglect them
  • You can control them, or let them live a life of chaos
  • Be strict, or be permissive
  • Dominate them, or be dominated

I don't think he's aware that these are false dichotomies. It's likely that he, like most other people, just doesn't know that there are other possibilities. I think this is because he has been blinded by the language that our society uses. His religious beliefs probably also have something to do with it. After all, his convictions align well with the idea of original sin and "spare the rod, spoil the child."

JBP generally sees people through the lens of good and bad. He says everyone has the potential of being bad and extends that ability to children, saying that it is naive and dangerous to not see them this way. Well, call me naive if you want but I don't see anybody that way. Not because I think it's impossible for people to do evil things, but because I think it's counterproductive to see people through that lens. This is especially true for people with whom you want to be in a long-term relationship with. I'd say that such moralistic judgments can only impede the possibility of getting our needs met.

Marshall B. Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication wrote:

"It is my belief that all such analyses of other human beings are tragic expressions of our own needs. They are tragic because when we express our values and needs in this form, we increase defensiveness and resistance among the very people whose behaviors are of concern to us."

I would echo Rosenberg's statement because I've personally experienced it both as a child and as an adult. I think the logic of it is pretty much universal; just think of the last time you felt your whole character being judged. Think of when you were called bad, annoying, inconsiderate etc. Did it make you want to understand and accommodate the person more, or less?

Another thing is that, since children are both defenseless and reliant on you for information, they might start to believe in the negative, one-dimensional labels that you put on them, making it harder for them to grow out of the very habits you don't like. 

Instead of jumping the gun on moralistic judgments, what if you directly expressed what you felt and needed? Isn't that more likely to get results? Granted, using NVC will not always get you the result that you desire, but my point is that making moralistic judgments will never do you any better. 

Throughout this chapter and several other talks, Peterson uses many uncharitable labels on children. He has called them names like "little monsters," "rats," "devils," "brats," "blighters," and "varmint." To me, this is horrifying. He probably doesn't say those words to them directly, but there's no doubt that it shapes his attitude towards them. 

That is what Rosenberg would call "life-alienating language." It is a language which instills the idea that the other is less than human and therefore less deserving of empathy and compassion. It gives us the green light to implement behaviorism on kids as if they were no different than rats.

In the chapter, when JBP was trying to get a child to eat, he likened it to a war. When I read this, it reminded me of George Lakeloff and Mark Johnson's book, Metaphors We Live By. In it, they argued that the metaphors we use determine how we live our lives. There's a relevant passage where they talk about arguments, which I think could also apply to our interactions with children:

It is important to see that we don't just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win or lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We attack his positions and we defend our own. We gain and lose ground. We plan and use strategies. If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of attack. Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war. Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an argument—attack, defense, counter-attack, etc.—reflects this. It is in this sense that the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor is one that we live by in this culture; it structures the actions we perform in arguing.
Try to imagine a culture where arguments are not viewed in terms of war, where no one wins or loses, where there is no sense of attacking or defending, gaining or losing ground. Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance, the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way. In such a culture, people would view arguments differently, experience them differently, carry them out differently, and talk about them differently.

Imagine how much more fruitful every debate would be if we did that.

Just like the "argument is war" metaphor, I believe thinking of a child as an opponent whom you must dominate causes unnecessary friction and stagnates progress. It prevents us from discovering amazing possibilities in parenting.

Now, it is true that because of the immense power disparity of the relationship, parents can just ignore this mombo jumbo and force a child to do pretty much anything on command (unless they have a very strong-willed child, that is). Other than it being morally reprehensible to abuse such power, I want to warn people that it is likely to cause many long-term consequences. Consequences which JBP does not address. 

The Dangers of Behaviorism

Jordan Peterson was very good at showing the potential horrors of permissive parenting (something I'm not advocating for, it's just the only alternative that he offers) but he didn't present any potential horrors of behaviorism. So I think I'll do that.

