Opposing libertarian views on children
Among those claiming a libertarian philosophy , there are basically two opinions about what the parent-child relationship should be. Some libertarians think it should be basically the same as any adult-adult relationship. Children should be allowed to make all their own choices unless serious physical harm is imminent. Training is seen as a manipulative infringement of individual rights. Since training necessarily involves restriction, which inherently leaves some sort of force as a parental option, it is regarded as child abuse. Discussion is thought to be the only real option for any problem.
Some libertarians see the guardian-like responsibility of parents as including authority over their children, even though this is not acceptable in adult-adult relationships. From this second perspective, to neglect child training is to fail as a parent. Lack of parental limits makes a child feel insecure and leaves the child vulnerable to all sorts of unnecessary harm. Proper parental limits are thought to foster trust, which makes any discussion much more profitable. I fall in the second category.
What does it mean to train a child?
To begin a discussion, one must ask what it means to “train a child.” Even this word, train, implies a degree of parental authority. It implies positive action, as opposed to lack of action, aiming toward certain results.
Possibly it helps to ask what a parent’s hopes for a child are and if there are any parental approaches or interventions that will positively influence a child to that end. Can a parent’s hopes be used to form useful goals?
Of course, there are short and long term hopes and goals. There are also character goals versus goals of endeavor. A wise parent is much more concerned with the character of a child than exactly which hobby is pursued or what job a child is interested in.
Sometimes short term goals can be counterproductive to long term goals. For instance, wanting your child to be happy is both a reasonable short and long term goal. However, there may be some decisions that a parent must make for long term happiness of a child that interfere with short term happiness.
Consider a not uncommon desire of a child to eat as many sweets as they want. This would likely result in a very unhappy future if teeth rot and malnutrition occurs. If the issue is not sweets, it will be something else, because we all have our weaknesses. A child is unlikely to have the emotional and mental maturity to make these kinds of decisions. Most people do not expect them to take on the responsibility for crucial and life impacting decisions. A wise and caring parent will make such decisions for the child.
The lengths to which a child will go to thwart some parental decisions is one major thing that makes parenting so challenging. What is a parent to do if the child sneaks what they want anyway? What if they steal from someone else to get it? What if the child is willing to use bodily force against another person to get what they want?
Training a child is not just about limiting undesirable behaviors. It is also about helping a child to develop good habits. How can you get a child to clean up their toys when they would rather not? Or speak nicely to a friend when they want to be rude? How do you help them understand that the rewards of self-control are better than the temporary rush of power from getting their own way? Children can be very creative in their disobedience.
Why parental authority is important
Now, I know that some people balk at using the word “disobedience.” Personal experiences, biases, and assumptions affect what this word conjures up in each individual’s mind. If one’s own parent seemed to “discipline” in uncontrolled anger, such discipline is understandably seen as a conflict between two individuals who are equally mad and inconvenienced by each other. It might be reasonable to question the goals of such discipline.
On the flip side, it is also possible that a child simply clung to selfish and prideful attitudes, not wanting to see the parent’s attempts at discipline for what they really were. There are no perfect parents, but neither are there perfect children. To lay all the blame on one’s parents, especially once adulthood is reached, is to not really grow up.
So why do I use the word “disobedience?” Because a vulnerable child often enough needs a parent to tell him what he must or must not do. This is parental authority. Human nature being what it is, the child always has a choice about whether to heed the parent or not. If the child disregards the parent’s direction, it is disobedience. Strip away parental authority and a parent is not more than an observer and supplier of material needs.
Some people might prefer to use the word “teach. That might work, but once you apply it to certain issues, you have “training” staring you in the face. How do you teach one child not to hit another? How do you teach a child to do some age appropriate chores? How do you teach a child to control fits of selfish anger?
Individual expression versus detrimental indulgence
I’m all for individuality and self-expression, but we all know it is not uncommon for a child to indulge himself in those to the detriment of himself and others. I am also for letting a child experience some consequences, within safe limits and if no innocent party suffers. At some point, a parent has a responsibility to not only intervene, but to try to train a child to avoid such trouble. This leads to long term happiness.
I have often said that a parent needs to be aware of training a child for the good of the child, not just for the parent’s convenience. Fortunately, the two needs often go hand in hand, but the primary message to the child has to be that he is NOT an inconvenient bother. If he thinks that, he will resent training or discipline, even if it really is for his own good.
Discipline is another much maligned word when applied to children. When adults talk about habits of discipline for themselves, all is fine and good. But mention discipline in the context of child-raising and you risk being labeled a brute.
This seems to be partly because discipline is thought of as synonymous with punishment. And punishment is too often presented as unjustified consequences imposed by an adult or guardian who just doesn’t understand. The fact is that punishment is very similar to consequences. As adults, we are “punished” for poor choices by unpleasant consequences. It is in a child’s best interest to receive appropriately guiding punishment to train him in ways that may preserve him from worse consequences in the future.
Many children’s books and movies present punishment as ridiculous, staging the adult reasoning as shallow and having little basis in reality. This can taint a child’s response to legitimate discipline. A wise parent will find a balance between limiting such input and exposing its flaws.
A parent in charge gives a child the freedom to be a child
There is no doubt that parenting requires creativity and fortitude. Each child and each situation can present fresh challenges . The key is to accept that as a parent, you can and should be in charge, with authority, willing to train and guide the child. The more you do this, the less the child will need it, and the more the child will learn to discipline himself.
Don’t be afraid or ashamed to be in charge of your children. Until your child reaches an age of mental and emotional maturity that makes him able to be completely responsible for himself, he needs a parent who cares enough to train him.