Chapter 11: Common Parenting Practices
from the book "RootEd: How Trauma Impacts Learning and Society" by S.R. Zelenz
Most parents have the best intentions for their children. Many are nervous about making mistakes and this frequently encourages them to seek the best possible solutions to help them raise responsible and productive people. This has also resulted in the production of a multitude of parenting advice books, videos, and all manner of tools to help parents learn the best and hottest new approaches to parenting.
Parenting is treated almost like a fad. The only things that have remained consistent over the decades are the ways in which abuse is normalized in parenting. This includes the way parents speak of their children in front of them or behind their backs. This includes controlling their children in ways that disempower their children, but make the parent look strong in the eyes of strangers. This includes reward and punishment cycles so frequently purported by schools as the best gimmick to manipulate behavior the way parents desire. It also includes physical and emotional abuse and manipulation.
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Normalized abuse occurs in the way parents speak of their children. Many parents have referred to their children as jerks, annoying, or even extreme names like assholes. Parents expect other adults to laugh with them and agree. If the adults who witness this do not agree, the parent who uttered the original words may lash out at the disapproving adult or peddle their way out of their statement to save face. The action of calling anyone a name or describing who they are as a derogatory description is abuse. The way some parents talk about their child’s behavior, suggesting that the child must need medication or a therapist rather than asking the child how they feel about what is going on, is a red flag. Many do not include the child in how the family functions. In many respects, parenting is frequently very similar to a hostage situation. Children with no voice are very frequently treated as hostages. The 'do as I say,' 'too bad,' 'well that's the way it is' parenting - is hostage parenting.
Parents who disempower their children by controlling them for the benefit of others do so by aggressively speaking, yelling, grabbing their child in front of others, or shaming them. They also disempower by speaking in ways that reinforce obedience, rather than discussing with the child their needs and choices. These are parents more concerned about how they appear in front of other parents than they are of the impact they have on their child’s experience. The need to have perfectly behaved children is reinforced by society. Parents are shamed by other parents for not having obedient children who do not act according to adult standards of behavior. In this sense, the society as a whole disempowers the child and sends a message that they are not good enough to be included in their experience.
The reward and punishment cycles are also utilized in schools. In most families, they involve charts for chores, and rewards such as activities, trinkets, or food. This can include academic performance as well as household chore accomplishment. The problem with this cycle is that it teaches the child that these activities aren’t important unless you have a reward for accomplishing them. The purpose of the chore or the academic performance is lost on the award promised at the end. This is carrot on a stick dangling abuse. It is so common, that there are major industries supporting this type of reinforcement by educators, schools, psychologists, and companies who sell items to use for this type of behavior modification. The message of why is lost in the entire process. The ownership over the activity is completely lost. It is obedience to an external party with a promise of reward if completed. This ultimately reinforces the potential for predatory people to prey upon the child because they have already been programmed to respond to this type of treatment.
Other major parenting manipulation tactics include physical punishment and verbal shaming. As previously discussed, public humiliation, shaming, and language used to instill guilt feed the fear mechanism and it signals to the brain to protect itself. The child will ultimately learn sneaky behavior in order to avoid additional experiences like this. The shame component can last into adulthood and manifest in all numbers of maladaptive behaviors that impact social connections, relationships, and employment capacities. Physical punishment such as spanking or slapping does the same type of trauma trigger in the brain. The signal tells the brain to avoid the person causing the harm, so the logic learned is not a rational choice to not do the activity again. The lesson learned is that the person doing the behavior is unsafe. The child will do whatever they intend to do, but do it in a manner that hides it from the person who inflicts physical pain on them. This also includes verbal abuse, such as yelling.
Socially Reinforced Narcissistic Parenting
Our society only congratulates women for what their children are doing. They ignore women who excel professionally or academically overall. On social media, you see clear evidence of this. Women who post pictures of their children get tons of likes and hearts. Those who post things about their business doing well meet a lot of crickets. They may get a few likes, but overall the response is non-existent. We reinforce women needing attention through their children. This forces women to expect things from their children that are emotionally and developmentally inappropriate. We turn the children into performing monkeys for the women who are performing for a society that won't let them be fully functioning adults in society. The string is from the society itself. Women who opt to go outside of this norm and be a successful business woman and a mother are often shamed unless they post a lot of proof that their children are doing amazing things. There is a need for society to see the product under construction properly displayed like a meal being prepared. The children are not heard and they are often treated harshly if they do not operate according to the parents' need for attention.