Here are some of the negative consequences that can come out of behaviorism. For more detailed explanations, plus the evidence to back them up, I'd recommend Alfie Kohn's books, Punished by Rewards and Unconditional Parenting.

It neglects intrinsic motivation. Behaviorism is like a trainer lifting your arm while you hold a dumbbell and calling it exercise. Since they are being made to do things under threat of punishment or promise of reward, children are denied the opportunity to have their actions be their own. What do you think will happen when the external motivation isn't there anymore? Do you think the child will still behave? I don't think so. With behaviorism, children never truly learn discipline or to be good. (Can a person who is forced to "be good" actually be good anyway?) They simply haven't utilized their internal motivation when they do those things.

I wrote something that exemplifies this in a post called The Problem With Making Kids Say “Thank You”

It makes them reliant on behaviorism. Sometimes when you coerce a child to behave a certain way it does end up sticking, but it comes at the cost of making them dependent on external pressure. You can see this in people who promise themselves a treat if they do something good or go down a path of self-loathing if they fail.  They are conditioned to need external motivation to be good or to have discipline. 

Coercing them may make them hate the very thing you want them to do. I think this is self-explanatory. 

Depression. One of the most important requirements for happiness is a sense of autonomy. With behaviorism, children grow up to act based on pressure rather than a real sense of choice. We need the ability to choose our own actions and goals. When your behavior is being controlled by your parents and school, you are being denied the opportunity to pursue your own goals let alone ever find out what they are. If children are raised on behaviorism, their joy comes from other people's approval. And even then, it's a short-lived kind of joy.

I know Peterson doesn't think happiness is a worthwhile goal, but it's also worth noting that depression impedes people from reaching even a goal that Peterson would approve of, so he shouldn't perpetuate it if he can help it. 

It forces them to prioritize appeasing authority over learning about and conquering reality. Under behaviorism, kids have no reason to care about the behavior you want them to do, but they have all the reason care about getting the reward and avoiding the punishment. When they are made to suffer for misbehaving, they don't learn that such behavior is wrong or dangerous, rather they learn that displeasing the parent is wrong or dangerous. Therefore, they learn to conduct themselves based on the ones who hold the hammer rather than reality. Sometimes it only makes them become more sneaky so as to not get caught.

It erodes the relationship. As you can see from the previous point, it encourages children to be dishonest with the parent. This is where I believe the "rebellious teenage years" come from. When the parent is a source of what's making them suffer, they become another entity that should be avoided. This means that the parents will have less of an influence on their children's lives. Especially when they grow older and the power of rewards and punishments doesn't hold the same effect anymore. 

It teaches them to repress their emotions. In chapter 2, Jordan wonders why people care more for others than they do for themselves. I think this is at least partially the answer. Thanks to behaviorism, they are taught that their own emotions and needs are not a priority over the people who hold power. They are taught that their own emotions and needs are to be repressed if they want to live harmoniously with a parent. 

I can easily see this leading to collectivism, which ironically is what Jordan is trying to steer people away from.


I know these things can happen because I've experienced them. I was actually one of those defiant children who refused any type of manipulation. Each attempt at controlling me resulted in resistance, which then caused more drastic methods to control me, which resulted in more resistance. I eventually became numb to any type of reward and punishment coming both from my parents and schools. In the process, my relationship with my parents deteriorated and they lost any real influence they had on me. William Glasser nailed my experience when he wrote:

The vast majority of unhappiness [in the parent-child relationship] is the result of well-intentioned parents trying to make children do what they don’t want to do….  Few of us [parents] are prepared to accept that it is our attempts to control that destroys the only thing we have with our children that gives us some [influence] over them, our relationship.

Today, I have a strong drive to be polite and well liked. I'm also on my way to becoming successful by my own standards. I can assure you this didn't come from other people trying to force me to be like this. In reality, I always had a strong need for my values to be intrinsic. I remember having that need back then, though I couldn't have articulated it.

