When I first saw the NYT headline, “For Some Parents, Shouting Is the New Spanking,” I thought, oh, great. I prepared myself for an argument that parents were too sensitive about shouting (just as they are too sensitive about spanking), and that they should just lighten up, go old-school, and slap and yell at their kids.
But nope; it’s not a lagging indicator but a leading one. I can guarantee that parents at the farmers’ market, this article in hand, will turn their laser vision on any parent who slightly raises their voice at a child, even from across the park.
Okay, enough with the straw men on either side.* Just to be clear, I think regular yelling at kids is a really bad idea. Here’s what the article says:
Many in today’s pregnancy-flaunting, soccer-cheering, organic-snack-proffering generation of parents would never spank their children. We congratulate our toddlers for blowing their nose (“Good job!”), we friend our teenagers (literally and virtually), we spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings. But, incongruously and with regularity, this is a generation that yells.
“I’ve worked with thousands of parents and I can tell you, without question, that screaming is the new spanking,” said Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, which teaches parenting skills in classes, individual coaching sessions and an online course. “This is so the issue right now. As parents understand that it’s not socially acceptable to spank children, they are at a loss for what they can do. They resort to reminding, nagging, timeout, counting 1-2-3 and quickly realize that those strategies don’t work to change behavior. In the absence of tools that really work, they feel frustrated and angry and raise their voice. They feel guilty afterward, and the whole cycle begins again.”
I also like this principle, from the University of New Hampshire’s Murray Straus:
If someone yelled at you at work, you’d find that pretty jarring. We don’t apply that standard to children.
*Let me just say that dealing with parenting advice is absolutely exhausting. Whether it’s a young mom toting the latest research on vaccination and language delays featured in Fretful Mother magazine, a well-meaning grandma offering ludicrous folk remedies and endless, endless stories, a hipster dad justifying why he lets his kids free-range their BMs in the backyard, or a frazzled mom angrily defending slapping her kids on the subway, the message is always: “You’re doing it wrong.”
I always say that one of the best how-to movies about fatherhood is Finding Nemo, which presents three models of fatherhood: the initially neurotic, PTSD, over-anxious Marlin (who wants to protect Nemo from everything); the initially selfish Gill (who’s willing to subject Nemo to real danger so he can escape the dentist’s office himself); and the turtle Crush, who has achieved a kind of laid-back affirmative Zen. Over the course of the movie, Marlin needs to relax and trust in his son, Gill needs to learn to care about somebody else, and Crush — well, Crush is a turtle. He doesn’t have to do much of anything.
I’m also liking (with some reservations) the justly famous dad whose wisdom fills Twitter’s shitmydadsays:
“The baby will talk when he talks, relax. It ain’t like he knows the cure for cancer and he just ain’t spitting it out.”
I wish I’d read that six months ago — soooo much grief could have been averted.