Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Discipline v. Abuse

Ahhh, Salon, while there are days where your offerings are kinda stale and boring. Then, there are other days, like today, where you provide fertile nourishment for the brain. For example, the latest in Glenn Greenwald's series of media excoriations came out today.

What really got me going, though, was the essay from Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther)...I was worried that after getting married, then having a baby, that Ms. Havrilesky's writing wouldn't be as cutting as it once was. That fear was allayed for a while, but today's essay (about the latest crapscandal involving Alec Baldwyn calling his daughter a rude pig) put it to rest.

I think she has a valid point (I say this as a childless single person, and fully prepared to get a bunch of responses about not knowing what the hell I'm talking about, and one about Havrilesky building a strawman to make her point)...

The question is, in this day of the nanny-state, are we becoming too worried about how parents communicate with their offspring? What is considered abuse? Keep in mind that, as Havrilesky points out, that the effect of all of this handwringing does not decrease the number of hooligans and bullies in the world. Also note that she makes a distinction between calling your kid a "worthless piece of shit" and a "rude, thoughtless little pig;" just as there's a difference between a spanking, and beating your kid with a racquet.

Anyway, curious what y'all have to say on this.

13 Comments:

At 9:08 AM, Blogger JJisafool said...

I'm down with her main point, that the hand-wringing is a bit overblown. I have that reaction to the parents that are trying to reach some pinnacle of parenting perfectability all the time.

And, I think when we hear Baldwin's rant, we forget he's talking to a Hollywood kid, one who probably was bitching about dad while she and her friends were knocking back Cosmos at a club.

But, I think to say the name calling of the past didn't collectively fuck us up is cah-razy. I'm glad she's fine, because the shit I heard from my step-father still haunts me. And we are, as a society, ill in the head, as evidenced by any number of the infinite stupid things we do.

I think it is good and right that we we try and be better parents than our parents, that standards change and migrate, just as I think it good and right that we have some people ratcheting us back when we go too far.

Loved that Greenwald piece. Read it yesterday while Liv was at school. Took it to 'em. He's been a solid favorite for a while, along with Conason.

 
At 11:18 AM, Blogger the beige one said...

the shit I heard from my step-father still haunts me.

Yes. But what you're talking about here, isn't what she's talking about.

And we are, as a society, ill in the head, as evidenced by any number of the infinite stupid things we do.

And you're gonna place this at the feet of name calling?

I've been thinking of this, the whole society shmear...I'm thinking our problems can be traced back to the Great Depression.

 
At 1:18 PM, Blogger JJisafool said...

And you're gonna place this at the feet of name calling?

Are you being dense on purpose?

I will lay some of the responsibility for society's mental illness at the feet of past dominant paradigms of parenting, yes. Name-calling is just a facet.

Yes. But what you're talking about here, isn't what she's talking about.

How so? My step-father never technically abused me, but he called me meely-mouthed and lazy and a pansy, probably thinking that was better than the beatings he got from his crazy Irish immigrant mother.

Am I missing a point?

 
At 2:45 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

Are you being dense on purpose?

No, just asking you to be concise, is all.

My step-father never technically abused me, but he called me meely-mouthed and lazy and a pansy, probably thinking that was better than the beatings he got from his crazy Irish immigrant mother.

Am I missing a point?


I do believe you are.

I know from what you're describing, and by the way, that is abuse, nothing technical about it.

I could tell you plenty of stories about my alcoholic abusive father, calling me "fag" or "worthless piece of shit" and many other wounding things that I've not forgotten.

The thing is, that's abuse. That's based in power dynamics. What I'm talking about, and what I think Havrilesky's talking about, are the more behaviorally motivated name calling done in the service of actual discipline (not abuse disguised as discipline).

I guess we need to go back to the launching point: do you classify what Baldwyn said/did as abuse?

I think you can guess where I stand on the matter.

 
At 5:02 PM, Blogger JJisafool said...

The thing is, that's abuse. That's based in power dynamics. What I'm talking about, and what I think Havrilesky's talking about, are the more behaviorally motivated name calling done in the service of actual discipline (not abuse disguised as discipline).

That's a mighty fine line if it exists at all. How do you tell the difference? I'm sure my stepfather would have said he was just trying to toughen me up, which he thought was valuable, or that he was trying to make me a harder worker. Whatever.

I mean, how can you have discipline outside of power dynamics? How can you be disciplined by someone that has no power over you?

Still not sure what you're getting at.

I think Baldwin, by the way, was abusive in that phone call. Out of the context of their relationship, it is hard to say how much. He's a dick and will likely always have issues with his kids. But, so what? What's the point after that? What does it mean for me to say "yes, that is abuse?"

Muddy, muddy, muddy, man. Why not say what you wanna say and actually get this conversation moving?

 
At 5:49 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

I've said it, but since you want clarification, here:

Only these days, the savages smack their own parents in the face, and all their moms and dads do is whisper diplomatic tomes on the pros and cons of maybe, possibly considering putting down that sharpened stick and thinking about possibly, maybe trying to resist the very natural and normal urge to impale that poor kid over there with it. --Havrilesky

I wish I could say that she was exaggerating for effect, but it seems these days some parents think of the word "no" as strictly verboten; and if "no" is out, then "quit acting like a (fucking) brat" must definitely be out.

