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Monday, October 10, 2005

Educating Trotter

Chris Trotter delivered an opinion piece in the DomPost last week that I disagree with. He made some sweeping generalizations about how bad parents are at child rearing and then tied it in to the fault of the right. His message seemed to be a justification as to why parents had to be taken away from parenting so that experts and the state could step in and do the job properly.

His opening paragraphs lay down his premise: All parents are clueless, their skills appalling, and all-wise expert intervention is required, but society has a bad attitude to expertise. He trys to paint the picture of the average parent as degenerate: “never mind that is parents who are beating toddlers with sticks, belts and electric cords”, “Mum – zonked on valium – or Dad – rampant with Viagra”

Now, it’s a big call to look at a couple of manufactured “reality” shows and decide all parents are clueless, drug abusers and regularly beating their children. There is no doubt parents are interested in improving their parenting skills, and that is one possible reason for the popularity of the shows – that parents can take on board new techniques, and by viewing them in context with real “problem” children, feel much better about how they are actually doing.

Chris then advances the theory that the advice the experts issue actually match the “scorned precepts” of Political Correctness. This is a debate in itself. What the advice actually matches is often based on common sense. If he wants PC, then it appears PC to equate a smack to being repeatedly attacked with a plank of wood.

What society is hotly debating is all about discipline, and how discipline is enforced. A smack as a disciplinary measure is vastly different than thrashing a child with an electric cord. Parents, more than any-one, know their child is a special little person, and it is ridiculous to think parents bond with their children like a puppy, and will pop them in a kennel outside when they don’t look as cute. Yes, there may be a significant number of uncaring bastards or totally clueless people out there, and it is important to reach them and teach them. Rather than making this about how to improve parenting skills, or ensure child abusers are caught and punished, however, Chris is keen to fix the blame firmly on the right.

Chris then forwards an idea: “The saddest thing about these shows, is they lead so few people to extrapolate from the microcosm of the family to the macrocosm of society in general”. Actually, there are no end of social theories of rehabilitation and punishment of people that are “naughty”. Just to play devil’s advocate for a moment: You say, don’t smack a child for hitting another child. Well, what kind of message does it send if you take money away from a thief, by fining them? What message does it send when you lock up a kidnapper? Is a stern warning from the judge after a drunk driver is arrested - driving without a license for the 10th time nothing more than the loving scolding and appeal for reason you think so appropriate?

But I digress. Chris was, in general terms, earlier wondering why society has an “attitude” towards experts and expertise. Firstly, I disagree that we have a poor attitude to experts. The very reason the parenting TV shows exist is because some parents are big enough to seek advice by putting themselves through the show. We hire experts nowadays to help in all areas of our lives: marriage guidance, family planning, landscaping and tax returns. However, there are two conditions to seeking expert advice: One is that we want to be in control of the exchange. We hire them. We seek help, it is not dictated. The second is that we understand that even experts get it wrong. Depending upon the year Chris writes this piece, we may have been consulting Dr Benjamin Spock or John B Watson.

Dr Spock, you may recall, wrote the ground breaking book Baby and Child Care. It became a mega seller and "Dr. Spock" became a household name. His reassuring message to parents—that they should trust themselves as they attend to their children's physical and psychological needs. In contrast, the earlier generation had turned to John B. Watson, the notably harsh but popular behavioural psychologist who combined rigorous views on child care with a dire estimation of the dangers of maternal affection. Two experts, two completely different views. Do we take the first expert we find Chris?

Dr Spock was at first lionised for having made child rearing more professional and for providing new parents with self-confidence. On the other hand, critics have blamed him for contributing to an unhealthy child-centeredness that they felt produced guilt-ridden mothers and spoiled children. Since the 1960s, feminists have assailed him for making women believe that they were fully responsible for their children's development and that full-time mothering was essential; conservatives have held him responsible for what they have believed to be the misbehaviour of the youth of the sixties who were reared according to his "permissive" formulas. In the 1970s, Dr Spock revised his book in response to feminist criticisms: Baby and Child Care now discusses the participation of fathers, sitters, and day-care centers in child rearing.

I suggest the debates of today have moved from the simplistic “beat a child or be permissive”. The beaters were driven to administer discipline – to set boundaries and when crossed reinforce the consequences. The permissives were appealing to a child’s ability to reason and make sound judgement. Both approaches have their problems. Children are recognised as being incapable of making the reasoned judgements of adults. That is why they are treated differently under law. Teaching them all about consequences, the moral dimensions to our lives, the benefits of cooperation and sharing are important tasks for parents. Kids are not born adults.