The idea that a parent might interpret the way children express their needs as "malicious" is extremely unfortunate.

I'm barely starting to trust the fact that I have in me the need and ability to become a good human being; that I don't need external control to lead a life of meaning and discipline. This trust in myself could have been instilled in me way earlier if it wasn't for behaviorism.

I know what would have worked better. I know for a fact that my parents would have gotten more of what they wanted out of me if they started from a place of trust and respect rather than fear for my future. I know it's impossible to prove a counterfactual, but after learning about myself and recollecting what was going on inside my head back then, I can say that more compassion and empathy in place of "tough love" would have set me up for a better life, not to mention a better relationship with my parents. 

Some Resources

There is so much great content out there that can enlighten us on different ways to handle situations without behaviorism. Here are just some of them to get you started.

This is a great conference talk by Roslyn Ross, where she explains why behaviorism leads to collectivism and some solutions:

I'd also recommend Roslyn's blog

Unruffled by Janet Lansbury. This is a podcast where Landsbury answers questions about specific situations. In there, you can find a peaceful solution to every situation Jordan Peterson gave an example of: how to deal with children that don't want to sleep/eat or when they hit etc.

Here's a pertinent episode: Stop Making Mealtime A Challenge. I think you'd be interested in comparing it to Jordan Peterson's forceful approach. 

Lastly, I highly recommend Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. This book gives you a better way of getting what you want without using rewards and threats, which, in my opinion, is not very effective in the first place. 

Peaceful alternatives are out there. Using rewards and punishments necessarily limits our ability to find better solutions. Even Jordan Peterson would agree that restrictions lead to creativity, so let's follow this wisdom and restrict our ability to approach kids with behaviorism. If you do this I think you'd be surprised by the possibilities. 

P.S. If you want to hear other counterpoints to Jordan's parenting approach I 'd like to direct you to this episode of The Voluntary Life. Jake Desyllas has great points that I just can't fit in this post.

Radical Self-Acceptance

Radical Self-Acceptance

Today I started reading Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. It crossed my radar because Tim Ferris has strongly recommended it in the past. I gotta say, so far it's looking to be a book that I didn't know I so desperately needed. 

In the beginning, Dr Brach told a story of a woman who was on her deathbed. Before she passed, she was able to reveal this profound and heartbreaking insight to her daughter:

You know, all my life I thought something was wrong with me

For me, this really hit close to home because it's what I believed for so much of my life. It also made me think of how horribly damaging this feeling of unworthiness can be. For example, it can lead to a drug addiction or dependence upon an abusive partner. 

This is not part of the book (at least not that I'm aware of yet) but I think this feeling of unworthiness exists largely because of how we are treated as children. It comes from being told that we are "bad" or "wrong" for expressing ourselves in such a way that an adult doesn't approve of. 

In a more indirect way, it can also come from the belief in original sin.

Evidently, most of us are raised so that our acceptance of ourselves is strongly tethered to how others feel about us. The stronger this connection is made the more fragile we are. And the more fragile we are, the more we suffer. Think of the people who gauge how they feel by the number of "likes" that they get. 

I think a mentally healthy person generally has an opinion of himself which is unmoved by what others think of him. (Of course, this is excluding the close people who he respects). I think this is a path to true happiness. Or at least a path away from suffering. 

I desperately don't want to live the rest of my life feeling unworthy. Luckily I've already made great progress in getting that out of my system. And I have this blogging journey to thank for that. I'm slowly but surely disconnecting what others think of me from what I think of myself. So far, this has done so much for my own happiness.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to learning the insights that Brach's book has to offer.

Featured image by Grant Ritchie on Unsplash

Parents Should Be the Most Charitable Interpreters of Their Own Kids

Children a) are powerless and b) don't yet have all the mental tools to express their feelings and needs effectively. (Though I'm afraid "b" is not exclusive to kids)

Instead of assuming "bad behavior" or "disrespect" or "he's trying to dominate me" whenever children do something they don't like, parents should assume "they don't know better ways to express themselves yet" or "they haven't had enough practice." 

