#7: Flawed Thinking

Today I ran across something that at first I found humurous, and upon further examination I find it apalling.

So why not tell you about it?

It’s a book called How to Raise Kids You Want To Keep, by Jerry R. Day, Ed.D. Wow that’s a lot of periods. Anyhow, I just flipped open to a random section and found this section called Poisoning the Teenage Well. This is a section in a whole chapter called Poisoning the Well, and while I could make my point perfectly by just copying the entire chapter, I’ll give you a slice and make my comments.

Chapter 13: The Poisoning the Well Technique
Pg. 255, “Poisoning the Teenage Well”

The question, listen, question method works well for teenagers. They frequently believe that anyone over the age of eighteen is an idiot. Teens are not very open to direct advive from adults in general, and they are even less impressed with parental advice. They tend to think in the now and are reluctant to examine the long-term consequences of their actions.

What is a parent to do if a teen is infatuated with the wrong girl or boy, is bored with school, thinks school is useless, and thinks that drugs and alcohol rule? Poisoning the well can help. The following are examples of the Poisoning the Well Technique used in these kinds of situations. Use these examples to stimulate your own creative use of the method.

The Wrong Girl

It is not out of the question for your son, Matthew, to fall in teen love with a girl that just doesn’t fit in with your family values. It would be very wise of Matthew if he would tae a realistic look at how Katie treats her parents. This is a good test of how Katie will treat Matt and how she will fit into your family. Remember: question, listen, question. Accept any answer without criticism or elaboration. These example questions should make Matt think and ultimately poison the well.

1. “Does Katie have a father that lives in the home with her?”
“No they are divorced.”

2. “Does Katie respect her father?”
“I don’t know.”

3. “Does Katie seem to be comofrtable when around her father?”
“I have never met her father.”

4. “Does Katie’s father treat her well or poorly?”
“She never talks about him.”

5. “Does Katie privately criticize her father?”
“No.”

6. “Does Katie like her mother?”
“Yes.”

7. “Do Katie and her mother fight a lot?”
“Not a lot.”

8. “Is Katie happy at home?”
“No.”

9. “Is Katie critical of her mother?”
“Sometimes.”

Now Matt has a different perspective. He will observe Katie in a different way. Matt will be aware of Katie’s relationships with her father and mother. Matt’s well has been poisoned, but he doesn’t know it yet. He will have to drink from the well for a while before the water makes him sick. If you are wrong in your evalutation that Katie is the wrong girl, then no harm has been done. Love her and value her. If you are right, Matt will soon move on to another girl who may be a better fit, and he will probably be more attentive to his next girlfriend’s relationship with her parents.

Wow. I’m not even sure where to begin. Since those were “examples,” we’ll ignore the robotic tone and altogether and move on to all the other things about this that sicken me. This is clearly the result of a psychologist (psychiatrist? I don’t know and don’t care to know, obviously whatever degree he has hasn’t been very effective) who has spent many years dealing with parents who don’t know how to parent, and have sought his advice on “handling their teen.”

It has always sickened me the way children, and especially children who are considered teenagers (a concept which didn’t exist a hundred years ago, by the way), are literally talked about as though they are pets in a household. I’m not even kidding, go and watch a few commercials. One commercial or program will say something like “Are you having difficulty controlling your teen? Do you feel your teen is destructive toward your household?” and the next will say “Are you having difficulty controlling your dog? Do you feel your dog is destructive toward your household?” Similarly, even in unimportant matters, teenagers are jokingly referred to in the same way: “Feed your teen with bagel bites, to keep them full.” “Feed your dog with Dog Chow to keep him full.”

This small section illustrates perfectly the attitude that is so destructive to teenagers. Parents don’t want to understand their children or accept that they could be wrong in their methods, and so they just believe they have an “out-of control” child (similar to how one might have out-of-control Rotweiller, are you seeing the connection here?), and seek help from a therapist that ultimately harms or completely destroys their relationship with their children.

Everyone is troubled. Everyone. You are, everyone you know has been at some point. It’s human. But for some reason, parents don’t usually seem to want to really listen to their teenage children, because it’s just too much inconvenience to them, or it’s too much stress and it’s way out of their comfort zone. And so, rather than remembering that they were going through very similar problems at the same age, they decide their child is out-of-control (a term which exactly illustrates the improper attitude parents have toward raising children), and begin what they think is a healing process, but it’s one that ultimately burns bridges between parent and child.