Limits and consequences are not well understood by children. They learn by testing boundaries. Overly permissive parents do their children no favours, and child psychology experts abound that can explain how setting boundaries demonstrates to a child that the parent cares. We have also learnt that discipline need not be delivered via a beating. Most parents I’ve talked to rarely, if ever resort to a smack. However, the threat of a smack, or time-out, or denial of a treat remains an option. Positive techniques are typically used first, and a new dimension to child rearing is emerging: a growing understanding of triggers in high sugar or allergenic type foods, and the effects of too much TV, or violent video games.

Chris appears to be stuck in the 50s and 60s view of parenting, and uses this viewpoint to justify his position. He is captured by the astounding insight offered in the carefully produced TV world, that many parents I talk to are going “Yeah - duh”. Like a policeman that only sees criminals, or a social worker that only sees “cases” or a doctor that only sees sick people, he is ready to believe parents on the whole are appalling and families, on the whole are dysfunctional. They are not perfect by any means, but dysfunctional? Why?

Well the answer is obvious to Chris. Right wingers “never tire of reminding us that as a family goes, so goes the nation”. He then declares that so many families are dysfunctional (I think I need some numbers and sources here Chris) people get to adulthood “without knowing what it is like to be reasoned with.” So hopefully, he is coming down hard not just on families but on schools and other institutions under the care of experts and the State. I doubt it. "Parents who direct violence against the weak and the vulnerable show this is a perfectly legitimate method of social control." And who are these violent people? Single parent families? The unemployed? The poor? Maori? Men? Alcoholics? Priests? Crèche workers? Well, they might be. But the real culprits are the right wingers.

“The truth is that the Right does not believe in treating every person as a thinking, feeling, individual with hopes and aspirations to be respected and possibly fulfilled. Nor does it have any fundamental objection to violence – provided it is only ever meted out by the powerful against the powerless”

To identify the worst abuses of children as a problem of the right is staggering in its ignorance of the social and environmental factors that are responsible for child abuse. Whilst Chris is blaming “Dad – rampant with Viagra” for child rearing failures, statistically, step fathers, alcoholics and Maori in the lower social strata are over-represented. The nanny state can apparently fix this, but the right, he claims, are deliberately trying to keep families dysfunctional to ensure the success of the social and economic forces we pray to. This just exposes his opinion as a poorly thought out rant that does nothing to adequately address the finer points of our understanding of child rearing, not to mention how best to target the “risk groups” for more serious child issues.

Experts have even discussed the right/left wing position of child rearing of course. Michael Bader, noted psychologist and psychoanalyst, examined the outcomes of “Strict Parent Morality” and “Nurturant Parent Morality” in childrearing. This was in context with Lakoff’s work in Moral Politics. It even extrapolates to moral systems in which the Nation is represented as a Family. This examination linked Conservative values and morality in child rearing against liberal values.

Bader found that empathic childrearing may produce healthy kids but not necessarily liberal ones, and harsh hierarchical parenting does not necessarily produce conservatives. All this means is that, politically, you may turn out much like your parents irrespective of the way you were raised, or you may not!

The main issue facing society today regarding parenting and the State, Chris avoids in his efforts to make the topic far more black and white. Parents who resort to a smack are not in the same league as abusers. If Chris thinks dope smoking does not automatically lead to heroin addiction, then an occasional smack need not lead to beatings. A smack need not become a criminal offence. But it will with the repeal of s59.

Are people using s59 to get off child abuse? That is not the case. The high profile cases the anti-smacking brigade promote were not decided using s59. The cases where s59 is invoked, like the father who “smacked his child because the child pooed their pants” lost his case. The smack left bruises, and the judge agreed that s59 wouldn’t protect him from abuse like that.

What is also not discussed by these people is the danger to children when the State gets it wrong. Even though the judge found a mother not guilty, CYFS kept the child away. It took 12 months of legal battles to get the child back. During that time, the child had become so distressed being away, the care workers had prescribed anti-depressant drugs to the child. The child tried escaping back to his parents place, but was caught. Respecting the wishes of the child? There are other cases of equal worry. I blog them from time to time on Zen State, so drop by if you don’t believe me.

We now get to see the aim of Chris Trotters opinion piece: Parents views need to be discounted when it comes to discussing child rearing, sex education and drug use. We need to rely on the experts, and the State needs unimpeded ability to change laws as it sees fit. Whenever a parent voices concern over how a child is to be raised, remember they are appalling, valium taking, cord beating thugs that think they have a puppy. Remember, the right are generally against State control, so it is important to link bad parenting to an issue of the right. Ignore the statistics. Or blame them on the right holding the nanny state back. Take your pick.