This can also be true for fathers/men, but women bear the brunt of this. Often, they may be doing it for the abusive/narcissistic male whom they are married to, had children with, or are dating. It's rarely about the children. The children are the fodder for the accolades craved. When you remove this from the equation, women find themselves socially isolated for not playing the game as instructed.
State Allegiance Over Family
The indoctrination through compulsory education removed children from their families. This was more severely done with the Native Americans. It was initially done to strip them of their cultural heritage and knowledge. America is a melting pot of different nations, so there is no common thread. School has served a bigger purpose with not just industrial revolution workforce needs, but also with the removal of loyalty to family over loyalty to the larger state. The way in which courses that focus on any particular cultural heritage have been banned or watered down reinforces the efforts by the initial boarding schools to strip the various cultures of their heritage and knowledge. More importantly, we have now trained parents to feel that their children need to go or they will live miserable and dire lives. We've added certification requirements for jobs that can be done without a piece of paper proving skills. By reinforcing the certification process, we reinforce taking the child away from the family unit and their heritage in order to go to an external school that controls what they learn.
To see how this has truly played out, look at the way parents think raising their children is a job to complete before sending them out of the house. The parents aren't loyal to the children. They treat the children as an obligation they had to fill for the state (society). They were all too eager to wash their hands of the children after the children reached 18 years of age. What the state wants is the focus. The failure to look at the children’s future as cohesive with their own long-term survival needs is short-sighted. Many tribal cultures and cultures around the world still operate in multi-generational family units. The whole family unit takes care of each other, which provides stability and loyalty to the family.
Most cultures who are not broken are very close with their family relations. Not just ‘visit on holidays’ close. They take care of their family regardless of age. Family support is ongoing, but not in the manner that enables laziness. Laziness is the fear of American-style nuclear families that they will be ‘taking care of’ adult children past 18. They are petrified of such notions. The reason for this is that they were trained to parent in a manner that is unnatural.
Many Boomer children were raised with grandparents in the home with their parents. The Boomers were the first generation that found an economic shift in the country that afforded them the ability to have separate homes from their parents. The Great New Deal, launched after the recession of the Great Depression, set them up to have a level of financial security never before achieved in America. This also encouraged the one income home. However, as more women wanted to join the workforce, increases in family disruption occurred. Prior generations had grandparents who could provide childcare. Boomers frequently left their children to fend for themselves after school. Daycares were not common and babysitters often young and unprofessional. The Boomers were the first generation to experience large numbers of divorces and individual adult focus. Focus on the children was last. Children were at the mercy of whatever the parents were doing. Most of the time, those parents didn't care or notice what their children were doing.
Helicopter parenting came as a boomerang effect from negligent parental behavior that found so many abuses occurring to children. Now, we have parents who don't allow their children to develop because they are overly doted on to the extent that they are breeding a new class of narcissist. The kind that needs enablers. The kind that can't stand on their own. They will be parasitic for their survival. Whether that parasitic nature comes from them demanding the government take better care of them or if they choose to do it on a significant other, remains to be seen. However, we are seeing more and more demands for the government to take care of people.
Women fought to have the right to work. Women wanted to have independence from abusive spouses. This is a real complaint and a valid argument. Women needed the ability to sustain themselves in order to get out of an abusive situation and protect their children. To this day, this is still a challenge as the cost of everything has truly prevented one-person earnings providing for an entire family. This is in direct correlation to women working. Keeping women in lesser paying jobs or paying them less for equal work reinforces it further. Families aren't supportive of divorced mothers, and tend to make them fend for themselves. This has much to do with the belief that the parents are no longer deeply connected with the grown child. They are now accountable to the state. So, if they help, they are helping the state. It's not about the reality of the adult child. It’s not even about the reality of the grandchild.
One indirect correlation with the introduction of compulsory education was the gradual lost family bond that ensured survival of the family. Instead, children are taught to seek validation outside of that. Look at what compulsory education has done to families. Now older people miss friends who die as they age and have no solid relationship with their grown children. Abuse in families is bad. Abuse by society to force families into sterile relationships by name is worse.