Everyone needs love, and love is the number one tool to good parenting. If you have common sense and any rational reasoning abilities, you will have a bumpy ride, but you’ll at least have done what you can to understand and love your children. This is the opposite of understanding, this kind of sick mind-control technique (which I guarantee you will not be very effective anyway) is what pushes children farther away from their parents, and makes things harder on everyone.

But I should get back to outlining my problems with this. First of all, if you were to try and have this sort of conversation with your child, it would not work. You might get two questions into this sick abusive method of parenting before your child either realizes what you’re doing (because contrary to what this person may have you believe, children, teenagers especially, are much sharper than they think you are, and probably more so than you, if you are the parent), or dismisses the questions entirely because of it’s irrelevance. I cannot believe that this would work on any intelligent indiividual, and if it did, I hope you can live with yourself knowing how sadistically you’ve tried to control your child’s life.

Honestly, parent who believes this books, can you really read “Matt’s well has been poisoned, but he doesn’t know it yet. He will have to drink from the well for a while before the water makes him sick.” and not be sickened by it? If your answer is no, I feel sorry for your children.

Furthermore, let’s just adress the issue of it being called “poisoning the well.” Didn’t want to go for something a little more discreet, did you Doc? Just thought we’d go right ahead and let everyone know how heinous it is. Well, it’s a very appropriate name, because it really is poisoning the well, but the one the child drinks from, the one the family drinks from. Trying to control your children rather than understanding them, trying to be their dictator rather than their loving parent, trying to make decisions for them that only they can make, poisons the family, and tears it apart.

On that note, let’s talk about this “Wrong Girl” business. When did you, parent who chooses to read this book, become the monarch of every aspect of your child’s life? At a certain age, children need space, and they need room to grow and mature by themselves. You cannot in any way help them to experience love or relationships, nor will you be effective whatsoever in trying to subvert your child’s attempt at one. They need your help in understanding the world and developing a healthy view of it, but because children are so intimately connected to their parents, a betrayal by a parent could ultimately be what causes a child to think so badly of people in general.

This book claims that “teens are not very open to direct advice from adults in general,” and that is just as much a stereotype of young adults as any of the other claims in this book, teenagers are not entirely concerned with people in their own age group.

On a little aside, let me just that the phrase “…drugs and alcohol rule…” shows just how outdated and misinformed this book is. Honestly, it’s ridiculous that there are people who think that teenagers have such immature one-track minds that they’re completely incapable of complex human thought or emotion, enough so to think that you could actually influence their actions by using some psychobabble mind-control trick?

This book is also clearly very fundamentalist, it mentions “family values” quite a bit. “Family values” are probably one of the most destructive things in America today, because the American system of family values to seems to be the close-minded, right-wing, hateful set of viewpoints that cause all the trouble in this country.

I’m tired, and I’m tired of thinking about this, but please, I beg all of you who are parents or who will be parents one day: don’t listen to things like this. Love your children, treat them like human beings, bare with them through the rough times, take what action is necessary, but do not try to manipulate them. Do not try to keep them from experiencing life in the full and joyful way that you have. You may know what can hurt them, but the only thing you can do to really affect your children is to always be open, always be honest, and always show them love. They will come to you if you do, they will bring their problems to you and ask for your advice, and the best thing you can do in this world is just to be yourself, be human, and show love always.

You may have good intentions, but we all know what road good intentions pave. You cannot protect your children from life, and if you try to control their lives, it’s not so different from sheltering them, and it will make life harder from them.

We’re all together on this human journey, but we’re all alone in many ways too, the best that any one person can do for another is to love them and help them walk the road of life, and it’s the best any parent can do for any child, because one is just as much a human being as the other, complete with their own flaws, their own desires, and their own emotions.

Love your children, love another, and communicate with another, don’t walk the path of deception, be honest, or the family will fall apart. Trickery destroys, lies tear apart, and they will destroy your family and tear apart your relationships. Only honesty, love, and commitment can keep a family together, and those should certainly be the only values your family truly holds dear.

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