When “Not under my roof” is taken to extremes

by Kristin on July 10, 2012

in Love, family & community

Photo by uair01

My husband, kids and I live in a tight-knit neighborhood in a small city. For me, this means I have to build extra time into every errand I run—to the grocery store, library, post office, you name it—because I am certain to run into someone I know. It also means that if I get to the cafe and realize I’ve left my wallet at home, I am sure to see someone I know well enough to beg a five-dollar loan from (yes, this has happened before…maybe more than once).

For my daughters, living where we do means they have a whole village looking out for them.

Not surprisingly, I’m a bigger fan of this “it takes a village” approach to parenting than my 14-year-old, autonomy-seeking daughter is. One friend, when I ran into her at the farmers’ market, told me she had seen Q biking the other day, “wearing her helmet like a good kid.” Another day, I got a text from a friend who had seen Q at the park. I knew Q and her friend were going to the park, but I didn’t get the full picture until I later mentioned the text; at that point, Q said, “Oh, yeah—I said hi! And by the way, there were some boys from our class at the park, too.” Mmmhmm. Good to know.

Parenting freedom-hungry teens is harder than I ever imagined. I’ll admit—it’s tempting to rely heavily on this small-town bubble as a key parenting strategy. But Jason and I have been reading Parenting Teens with Love and Logic, which is gradually convincing us to rely less on our ability to watch over our kids (even with the generous help from our entire neighborhood), and to rely more on teaching our kids the skills they need to make good choices.

The philosophy involves shifting away from a mindset that’s all about handing teens a list of rules (with corresponding punishments if they’re broken). My hope is no longer that my kids will always be weighing the odds of “mom and dad finding out.” Instead, “Love and Logic” parenting helps kids think through potential consequences and then own the actual consequences—good and bad. Here’s how the Love and Logic website puts it: “When done on a regular basis, kids develop an internal voice that says, ‘I wonder how much pain I’m going to cause for myself with my next decision?’”

It might sound harsh—allowing our kids more opportunities to experience pain—but kids gradually reach this level of thinking with plenty of loving guidance, parameters and coaching from parents.

One of the things I love most about this approach is how well these thinking skills will serve our kids all the way into college and their adult lives (long after they leave the safety of our home and neighborhood). It’s critical thinking at its best, applied to everyday life: thinking through possible outcomes, weighing potential fun against potential consequences, problem-solving and considering alternatives along the way.

Seeing as how I’m in the midst of this process—training our kids to think critically and ourselves, as parents, to let go—you can imagine my reaction to this particular part of the Texas GOP’s 2012 platform on education (I pulled this quote from a Washington Post column, which includes a link to the entire platform):

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

Yep. That’s right. Critical thinking is bad. We don’t want to teach kids to think for themselves, because they’re supposed to have fixed beliefs. AND, their parents are supposed to be in charge. Apparently forever.

This is where I become nearly speechless. I cannot fathom that there are intelligent adults out there who believe teaching our kids to think for themselves is a bad idea. Parental authority and critical thinking are not mutually exclusive! And who on earth really believes that anyone’s beliefs could possibly be fixed? The idea of a nation full of people who can’t think for themselves and aren’t allowed to change their views about things is truly frightening.

Regardless of whether you agree with my basic parenting philosophy (or my politics), I think we can agree that one day, probably when they’re about 18 or 20, the goal (in most cases) is for our kids to no longer live under their parents’ roofs. Do we (and the Texas GOP) really think that on that day our kids will magically become wise, thoughtful citizens? Or do we just hope that we can extend our “Not under my roof” mentality until it becomes “Not in my state” and then “Not in my country”?

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  • Mary

    My jaw just about hit the floor when I read the quote you pulled from the Washington Post article – unbelievable! Oddly enough, I’m currently reading a book called “Think: Why Crucial Decisions Can’t Be Made in the Blink of an Eye” by Michael LeGault. The book contains his observations and research about the demise of critical thinking in American culture, and it sounds his concerns are certainly justified. Your daughters are very blessed to have parents who believe it’s important to teach them to think critically and take responsibility for the decisions they make and the subsequent outcomes.

  • http://www.sarahbessey.com Sarah Bessey

    Taking notes here, Kristin….taking notes….

  • http://somewiseguy.com @ThatGuyKC

    Great/tough questions. I confess to being a little anxious when my 10-year old hits the teenage years. My parents didn’t tolerate the typical rebellious attitude that American society seems to encourage. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have one now and then, but it did get me to that place of asking the internal question “how much pain is this gonna cause me?”. Sometimes I decided it was worth it. Most of the time I was wrong.

    Glad to hear you like the Love & Logic book. We have the one for younger kids and need to dust it off.

  • Jen

    Oh. My. Word. This is unfreakingbelievable! 1. Love and logic is not painful or harsh. It is genius. It is helping me through 3 kids with 3 different sets of needs. 2. You are a good and wise mama, but I say that all the time. 3. Texas is completely crazy. I WANT my kids to question their world, and authority! I’m even open to negotiating with my kids on different points when they have gone to the trouble to try something their own way. It is HARD to watch our kids make mistakes or to get natural consequences. But, it is how they will learn their boundaries. Furthermore, it is how they will come to shape the larger world as adults. Growing a bunch of morons who can’t think without parental input seems like a gigantic and very painful mistake. One one more thing, I recently took my daughter and her friend out for junk food dinner. I asked the friend what drink she wanted. She said, “what drink would you like me to have?” honey, I don’t care, and I don’t know what you like! Yikes. Ok. I feel (sort of) better now.