Control vs Self-Control
The need to control others derives from lack of self-control. Many don't know how. Since the compulsory school attendance laws reinforced school attendance, and schools reinforced children learn to obey orders by outside parties, self-control is never fully developed. Utilization of the previously mentioned parenting strategies also reinforces children to do what they are told without fully understanding why. This creates populations who will follow orders despite the harm they may be causing or the long-term impact of what they are being told to do. The reinforcement of reward and punishment cycles guarantees mindless obedience. Without external controls, many find themselves behaving recklessly and mindlessly. This is why you see so many trying to control their surroundings. It is 100% lack of self-control. Children lack self-control. So they are controlled. If they never learn self-control, they learn to control others. The root is fear of no control. Feeling some sense of control either externally or internally reinforces the feeling of safety, which is fundamental to survival. When survival becomes reliant upon external control, abuses occur and the cycle continues with no recovery without a full disruption of the systems and parenting practices that reinforce this pattern.
Reward and Punishment Cycle
The reward and punishment cycle is supported by many parents, schools, and child psychologists as the best way to manipulate your child to choose behaviors you want from them. This can include performing tasks or accomplishing goals. This programming system rewards the brain for meeting the goals and sends signals to the brain that this is something to continue. It does not tell the brain whether what they accomplished was truly good for them or if they should question why they are doing it. It teaches them to do as they are asked and they will be rewarded for making that choice. This is actually a tactic used by many abusers to lure their victims into doing things that go against their own safety or well-being. By electing to use this cycle, parents are inadvertently teaching their children how to appease an abuser. They are also making them less inclined to question what is asked of them in other environments (peer pressure) or future employment. The goal is to create eager employees willing to do what is necessary to meet the organization’s goals. Unfortunately, not all organizations are ethical and not all unethical behavior is transparently exposed to all employees. The reward cycle truly sets our children up to fall for predatory behavior that can harm their long-term health and survival.
On the opposite side of this system, the punishment cycle is intended to teach children to not repeat behaviors or actions that are undesirable. In theory, this would appear to be constructive. However, based upon the way the brain develops, it actually trains the brain to avoid the person who will implement the punishment. It doesn’t deter the behavior as much as the strategy the child will choose to do it. Additionally, abusers use punishment to incite fear in their victims. This generates a trauma bond when the abuser vacillates between loving and fearful behavior. The entire reward and punishment cycle is in line with abuse training of children. It should be avoided at all costs.
Additionally, punishments escalate conflict and shut down learning. They elicit a fight or flight response, sending the frontal lobe’s sophisticated learning capacity into basic defense response. The emotional response will consist of any number of maladaptive emotional responses such as guilt, shame, anger, or oppression. These emotions are used by abusers to control their victims. Oppression does not happen by accident. It is systemic and widely utilized in America to control various levels of our population to go against our own best interests in order to appease a larger entity that uses people to meet their own agendas. If an organization was supportive of its people, it would not need to cause psychological damage to its staff in order to accomplish its goals. There are many organizations beginning to utilize servant leadership styles and other more democratically fashioned functionality in order to foster a growth mindset in the entire staff, propelling the organization forward more effectively and cohesively. There is no reason for education systems to utilize a method that trains the students to obey without questioning or without having a voice. Parenting needs to prevent this from becoming the norm for children.
People who were trained to take instruction from outside of themselves and promised reward have been found to be slower at solving problems. The adult population as a whole demonstrates this every day. Many will wait to be instructed on what to do and they often won’t do anything unless given some external reward for choosing to do what is asked. Rewards become the focus and the brain isn’t used to its fullest capacity as a result. Deep thinking, reflecting, and seeking various possibilities are tossed aside for the reward promised instruction option. The Milgram experiment reinforced this.
Additionally, this cycle reinforces the belief that children need to be controlled and manipulated by adults. This supports the assumption that children do not have innate good intentions without this manipulation and control. If children were spoken to in powerful ways that reinforce their capability and capacity for empathy, we would find a larger response demonstrating cooperation, hard work, and collaboration. The children are capable of making sound decisions when given the space to develop their own sincerity. Parents who demonstrate empathy and an eagerness to hear their children also show their children what that looks like so that they can learn from experiencing it.
Behaviors Developed as a Result of Parenting
One of the largest obstacles facing children is the same as what is facing their mothers. American mothers face high levels of shaming from many sources regardless of how well they are raising their children. This is a major sign of narcissistic abuse by society toward mothers as a whole. This is then passed down to the children by the way in which the mothers feel they are pressured to behave with their children. The results are often smothering, fearful, aggressive, and lack deeper connection that is necessary for healthy relationship development. This also explains why so many teenagers rebel against their mothers.
This can also lead to mothers being more concerned about how they appear to others than how they connect with their children. This is narcissistic parenting. It is not exclusive to mothers. Fathers have also used children to harm the mother of their children when it suits them. There are many divorce courts loaded with examples of this type of behavior. The entire dynamic is unhealthy for children. The way in which society manipulates women using their children in order to control them is abuse.
