Authority and Obeying Orders
If you are a crew member on a racing sailboat, sometimes the skipper tells you to do something and you don’t quite understand why. In a racing situation, where your boat may be, for example, about to run into another boat, there isn’t time for any argument. You trust the skipper to know what he is doing, and you do what he says. If you and the skipper are experienced, and have worked together, you can recognize a time when you should not follow his instructions, usually because of some information you know which he doesn’t.
Most group interactions don’t work like that. People want to know what’s going on, and why you’re doing it, and they don’t do things just because you tell them to. Especially people in their early teens.
As I said before, I often tell children, “Don’t do it because I say so. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
This, of course, runs me in direct conflict with what some of their parents have been telling them all their lives. I always figure I’m doing the parents a favour. After all, the kid is going to rebel some time. If he learns to take some responsibility for his decisions early enough, then he’ll get things loosened up at home before he hits puberty.
However, if the parents manage to keep a complete lid on until puberty, the pattern starts. Kid gets antsy, Parent jams the lid on harder. Kid’s horomones are acting up, and kid gets more antsy. Parent gets worried, puts the lid on and sits on it. Kid gets mad. Parent gets mad. It’s only a matter of time until the whole thing boils over, and the longer the parent holds on, the more damage will be done.
Father: (standing at the door, arms folded) Do you know what time it is?
Father: What time are you supposed to be home?
Daughter: We just wanted to watch the end of the movie.
Father: What time are you supposed to be home? (She would like to discuss the situation, he would like to assert his authority)
Daughter: But Dad, all the other kids stay out at least until eleven. (Ahah. The old “all the other kids” gambit)
Dad: You aren’t all the other kids. You have a curfew, and I expect you home by ten o’clock!
Daughter: That’s not fair!
Dad: Yes it is. We’ve discussed this, and you know why you have a curfew, and why your mother and I want you home at that time. (Now he’s bringing in the mother for support. “We’ve discussed this” probably means, “I’ve told you many times”.)
Daughter: It still isn’t fair. We weren’t doing anything wrong. We were just watching a video over at Mary’s. All the other kids were staying till the end, and I couldn’t get a ride home until it was over. (This is probably the truth, if she’s 13 or 14. If she’s 16 or more, there’s an equal chance she’s been out necking or worse with the guy who gave her the ride home. This is exactly what Dad is afraid of, and now he goes over the line. In fact, he jumps right over the “You know you only have to phone, and I will come and get you” line, which usually works, because it puts the ball back in her court. However, he’s too mad, and too much of an authoritarian, to find a logical way to win.)
Dad: How do I know that you were doing what you say? If you’re willing to break one rule, you’re willing to break them all
Daughter: Are you accusing me of lying?
Dad: Well, are you? (Oops. The stupid question of all time.)
Daughter: Since you obviously don’t believe me, why should I bother?
Dad: You’ll bother as long as you’re living in my house. (We aren’t sure what she’s bothering, but they are far past logic, now. He’s moved up to the “as long as you’re in my house” play, from which there is only one exit.
Daughter: Then I’m leaving.
Dad: No you’re not.
Daughter: How are you going to stop me?
And at this point things are lined up for some real problems. Both of them are so angry that neither is going to back down. The quickest solution for the father is physical restraint, which she will call abuse, and the situation will get worse. Either she will have to give in, in which case she storms upstairs and they have put the inevitable off for a few more days. Or the mother comes in and mediates, which rarely happens, because Mother knows better than to get between those two when they are going at it. She’s her father’s daughter, after all. The worst case, of course, is that if she is 16, and there really is somebody out in the car, she will walk out the door, and just might not come back. Even worse, I suppose, is if the boyfriend hears the shouting, comes to the door at precisely the right moment, and turns out to be bigger than the father. The unpleasantness which could follow will be even harder to back down from.
So, to get back to the topic, I feel the solution which the parent should apply, but isn’t going to because he’s afraid to, is to back off a little bit, a little earlier in the child’s life. He needs to trust her more, and take responsibility for her behaviour less. Please note that this does not mean that he expects a slacker standard of behaviour. At least not much. If he listens to his daughter a bit, instead of laying down the law, he can figure out what a reasonable expectation might be, and they could agree to set the standard there. If she has some input, she’s more likely to follow the rule.
The point is to build trust through small doses of responsibility. Each time the child is made responsible for his own actions, and succeeds, it builds trust in the adult, and confidence in the child.
Don't mix this up with trust because of obedience. If you only trust your child because he always follows orders, you are not helping your child mature. Set it up so that you trust your child because he always does the right thing.
"Don't do it because I say so. Do it because it's the right thing to do."
Next Posting: Unearned Praise vs Unearned Love