The former interpretation will cause anger and an attempt (often in the form of punishment) to repress the child's present and future attempts at self-expression. The latter will allow the parent to react compassionately and actually teach the child better tools of self-expression. 

I guarantee parents will have better results doing it that way. It will also create mentally healthy adults who DO know how to express themselves effectively.

Children need guidance, not punishments.

Why I’m So Interested In Unschooling Even Though I Don’t Have Kids

I love learning about unschooling. I love writing and reading about it. Just in case you didn't know, I'm a single 24-year-old male with currently no desire of having children. So why the heck would I be interested in that? Well, there's a few reasons.

(If you're not familiar, you can read my last post to learn what unschooling means to me)

1) For Self-Knowledge

I think learning about this parenting philosophy is a very effective form of self-therapy because it provides a rational lens through which I can analyze my childhood. 

When I'm reading a book related to peaceful parenting or unschooling, I'm basically reverse engineering myself. Think of it like fixing a poorly built IKEA table. The first thing you would do is look at the instructions to see the correct way of building it. Then you compare that to the way it was actually built. Once you find what was done incorrectly, you can disassemble it and rebuild it properly. 

That's exactly what I'm doing with myself. Peaceful parenting books are the instructions for how to build a mentally strong and happy me. With this information, I know what I need to undo so that I can rebuild myself properly. 

Going through this disassembling and rebuilding process has not been easy. In fact, it can be extremely painful. After all, it can be profoundly jarring to discover just how much I was damaged by my schools and the people who loved me the most.

But, as Nathaniel Branden wrote, "fear and pain should be treated as signals not to close our eyes but to open them wider."

This gets me to the next reason for why I do this.

2) It Allows Me To Properly Mourn

Looking back at my childhood through an analytical lens - thinking and writing about it while simultaneously reading about how I may have been mistreated - has brought about deep sorrow.

Reading books about peaceful parenting is like laying a magnifying glass to your past. It can help you see better but it also has the effect of burning you. For me, it has brought about strong feelings of anger, frustration and sadness. Sometimes it gets to the point where I have to take a break from it.

Ultimately, I think conjuring up these emotions is good, if not necessary. First of all, it's important to understand that those feelings were not created. Rather, they were already in me and I was just bringing them up to the surface. 

One of the many benefits of feeling these emotions is that it helps me restore empathy for myself and what I went through. It helps me understand that it was not me who was broken but rather the world around me. I think this mourning process is necessary in order to love myself once again, or any other person for that matter. 

Another great benefit is that I can use this anguish as fuel to improve myself or the lives of others. 

3) I Want To Inform Parents And Help Children 

As I learn more and more about how to fix myself, I feel the need to pass this information on so that parents could stop making the same mistakes over and over again. I want to prevent as many kids as possible from having to endure the 15,000-hour infliction of schooling. I really don't want for kids to grow up and have to go through the same disassembling and rebuilding process that I'm going through. Or worse, I don't want them to grow up not knowing how they were damaged and then inflict the same damage on their kids!

When it comes to how we treat children, I believe that we have so much to improve on. I believe that much of what we think is an unfortunate but natural part of the human experience could be significantly reduced (or even eradicated) if only schooling and non-peaceful parenting stopped perpetuating it. I don't think life has to be as harsh, boring, and depressing as most schools and parents make it out to be. 

As Alice Miller wrote:

We don't yet know, above all, what the world might be like if children were to grow up without being subjected to humiliation, if parents would respect them and take them seriously as people. 

4) It Could Come In Handy

I think this knowledge can be very important whenever I interact with children, even if they are not my own.

I really admire children and am deeply intrigued by them, but I'm not entirely sure I will ever have any. Why? For starters, I still have a long, long road to healing and I don't know if I'll ever be done with it. If I don't do that then I'll run the danger of inflicting the same trauma that was done to me. 