He is right about one point, his summary: “The rights approach is always the same. These matters are best left to the judgement of parents”. What Chris has shown, is that he cannot fully understand that most parents care more about their children than any other person could ever manage. They therefore are capable of exercising that judgement, and attempt to do so throughout their child’s life. For all his ranting, he could not possibly offer one credible alternative that would be better than the average family. His solutions were not couched as supportive, but as replacements. The government agrees. More crèche time, longer work hours for mothers, laws to make the parents guardians, on equal footing with the state in regard to the right to look after their own children, and now, the threat of other people reporting them for a smack – something that leaves no physical evidence and will enable social workers to remove children from custody in the first instance, their belief a foster home is just as good as any other roof.

We all want to be better parents. I am sure we can all improve. But don’t let people like this try to convince you are not up to the task. As much as the left hate it, it is a case of strong families, strong communities and strong nation. The more we turn over our child rearing responsibilities to others, the weaker the family bonds become, and our appreciation of the interconnectedness of society. Struggling parents need to feel confident a call for help from the greater family, our friends and neighbours will result in unqualified support, not a visit from CYFS to place the child in the care of a person with three years of lecture experience.
[Click to Expand/Contract]

Posted by ZenTiger | 10/10/2005 12:43:00 PM

16 Comments:

Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

This one will need a coffee.

10/10/2005 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger tincanman said...

Agreed. And maybe a sandwich to wash it down with. Back in a minute.

10/10/2005 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger Ashley Clarkson said...

A very well written piece ZenTiger. Great reading.

10/10/2005 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger rightsaidsteve said...

and you know what the really sad thing is ? It's that when all the repressive, doctrinaire,bullying legislation has been enacted it won't make a sod of difference to the children who are raped, thrashed and killed and neglected by the people who are supposed to be looking after them.
The current law requires parents to have a legal obligation to 'provide the neccessities of life' but we all know that this only applies to decent white folks.It is regularly ignored when it comes to dealing with poor white trash, maoris, gamblers ,druggies and other assorted riff raff. No expectation of civilised behavior from them, no requiremnt to obey the law, just an endless stream of excuses and handouts. Why should this current batch of legislated stupidity be any different?

10/10/2005 02:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Going to try to get this into a Letters section anywhere?

NZ really lacks a physical conservative outlet for leftoid debunking.

Kimble

10/10/2005 02:11:00 PM  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

Valid points rightsaidsteve, but I don't see the problem as a divide between "decent white folks" versus all the other riff-raff.

There is no question the lower economic groups are over-represented in the statistics, but we are still talking small percentages of big groups.

Your point that law changes will not be respected by the offenders is correct. I think the law changes come about as providing the legal pretext to have the power to take action against these groups.

However, only when studying these issues case by case, do we get an inkling that the numbers of "innocent" that are punished increase disproportionately to the wrongdoers who are caught.

And as the left say - what use punishment versus a change of behaviour at the most fundamental level. The Maori have a better answer, with their "Its all about Whanau" push to make families aware they are part of a wider community and to change the prevailing attitudes - from smoking and alcohol abuse to child neglect.

Does nanny state socialism fix the problem? Maybe, like Chris Trotter suggests, we can look at the macrocosm:

Stop the aid

10/10/2005 02:35:00 PM  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

Thanks Ashley and Kimble. Regarding a letter to the editor - how do I cut it down to 200 words?

10/10/2005 02:36:00 PM  
Blogger rightsaidsteve said...

just resently had dealings with a mother and her two babies, mum is a teenage druggie, dad is a violent criminal/druggie/jailbird/loser. The kids showing all the symptoms of the institionalised and welfared fueled neglect that is so common in our brave new world. Kid gets sick,Mums to busy trying to get stoned to care. Do the authorities make any effort to make the parents face up to their responsibilities? like hell they do. Instead free petrol vouchers to get to Starship, free motel,free meals more free petrol vouchers. Mum and 'Dad' think all of their Christmases have come at once, someone is stupid enough to pay for their trip to Auckland so that they can get cheaper drugs.
There wasn't even the slightest expectation from anyone in authority that these particular individuals were expected to behave and act in the same way as the rest of us. Laws that are supposed to prevent the neglect of children are usless because they are not enforced against the ones actually doing the neglect. Exactly the same thing will happen with the anti smacking law.
I predict another baby dead at the hands of its so called care givers and the left using as another excuse for morelegislation

10/10/2005 03:30:00 PM  
Blogger rightsaidsteve said...