  • Sarah Louise

    I was a pretty good kid, so my parents let me be, mostly. They had their hands full with my siblings, who were 1 and 2 when I started 7th grade. Fortunately, reading fiction helped a lot, and making mistakes along the way did too. Growing up is a process that continues after high school graduation. I have a Leonardo Da Vinci quote by my bathroom mirror: “I am still learning.”

    I love the line from the show Friends where Chandler said (something like): “let’s have kids and mess them up in our own special way!” Because no matter what you do, life is messy, relationships are messy, and you can’t watch your kids 24-7.

    Blessings and cupcakes to you both as you navigate these tricky waters.


  • http://ordinarilyextraordinary.com/ Amy Nabors

    Wow. That portion from the education platform is almost unbelievable. Thanks for the book suggestion. My son is 12 1/2 and some days I wonder how on earth to maneuver through these years.

  • http://StudentsofJesus.com Ray Hollenbach

    One of the most brilliant things I’ve read recently was a tweet from Jamie Wright, where she said, “I never ask other parents for parenting advice. Instead I look for adults I admire and ask what their parents did.” I love that.

    Now, please permit me to take up the gauntlet to hurled down in the second half of your post. The debates over educational theory extend back to (at least) Locke and Rousseau, who differed over whether education was about was about self-discovery or transmitting values. There are good arguments on both sides, but I assure you “there are intelligent adults out there who believe teaching our kids to think for themselves is a bad idea.” The statement is not self-authenticating for two reasons. First, one cannot think for themselves until they have the emotional and spiritual capability to do so. Second, “teaching someone to think for themselves” necessarily involves the values of the teacher as well as the student. I trust this process when it is the parent doing the teaching–not so much when the teaching comes from a state institution. For example, you wouldn’t want me teaching Q or S to “think for themselves,” would you? :-)

  • http://www.seeprestonblog.com Preston

    As when I read it in the Post, I have nothing to say. Mouth is agape with a giant eye roll. Well done, Kristin, well done.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Mary, that book sounds interesting! I certainly see evidence of the “demise of critical thinking” all around me. So many people, for instance, are aware of various issues in the news, but can’t begin to have a conversation about them, or see the ripple-effect impact they could have.

    Sarah Bessey, at least you have a few years before you’ll have to put any of this into practice—you can wait and see how my kids fare before you follow suit! :)

    ThatGuyKC, you should be a little anxious! :) Seriously, though, I think establishing authority as a parent involves give-and-take with teens. The sense of authority is always there, but you only leverage it when it really matters. To me, that seems like a shift from the “strict parenting” styles of 20 years ago.

    Jen, I’m so glad you’re using that book with your kids! Parts of it have been a little tough for me to accept (like a lot of the “letting go” stuff) but I have this deep sense that it’s right on target. Also, I like this smart and funny statement you made: “Growing a bunch of morons who can’t think without parental input seems like a gigantic and very painful mistake.” Yes. Allowing our kids to experience small doses of pain now will hopefully prevent a lot of pain down the road.

    Sarah Louise, that’s a great Friends quote! So true. And I like that you brought up the role books played in your adolescent development. Did you get to read whatever you wanted? My girls seem to make good choices, but I worry that the “trashy” teen novels of today are worse than they were when I was that age.

  • http://leadingchurch.com Paul VanderKlay

    1. We want “the best” for our children. We must own our own definition of “the best”.
    2. Kids will mirror more than they will listen. They will do more of what they see we do than what we tell them to do.
    3. There is no such thing as safe, only safer and less safe.
    4. Public educational policy language is mostly political speech. The terms are all loaded and less important at the same time. You can’t be critical about critical thinking without thinking critically. What were we talking about again? I’m not sure how much it matters.
    5. Every kid is different. I have 5 of them. No two are alike.
    6. Thanks God for the good things. Pray to him about your fears. pvk

  • Sarah Louise

    yes, I did read whatever I wanted. And a lot of what I didn’t understand, I skipped over, which is what kids do. (I wish more parents realized that.) The first time I saw the word “rape” was in my mother’s Good Housekeeping. I looked up the word in the dictionary. My parents didn’t censor my reading, but I doubt that they would have thought Good Housekeeping was risky.

    As for trash? It’s always been there. I don’t know that it is worse today or not. A lot of stuff from the 70s was high into the sexual revolution, even for teens. But I think if your kids do not read *only* trash, it’s okay to let them read some trash. It’s called “recreational reading.” Most kids with moral compasses (which it sounds like your girls have) will either read them and know they are not reality, or not be interested. Also, if you prohibit them from reading certain books, they will find ways to read those books if they want to badly enough.

    Twyla Tharp (the modern dancer and choreographer) once said, “Art is the only way of running away without leaving home.”

    I would much rather my kids read about bad kids than BE bad kids. If you want some book suggestions, email me.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Amy, I have a 12-year-old, too, who is just starting to push out at the boundaries of her independence. It’s going to be an adventure, isn’t it? Blessings!

    Ray, I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to slip this post by you! And I really appreciate your thoughtful comment, but I do (not surprisingly) disagree with it. :) Thinking is a process which CAN be taught completely apart from religious, political and moral statements. Teaching kids HOW to think is not at all the same thing as teaching them WHAT to think. I know this isn’t how it often actually works out in schools, but it’s still a completely feasible line for teachers to walk. In other words, “teaching someone to think for themselves” does NOT “necessarily [involve] the values of the teacher,” as you say. My second point of disagreement focuses on your claim that parents are best at teaching kids to think. The best critical thinking involves questioning our assumptions, so it seems that parents could potentially be some of the *least* capable of successfully doing that, since most kids’ assumptions come from their parents in the first place. You say “you wouldn’t want me teaching Q or S to ‘think for themselves,’ would you?” and my response is “You’d be great at it, because you see many things differently than I do, and it would push them to think about things in new ways!”