Then I'd have to find the right partner, someone who is strong enough to raise children with the principles of unschooling. 

One thing that I know for sure is that, whether I ever have kids or not, the seemingly never ending cycle of authoritarianism will stop with me.

Peaceful Parenting And Unschooling

Since I'm so interested in peaceful parenting and unschooling, I thought I should take the time to think about it and write down what those terms mean to me. Sometimes I interchange the two which may cause some confusion, but that's because I do take them to mean the same thing. I'll explain.

Peaceful Parenting

On the surface, peaceful parenting may seem like it's just about refraining to physically harm children, but it actually goes beyond that. Peaceful parenting is about respecting a child's dignity and sense of self. This means treating them without judging, shaming, bribing, intimidating or any other form of coercion.

Instead of looking at the parent/child relationship as a struggle for power, peaceful parenting allows us to look at it as two individuals who can work together to get their needs met. Now, usually when I say this I get the response that I advocate being a submissive parent. But that's not the case.

For an excellent explanation for how peaceful parenting works I recommend you watch the video below. I time-stamped the relevant part, but if you have the time I highly recommend watching the whole thing!

Unschooling

The central part about unschooling is to refrain from sending your children to school against their will. It is different from traditional homeschooling in that there is no enforced curriculum by the parent. Instead, it's the child who makes the decision on what he/she wants to learn. While unschooling, it is the job of the parent to pay close attention to the child's interests and to facilitate their learning experience with emotional support and resources. 

Unschooling recognizes that schools in general damage the child's natural creativity and love for learning about the world.

Why They're The Same

Just like peaceful parenting, unschooling comes with the recognition that children are their own individuals who deserve just as much respect as any other person. You can't have unschooling without peaceful parenting. 

The reason why I think of those two terms as the same thing is because unschooling is basically peaceful parenting taken to its logical conclusion. Afer all, I don't consider it peaceful to force a kid to go to school and learn things that he is not interested in.

I know there are conscious peaceful parents out there who still send their kids to school against their will, but I think they are being inconsistent with their philosophy. Maybe they fear that their child will not learn important things, or maybe they don't have the necessary time and resources required. If it's the former I'd encourage them to take a look at the thousands of now adults who were unschooled who managed to do just fine in the real world. If it's the latter, it's perfectly understandable. As long as they recognize the inconsistency and try to mitigate the negative effects of compulsory schooling. 

Shyness Is A Result Of Trauma

Shyness Is A Result Of Trauma

"I'm shy at first, but once we get to know each other I can be very outgoing."

When people describe themselves, I hear that sentiment quite often. A long time ago I was someone who may have said such a thing thinking it was just a part of my personality. Now I see the tragic implications of those words. 

To understand the implications let's first define what it means to be shy. I'm defining shyness as being fearful of expressing yourself around others. This does not include introverts, provided that they aren't timid or nervous when they are with company. Introverts can be shy but not all are.

I happen to be both - for the most part, I like to be alone, but when I'm with others fear does prevent me from expressing myself properly. Because of this fear I have held back many laughs, smiles, dances, singalongs etc. Basically everything that makes life worth living.

In short, I have refrained from expressing myself in those ways for fear of facing punishment.

So where does this fear come from? I believe that shy people were once sensitive children who developed this fear as a result of past traumatic occurrences. I mention sensitivity because it seems to be a big differentiating factor. It explains why things which left lasting scars for me, my brothers were able to take in stride, as they were relatively more outgoing. 

Though shy people may not have a present reason to be timid, they once did. Shy people were once in an environment where, to some degree or another, it was dangerous to be fully themselves. This danger can come in many ways and from many people including parents, siblings, teachers or school bullies. 

Perhaps, like me, these shy people had their curiosity squashed, their propensity for being playful and loud tamed, their feelings exploited, or their unique quirks ridiculed. Whatever it was, I guarantee that they had an expression that was natural to them that others around them didn't like and so, much like a nail that sticks out, they got the hammer. 