just resently had dealings with a mother and her two babies, mum is a teenage druggie, dad is a violent criminal/druggie/jailbird/loser. The kids showing all the symptoms of the institionalised and welfared fueled neglect that is so common in our brave new world. Kid gets sick,Mums to busy trying to get stoned to care. Do the authorities make any effort to make the parents face up to their responsibilities? like hell they do. Instead free petrol vouchers to get to Starship, free motel,free meals more free petrol vouchers. Mum and 'Dad' think all of their Christmases have come at once, someone is stupid enough to pay for their trip to Auckland so that they can get cheaper drugs.
There wasn't even the slightest expectation from anyone in authority that these particular individuals were expected to behave and act in the same way as the rest of us. Laws that are supposed to prevent the neglect of children are usless because they are not enforced against the ones actually doing the neglect. Exactly the same thing will happen with the anti smacking law.
I predict another baby dead at the hands of its so called care givers and the left using as another excuse for morelegislation

10/10/2005 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger rightsaidsteve said...

just resently had dealings with a mother and her two babies, mum is a teenage druggie, dad is a violent criminal/druggie/jailbird/loser. The kids showing all the symptoms of the institionalised and welfared fueled neglect that is so common in our brave new world. Kid gets sick,Mums to busy trying to get stoned to care. Do the authorities make any effort to make the parents face up to their responsibilities? like hell they do. Instead free petrol vouchers to get to Starship, free motel,free meals more free petrol vouchers. Mum and 'Dad' think all of their Christmases have come at once, someone is stupid enough to pay for their trip to Auckland so that they can get cheaper drugs.
There wasn't even the slightest expectation from anyone in authority that these particular individuals were expected to behave and act in the same way as the rest of us. Laws that are supposed to prevent the neglect of children are usless because they are not enforced against the ones actually doing the neglect. Exactly the same thing will happen with the anti smacking law.
I predict another baby dead at the hands of its so called care givers and the left using as another excuse for morelegislation

10/10/2005 03:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dont bother cutting it down, Zen. Send as is. Maybe the NBR will publish in full?

10/10/2005 03:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a load of froth!

Not sure which article this is supposed to be a fisking of, but it would take a long bow to get to Chris Trotters one.

You people slobber over each other a bit longer, maybe something intelligent like NZ Idol is on.

- Wind up

10/10/2005 09:04:00 PM  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

Wind up, are you just, err, winding me up when you say you don't know which article of Chris Trotters I fisked?

Given that I provided a link to the article in the opening paragraph (a scanned image - click to enlarge) I presume not.

But to make the point that this has nothing to do with what he said, has me puzzled. The things in " " were quotes taken from his article. He said them. I didn't make them up.

Could you explain why the long bow is off target?

Given that you were keen for me to fisk it in the first place?

I think it a bit weak of you to write the whole thing off as off topic. I was expecting some thoughtful kind of put down that showed you had read at least one of the articles and more than the opening paragraph....but I'm not sure the judges would even bother scoring this one, let alone mention it on NZ idle.

10/10/2005 09:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmmm

The opening paragraphs of the linked article seem to be saying that a TV show seems to show that treating children as individuals seems to be a successful strategy at influencing their behaviour.

I don't see him saying that parents views should be discounted anywhere either. He does seem to suggest however that parents could do with some help out there.

This could be an effective drug policy, sex education,...

You can read this through your spectacles of whatever hue they are, and see whatever you like, but I don't see Chris Trotter calling for the Govt. to come to my house, maybe trying to encourage Nandor to apply some of the youth collateral he has though in a positive way.

- Wind up

10/10/2005 09:51:00 PM  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

Wind up, your "review" of the article sounds so rosy.

Parents could use a little help? That would be those belt wielding, valium-viagra clueless, all parents are right wingers, variety that he refers to. How on earth could they ask for help with Mum "zonked out", and Dad "rampant"? Oh, I'm reading too much into that you say?

You don't see the meandering condemnation based on emotive and ill-though links to the right wing nothing to rate a mention either?

I mean, he doesn't even distinguish between right wing liberals and right wing authoritarian types. Given his opinion on strict discipline hinges more on pure authoritarians, which can be both left and right leaning, it makes his conjecture more illogical. And you didn't notice?

Chris Trotter sums up in his closing paragraph of his first article (you do realise it is an article of effectively two parts?) that the Rights same old response is these matters are best left to the judgement of the parents, and again by inference, the Left's response is these matters are best taken from parents hands and taken care of by the "Nanny-State" that the right oppose.

Don't you find the irony in his assertion the Right don't care about individuals - and then he proceeds to explain why the Left needs to use the State to tell people (individuals, many of them) what to do and how to do it?

If you can't see this for more than a call to parents to watch more manufactured TV shows based on his caricature of parents, I'm going to suspect you of substance abuse.

10/10/2005 10:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

guilty.....

phil(whoar.co.nz)

10/11/2005 10:17:00 AM  

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