Thursday, November 30, 2006

Modern Myths: No.3: Children need discipline

Myth 3: The current problems with social unrest and unruly, disruptive young people are caused by lack of discipline. If parents, schools and other people in authority were stricter and punishments harsher, young people would behave themselves and the world would be a better place.

You don't have to look very far, in the current climate, to find this myth being fuelled, furthered and funded on a vast scale. In fact, stand still for long enough and it comes to find you. Along with the one about relative poverty, it is being used to sanction incoming laws which will restrict our liberty and lead to forced state interference into private family life.

With a funky new image, name and website, here is the Respect agenda, which is the shop window for the 'new reforms'. Read and be awed ;-)

Tony Blair is panicking about the nanny state argument and refutes it before anyone has chance to make it in every speech he makes and article he writes about this issue. Here he is in his article for The Sun newspaper nine days ago:

"The 'nanny state' argument applied to this is just rubbish. No one's talking about interfering with normal family life. But life isn't normal if you've got 12-year-olds out every night, drinking and creating a nuisance on the street, with their parents either not knowing or not caring. In these circumstances, a bit of nannying, with sticks and carrots, is what the local community needs, let alone the child."

Sticks and carrots. Well, that's the nature of the power system we call authority. Based on the principle that most people are innately bad or stupid and need strict coercion to be made to comply with society's interests, we set up our systems to try to control each other thus.

But I think the nature of power is changing. Authority (power over others) is on its way out, thank goodness. People increasingly don't trust it, don't like it and don't want to work with it. Its 'fluffy, liberal' couterpart, autonomy is the kind of power system we're moving into. Ancient belief systems, including Mayans and Taoists refer to these contrasting types of power as male and female, respectively. In I Ching terms, we're talking about the first principle (The Creative) and the second principle (The Receptive) - yang and yin, which swap places roughly every two thousand years.

Just to prove Tim's stereotype theory ^^ here's the image, which you can if you like imagine to be slowly rotating through 180 degrees every 2 millennia or so. You can picture me wearing pink or yellow-lensed shades at the same time also, if it helps!

Each kind of power has its benefits and drawbacks in equal measure, of course, and it is not the purpose of this post to denigrate the essence of male, creative, authoritative power - only to say that because of the changing time in which we're living, that those methods and systems are becoming less effective - hence our current social disorder problems. A government who authoritatively, desperately clings onto the old kind of power is a government who fails to understand the situation and which completely wastes its time and energy.

Well, I've been a mother/stepmother for twenty years now and I have found through trial and error that imposing rules, regulations, boundaries, sticks and carrots on children is not the best way to create a harmonious, educational environment for them at this time. Sure, it will work to some extent and with limited effect, but it's very difficult to impose and there is always a backlash: i.e. the child will rebel eventually. If you are very strict and you impose a system of full surveillance, you may delay this rebellion for years, but not forever.

I have dozens of empirical accounts to back up my conclusions in this respect, but in the interests of brevity will just blog a few key ones.

  • My own children, who have no externally imposed boundaries, rules or punishments, are peaceful, respectful, 'well-behaved', considerate people who are interested in learning about the world around them. If I'm ever tempted to say "Do this, don't do that," they immediately respond in a negative way, which reminds me that 'power over others' is not the best way to go about things.

  • All of my own behaviour which has been negative, damaging and self-destructive has stemmed from other people trying to impose their authority on me.

  • Out of the many children I have known, the ones who have the most authoritative parents exhibit by far the most extreme behaviour problems, because most things they do are a reaction against that authoritative power.

  • One girl I was at school with was an only child whose parents were even more determined than mine were to impose their authority on her. She was monitored all the time, pushed, furthered and assisted by them constantly. She complied with their wishes as a child and a young teenager because they gave her no choice. Of course they meant well and only wanted what they thought was the best thing for her, but as soon as she went away to Oxbridge and was able to rebel, she did. She went to live with a religious cult in America and hasn't been in touch with her parents ever since.

  • The most secure, content, productive and peaceful people I have known have been those who were brought up with trust, love and very little parental discipline.


  • This is a time when people need to work their decisions out for themselves. They need to try different ways of living to find the one that suits them the best. Being told what to do and coerced into doing it can only have a negative effect on people now, because it impedes their own personal, autonomous development - the dominant type of power and therefore the motivation that intrinsically drives us all at the present time.

    My contention is that the only way to successfully, positively affect other people now is to teach by example, on the learner's terms and at their spontaneous request. There is no other method that will be 100% successful, without unwanted side-effects.

    5 Comments:

    Anonymous Paula said...

    I enjoy reading your blog. I was brought up by authoritarian parents and I rebelled big time. I think you're totally right, 'power over' just doesn't work, it certainly doesn't lead to happy relationships.
    This summer I went to a workshop by Chris Johnstone that touched on the nature of power - interesting stuff!

    6:12 pm, November 30, 2006  
    Blogger Rosie said...

    Yes, I think the problem is we are trapped in a cycle of carrot-and- stick coertion/control as that is what we were brought up and schooled with. Anyone who thinks outside the box can see it ultimately doesn't work and is unfair.
    It's interesting that you can see it from a far off historical point of view, Gill. I seem a bit more black and white in comparison. ie- power over is unfair; autonomy= good. Maybe, as you say, this is because the former is obviously not working any more.
    I think the combo of my mum and dad (autoritarian/encouraging autonomy) seemed not to have too bad effect on me- ie I was so empowered that I chose not to be controlled any more ;-). (Shame about my siblings though- )

    7:27 pm, November 30, 2006  
    Blogger Gill said...

    Hi Paula - hmm that name rings a bell! I'll google it, thanks :-)

    Hi Rosie, yes I think authoritative power seems to have worked well at one time, although its hard for us to be sure of course, because we only have the historians' viewpoints to go by. But the yin/yang theory does make sense and is correlated by a few of the very old belief systems. It's interesting to view things in that light, isn't it? :)

    9:24 pm, November 30, 2006  
    Blogger Tim said...

    I think you could just as easily say that the problem is lack of respect.

    People have no respect for themselves, because they are never shown that they have worth and are not given respect by parents, teachers or any adult they come into contact with. If you have no respect for yourself, why would you treat others with respect?

    If you learn when you are small that the only rule is that big people hit small people, when you get big you will obviously expect that it is your turn. Or, if you worry that there is always someone bigger than you going to hit you, you will start to carry a knife, or a gun.

    4:52 pm, December 01, 2006  
    Blogger Gill said...

    Yes I'm sure that's a major contributing factor to the problems, Tim.

    5:34 pm, December 01, 2006  

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