Pretty soon they learned that not all of who they are is accepted, so they start to suppress their true selves in order to survive. But the problem never stops there; this self-censorship is then internalized. It stays with them as they grow, even when there's no possibility of retaliation. What was once a necessary adjustment in response to their environment has now turned into unresolved trauma.

Now you understand why I think this is tragic. It's almost even more tragic that there are people out there who think shyness is just part of their natural personality rather than a result of the trauma-inducing environment around them. Without this knowledge, they have little chance of ever reversing it.

I remember being outgoing and carefree once. I believe basically every person was born that way. It is not until they get tested, silenced, controlled, humiliated, scorned, or beaten that they become anxious and reserved. One of my goals in life is to reconnect with who I was before that happened.

Why Your Book Recommendations Are Futile

Why Your Book Recommendations Are Futile

Have you ever had trouble getting your family or friends to watch your favorite shows, read your favorite books, adopt a certain perspective? That's the story of my life. Sometimes I read, watch, or listen to something that I find so valuable that I can't help but share it in an effort to improve the lives around me.

I'd say my success rate is about 2%. I used to get upset when it didn't work, but now I don't because I have learned of it's inherent futility. Though I still do it just because the opportunity cost of mentioning something I liked is so low, plus that 2% can be meaningful. 

Why Is It So Futile?

You may notice that, when you tell someone "you should consume x" in an unwarranted manner, many times the person won't do it. They may show interest while you talk about it just to be polite but the interest usually stops there. Even if they do end up consuming it, they will most likely give you the lukewarm response of "I thought it was okay." In most successful introductions of mine, I can easily tell that the person didn't find it as important as me.

If you want to test this out, go to someone and show them a video which you thought was really funny. I guarantee you that they will not find it as funny as you did. I also guarantee that the person would have found the video funnier if they discovered it themselves. There's probably a study like this out there that I'm too lazy to look for.

Most times, the person is resistant to your recommendation not because they think they'll dislike it but rather because they simply don't like being told what to do and how to feel. If they consume something, they want it to come from an internal desire to do it. It gives them a sense of free will. There's nothing wrong with that - we all have the need to feel that way.

Successful recommendations where the person gleans the importance that you gleaned only work when they are already looking for it. The person has to have the same goal in mind that you had before diving in, and that goal has to be self-directed. 

I know certain books, podcasts, activities that can improve the lives of my family and friends but I know that if I try to introduce such things to them when they haven't asked for it they will get nothing of value out of it. Conversely, they have recommended things to me that I resisted for the same reason.

Despite the frustration that this brings, I wouldn't have it any other way. Discovering our own way through life is fun, it's what makes us different, it's how we derive our own purpose.

Knowing This, What Can We Do?

The best, if not the only thing we can do is to set an example. We could show the valuable effects we have obtained from trying such things.

If you want other people to see the value in exercising, all you can do is be happy and healthy and hope that people like those results enough to try it themselves. 

If you want people to read a book that you think is important, maybe write a review where you talk about the value you've extracted from it, post it on social media.

Make your thoughts and feelings known to the world and let people listen only if they please.  The important part is in doing this without being pushy.

And of course this wouldn't be an Erick Muller blog post if I didn't tie this topic back to children. If these things are true for adults, if we learn and discover the importance of things best when it is not pushed upon us, it is most certainly true for kids. This is why compulsory schools and authoritarian parenting is so backwards. Just like adults, children have an inherit need for freedom, so we should give it to them.

For more on this I'd recommend How Children Learn by John Holt. It's one of those books I wish everyone would read, so you must read it now! 

I'm joking - of course I don't expect that recommendation to work. In the spirit of following my own advise, you can expect a review from me soon. 

How To Raise Happy Children

How To Raise Happy Children

If I asked parents what is the number one thing they want for their children, I bet most of them would say happiness. Some may have a roundabout way of saying it, for example they may say they want them to have a nice career or a spouse and kids, but that's because they think those achievements will lead to happiness. Either way you can boil it down to parents want their kids to have a happy and fulfilling life.

