My wife and I were enjoying an evening out in one of our favorite restaurants when a family of three — mother, father, girl of perhaps four — were shown to a table next to ours. Immediately, the parents began asking the little one where she wanted to sit. They both stood while she went about trying each chair until she finally settled on one. Well, not really, because as soon as everyone sat, she wanted to move, so she and her father exchanged seats. This entire process took several minutes.
Then the parents began reading to her from the menu and asking her what she wanted to eat. She was obviously having difficulty deciding, so her parents began making suggestions. “Perhaps you’d like this. You had this once and you liked it. How about trying it again?” No, she didn’t think so, so her parents went through the process again…and again…and again.
Finally, she seemed to make a decision which the parents conveyed to the very patient waitperson. Then, the little girl wanted to change seats, so they all played musical chairs once again. When the food came, the girl began whining, so they played musical entrees.
Such is the stuff of nouveau, post-1960s parenting, central to which is the notion that children should be given choices. When asked why this should be the case, liberal parenting pundits will say things like “So children learn how to make choices” and “So children learn that their opinions count” and “So children feel they have value.”
Funny. my parents never gave me choices about such things as what I was going to eat, or where I was going to sit in a restaurant. Yet, I grew up capable of making choices. Besides, have you ever heard a child say, “My parents give me lots of choices, and because of that, I feel I have value”? No, you haven’t. That is not at all reflective of how children think.
My parents made lots of choices for me. As an adult, I’ve made good choices, and I’ve made bad choices. That’s life. I see no evidence that today’s young people, many if not most of whom grew up with parents who let them decide where to sit, what they wanted to eat, and so on, have an improved capacity for decision-making. In fact, the escalating age of emancipation suggests they have difficulty making any decisions at all beyond what website they’re going to visit next.
A child does not learn self-control unless his parents first set and enforce clear boundaries. Likewise, a child learns to make reasonably good decisions by being the beneficiary of parents who model authoritative decision-making. This is nothing more complicated than good parent leadership, which many of today’s parents are afraid to deliver for fear their children won’t like their decisions and therefore won’t like them. Heaven forbid!
When all is said and done, letting children make lots of choices is really letting children be in control of things they have no business being in control of, like where they sit in a restaurant, what they eat, where they sleep, when they begin using the toilet, and so on.
The little girl in question would be a happier camper if her parents simplified her life by taking the reins of leadership. Children accept leadership. They abuse control. They don’t mean to, but that’s beside the point.
[Family psychologist John Rosemond: parentguru.com, johnrosemond.com. Copyright 2023, John K. Rosemond]