Updated: Jun 10
Children aren’t born as tyrants, but they sure can become tyrannical pretty fast unless we choose to step in and help them.
It ought to be said that tyrants are not created from mere ‘spoiling;’ no, tyrants – demanding and self-absorbed individuals – are the result of parenting with no consequences.
Tyrants are not created from mere ‘spoiling;’ no, tyrants – demanding and self-absorbed individuals – are the result of parenting with no consequences.
Now, I know to some that may sound like a controversial statement, but it can only be considered so because it is still in vogue in some parenting circles to practice zero consequence parenting.
Yes, you read that right.
According to some parenting experts, consequences are unfair. And I can tell you after reading far too many books on the subject, that these experts consider consequences unfair because they wouldn’t want the consequences themselves.
In one popular book, even Jesus’ famous words to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Matthew 7:12) was pronounced in defence of their theory.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to be given a gold star on a progress chart for performing some task, so why should I do that to a child.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to be penalized for not making my bed so why would I do that to a little person.”
Can we point out the obvious here?
Human beings (regardless of their age) have the profound and awesome gift from God of seeking something called cause and effect. It is how we learn. It is how we explore. And it is how we learn to interact with others. In other words, looking to understand how my behaviour affects what comes next is part of the gene pool, and it is what elevates us as a species above other creatures.
So, Billy pushes Sally. Now they both want to know what happens next.
Daisy does something really great, above and beyond the call of mediocrity. And Daisy wants to know, was that worth the effort?
Teaching our children consequences, both positive and negative, feeds that part of them that is already searching, reaching to become a human being like you are.
But that's not all.
Whether these theorists like it or not, you and I and our children have to live among other human beings …okay, maybe not all of us, as there will no doubt be some desert hermits among us, but you get my point.
And when humans come together they inevitably create societal norms that all must operate by. And yes, you guessed it, these norms are enforced with consequences.
You hurt someone, you might just lose your job or even be incarcerated.
You don’t show up on time for you final exam, you might just find that you flunk that course.
You don’t use the appropriate language or behave in a way befitting a romantic relationship, and you just might find yourself eating popcorn and watching shows by yourself.
Cause and effect; that's what living in a society looks like. These are two very basic reasons to teach your children about consequences.
So take Jesus’ words seriously. If you want your child to grow up to enjoy the same freedom and relationships as you, then please, just give them that gold star.
Patrick Sullivan is an author and speaker, father of nine children, and creator and host of Me & My House, the Catholic parenting program that is transforming how we minister to parents in our dioceses, parishes, and communities.