Despite the fact that this is their goal, a lot of parents end up failing at helping their kids attain happiness. Why is that? Well I think for most cases the answer is simple: the parents aren't happy themselves. This is a classic case of the blind leading the blind.

If you can't figure out how to be happy how the hell can you figure out how to make another human happy? You know yourself better than your kid after all. 

Children can tell if you are not happy, and so they know where your guidance will lead to if they follow it - it will lead to your life. So if you don't seem happy the rational thing to do is to not listen to you. I believe this is why kids become rebellious when they grow up. You simply don't have valid authority. They know that you are bullshitting when you promise them a great life if only they do what you say, and you'd be surprised how young they catch on.

I know that true happiness is hard to attain, especially if you don't have guidance from happy people. I don't yet have an answer for how to attain it for myself except that it has a lot to do with freedom. I also know about what doesn't work and one of those things is letting myself be controlled by, let alone listen to people that aren't happy themselves, whether they be my parents, school teachers or society as a whole.

I think it is crucial for any aspiring parent to find the answer for themselves before a child shows up. That is if they want said child to be happy.

Why It’s Wrong To Lie To Kids About Santa

Why It’s Wrong To Lie To Kids About Santa

I think it's safe to say that most parents use Santa as a way to manipulate their children's behavior. It's something that is deeply embedded in the Santa mythology. As declared in the famous song, "he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake."

It's basically Santa lore 101 - the first thing you explain to your kid is that he brings presents ONLY to the good boys and girls.

How many parents do you think have threatened their kids by saying "do you want me to call Santa and tell him not to come this year?" I'm willing to say most parents who adopt the lie have reminded their kids of Santa's little rule to get them to do what they want.

In my case, I was told that how good I was is proportional to how great the presents will be. I stressed so much over this and it made the times when I made mistakes or failed to comply so much more painful.

This Santa lie is perpetuating the control of kids. It's even easier to control kids using this lie since the idea that this magical experience might not happen is a lot more powerful than being sent to their room. 

It also lets the parent dump the responsibility of being the person to emotionally harm their child, since they can say to the child, "It's not me who is threatening you of not bringing presents if you don't do what I say - it's Santa."

And forget about the immediate psychological stress that this made-up threat brings to the child. What's more harmful is the behaviorism that's involved. It's creating adults who seek external approval instead of internal, which is a recipe for an unhappy life. 

This post was inspired by the latest discussion from Praxis Philosophy Nights. It was an excellent discussion with great arguments for and against the practice of lying to kids about Santa.

The Problem With Making Kids Say “Thank You”

The Problem With Making Kids Say “Thank You”

One big annoyance I experienced growing up was whenever my parents forced me to say "thank you" in front of other people. It was bad enough that they teased words out of me with no care for what I actually felt, but to make me say it in front of another person angered me to no end. I'd think "now that you told me to do it, they'll think I won't really mean it! Now there's no point in saying it!" But I had no choice, so, humiliated, I said the words through gritted teeth.

Back then, I understood my annoyance intuitively. Now that I have the words and awareness for it I can say that the reason I was so annoyed was that I wanted to be true to myself. Not only did my parents disrespect my need for being genuine, I was also being robbed of the experience of the feeling behind the words. That's because I was made to focus more on empty words rather than actual appreciation. 

Don't get me wrong, I am not against saying pleasantries like please and thank you. I actually do say them, but only when those words reflect my true feelings. What I am against is being coerced to say those words. I simply don't think the feeling of appreciation can be forced onto another person. In fact, this coercion often has the opposite effect. It may create people who will rarely feel appreciative, even if they do end up adopting the words that indicate it.

I think the best way to cultivate appreciative, kind and empathetic kids is to model the virtues yourself. We need to teach them that these feelings come from within and stop making them say "thank you" just because someone else told them to. In order to do that they need to be given the space to feel it.