This can also impact the emotional regulation of the parents within the home. When parents are challenged in other areas of their lives, they can sometimes communicate aggressively and callously with their children. Waller and colleagues (2018) found that lack of parental warmth and harsh home environments lead to the development of callous and unemotional behavior in children. It would be possible to compare this type of environment to that experienced by the Romanian children in the orphanage mentioned earlier in this book. Perhaps not quite as drastically, but in some cases it may be similar. Not all parents are warm and loving. Many were not raised in warm and loving environments, so they continue to pass this behavior on to their children and the cycle continues.
Another common behavior is that of parents trying to please the school in order to demonstrate that they are a good parent. This has been found to be problematic in some homes especially during periods of grade reporting to demonstrate academic achievement. In one study, “nearly a 4-fold increase in the incidence rate of verified child physical abuse reports was found on Saturdays after a Friday report card release” (Bright et al., 2019, p. 176). This decreased if the report cards were sent home earlier in the week (Bright et al., 2019). This does not mean that there were no incidents, however.
Parental Controls Backfire
Many parents believe they have to control their child’s consumption of technology, media, and other personal choices. Many parents feel that this is an ongoing struggle in their homes and they often find their children sneaking the forbidden activities. As a result, many parents will put their children in numerous activities to keep their children busy. Rather than having the child engaged in something they genuinely enjoy, they are externally reinforcing activities the child may or may not be interested in. This also creates a lot of stress for the family not just in interpersonal relationships, but also in financial obligations, and time commitments. In coordination with the frequently used reward and punishment cycle, technology, media, fun activities, and food are frequently used as rewards to encourage compliance. Tang et al. (2018) found that in order to decrease the child’s personal screen time, the parents had to do the same. To deny the child the same freedom sends the brain a threat message, which inadvertently inspires the child’s behavior to go behind the rules of the home in order for them to have the same freedom as their parents. It would be far more effective for the family to have a discussion on appropriate use and the types of things they will expose themselves to so that the family is respectful of all users throughout the home. This will encourage the child to communicate their interests with the parents where discussions can naturally occur and resistance does not become the normal behavior in respect to healthy boundaries.
Dehumanization of Children
The generalized treatment of children in American society is dehumanizing. Children are basically at the mercy of adults to be granted permission to be human. They have to get permission to cry, to go to the bathroom, to have a say over their own bodies, to have emotions, or to have struggles. Children are not granted permission to have personal boundaries against adults in their lives. This varies from parents, to relatives, all the way to childcare workers and teachers. The adults have determined who has rights to the child, but the child is not given the authority to make their own boundaries on what they are comfortable with.
The way in which children are spoken to is very dehumanizing. Adults have the authority to be impatient, rude, and demanding of the child, but the child does not have the right to do the same with the adult. Adults minimize the child’s experience and feelings and no child is allowed to do the same with any adult. Adults can threaten a child with physical violence, emotional abuse, abandonment of affection, and the loss or destruction of their property, but no child is allowed to do the same with an adult. Adults are allowed to bark orders at a child, but no child is allowed to speak to an adult that way. Adults can disrespect a child in any manner they choose, but a child is not allowed to disrespect an adult.
Much of what is done to children is the opposite of preparing them for adulthood. It prepares them for abuse. It truncates their emotional development and ensures that adult relationships will be rife with strife and difficulty. Without having a secure and mutually respectful relationship with adults, children grow up to not know how to have mutually respectful relationships with anyone. This can cause all manner of difficulties in their personal relationships as well as their working relationships. It also makes them more vulnerable to predatory people who will harm them.
The dehumanization of children is called childism. Childism is a prejudice or discrimination against the young. It is also a systemic condition that promotes stereotypical beliefs about the young. The way in which parents are rewarded for dehumanizing their children in our society is part of our overall oppression issues in our nation. To raise children believing that they do not deserve to be respected, to have the authority over their own minds, bodies, feelings, and intellect, raises a population that will follow leadership that will utilize the same dehumanizing behaviors to control vulnerable populations. This is further reinforced by the way adults mock, shame, publicly humiliate, blame, and victimize their children in order to win favor with fellow adults. Narcissistic parenting breeds mental illness in children. This is supported by our society and its systems. There are areas of progress being made, but they are far from adequate. Most often, parents who elect to be more respectful of their children are ridiculed and attacked by parents who support narcissistic or authoritarian parenting behaviors. This is the nature of the narcissistic abuse cycle.
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