Monday, March 19, 2012

What is the goal? Well behaved children or competent adults?

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has some good thoughts about what is important in raising children. His column The Truth About French Parenting (and I Would Know) starts with:

As a French parent who speaks Americanese on the Twitters (you should follow me here by the way), I must have been asked countless times what I think about the latest parenting meme: the idea that French parenting is superior to American parenting.

The basic gist is that French parents know how to be more strict, kowtow less to their children, and as a result their children are better behaved.

Oh boy.

Depending on your perspective, I am either the worst or the best person to ask about this, because I view the first 20 years of my life as a constant fight against the education ideas that rule in France. Now that I have a child, my almost monomaniacal obsession is how to protect her from French parenting and French education, which is why we are considering Montessori schools and homeschooling/unschooling rather than put her in French schools. (Let me rephrase that: I am considering setting myself on fire rather than put her in French schools.)

Janine and I would love perfectly behaved children, but our end goal is that our children grow up to be sane, healthy, wonderful adults.  (And provide us with dozens of delightful grandchildren.  :-)  )

It is easy to get distracted by the simple solution of forcing good behavior when children are young, but too often children who are forced to be good at five and ten have little desire as adults to follow the teachings of their parents.  It is much more effective to raise children who understand the value of good behavior and are self motivated to live a good life.

Hat tip: Instapundit


chili pepper said...

Well... I have never been to France however, I can say we have dear friends who moved here from France about 10 years ago. They have three children ages 3-18... and they are the most ill behaved children I know. Difficult and disagreeable. Mother lets them do whatever for fear of stifling them and father is always frustrated because they act like terrors to the point where they don't even take them out visiting any longer.

Twenty years ago we had some French teenagers come to spend the summer with us in an exchange program. We found them to be rude, at best.

Maybe these are the exceptions but by what we have to judge, if that's what the French have to give in parenting, we had better keep looking elsewhere for some better way to raise our kids.


chili pepper said...

And you know... just one more thought... why can't you have behaved children and competent adults? I've turned out some and think they are doing ok.

abba12 said...

I think there's a middle ground. Strictness for the sake of strictness will create resentful children, but strictness with an explained and understood purpose can, in my opinion, teach both lessons. I haven't got adult children, but I was raised with very strict parents who, at least before the 'breakdown' when I was a teen, explained why they believed and did certain things, and why things were right or wrong. I think I am a competent adult and I was constantly being told how well behaved I, and my siblings, were as children.

A mother who says 'no' all the time for the sake of saying no will probably cause resentment, but a mother who is strict and FAIR will probably bring respect.

Henry Cate said...

chili pepper - I agree, it is possible to have both reasonably well behaved children and competent adults. I think the issue is we as parents need to be careful not be short sighted and only focused on the short term of having well behaved children.

abba12 - you make a great point. Balance in most things is important, and being super strict is a recipe for disaster.