My belief is that giving in to the handwringing leads to lack of discipline, and lack of discipline leads to pretty unruly sons and daughters of bitches.

Can't tell by your posts, so what exactly are you advocating here? You deride parents who attempt to reach a pinnacle of perfect parenthood, but equate parents who name-call to your step-father...Pray tell, how're you gonna deal with Livvie during her teens? 'Cause if what you've encountered so far is any indication, I predict many an apoplectic moment for you, man.

A moment not unlike what Baldwyn (it's a "y", chief) probably went through when he couldn't reach his daughter at the time they had set aside for contact. Awful quick to call him a dick, too. You know something I don't? And what was it Nellis used to call you, ol' pal?

 
At 5:56 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

my mistake, it is Baldwin.

How do you tell the difference?

How did I know you didn't think I was dense earlier? You can tell the difference in how things are said, and how they're followed up.

Can you really not tell the difference between discipline and abuse?

But, you know, I'm pretty sure you're not having that hard a time understanding where I'm coming from, or what I'm saying. Knowing you, this is probably another of your "smarter than thou" approaches to help me "strengthen my argument."

 
At 7:26 PM, Blogger JJisafool said...

I'm pretty sure you're not having that hard a time understanding where I'm coming from, or what I'm saying. Knowing you, this is probably another of your "smarter than thou" approaches to help me "strengthen my argument."

This from the guy who called me "Chief" and tried to correct my spelling?

Simmer down, whippersnapper. Yes, I was really having a hard time understanding exactly where you were coming from. Not playing any kind of rhetorical or argumentative game.

I think there is just a broad broad broad difference between how you and I read what Havrilesky wrote. This isn't anything about privileging either reaction, this isn't a case of me asking non-parents to back up off as I did on my blog at some point, but given our lives we are going to notice different aspects of the article, find things more or less plausible given what we see every day.

I mean, c'mon, I'm heavily involved in a co-op preschool that has "positive discipline" as a core value. We actively and even hotly (especially when I'm involved) debate things like whether time-outs are effective and/or positive, or the correct way to mediate conflict (with some parents even taking a "no sorries" line, of all things). Discipline is theory and practice for me all day every day. So, yes, I take Havrilesky's quote from above as exaggeration, poetic license, caricature. Do such people exist? Sure. But is it really THAT common? Or is it just a common trope? I favor the latter based on what I see and hear, perhaps you favor the former.

I mean, I read this as over-the-top satire. Because, I see kids getting yanked around by parents every time we go to the playground, I still hear kids getting cussed at.

Listen, I've told my daughter she's being a selfish brat, and that she's acting like a jerk, because I've been pissed and/or tired and/or stressed out, and I characterize that as wrong, not the best approach, feel like shit about it later. But as to whether she receives discipline? Sheeee-it. I struggle with the best ways and means every day, but the line in the house is clear.

There isn't only one continuum from zero discipline to discipline to abuse. There are people who practice no discipline, and there are those that practice positive discipline systems that might look like no discipline at moments, and yet has been shown to be effective in the long term. There are dogmatics of all stripes, and then a great majority of us striving to find a middle, a balance.

And I reject the perfectability because it really just becomes an exercise in who is the best at deluding themselves into believing they have achieved it, which puts them in a spot to judge others, of course. Parents are human, fallible, and flawed in myriad ways. Mistakes don't (necessarily) make bad parents. Perfectability is just a stake to impale yourself on after your lowest days.

God, I'm starting to lose the whole thread here. Lemme see - Havrilesky lampoons the general paradigm shift toward positive discipline. I get her ribbing of the handwringing, but don't want a return to assbusting. I think Alec is a dick because I'd think I was a dick if I said the same shit to my daughter, but I don't feel any need to go tell Alec that. It was an abusive clip but that doesn't necessarily mean he's an abusive parent taken on the whole (though he could be). I'm probably more annoyed at non-parents that tut-tut him than parents, because parents have had to make a decision about discipline and accept the responsibilities of that decision. I don't think name-calling is good or right, but that parents are human and can do things that aren't good or right without being, taken on the whole, not-good or un-right parents.

I dunno. You seemed kinda pissed in those last two comments and I'm not sure why. I haven't even called you dense since the third comment.

 
At 7:30 PM, Blogger JJisafool said...

You want concise? This from the editor's choice reader letters responding to Havrilesky's column, and clearly written by someone far less scattered and friend than I am this week:

The truth is messier and much more interesting.

This seems a bit of a straw man article to me. Sure, if you want to assume that most parents today are pathologically afraid of any sign of disapproval of their children and work relentlessly to puff up their undeserving egos, this article might be persuasive and feel liberating to you. That seems pretty unrealistic and one-dimensional to me, not to mention unfair to the majority of parents who struggle on a daily basis to feed and clothe their children and raise them to be good people without dominating and tormenting them in the process. Sometimes we err too far in one direction or the other, but for the most part we struggle to find a balance.

Perhaps, though, the one-dimensionality was the point -- the article clearly is intended as humor to some degree, though perhaps the humor is a bit of a duck-and-cover for making points that the author is less willing to defend with reasoned argument -- but it is not particularly insightful or original. It isn't making a complaint we haven't heard from the anti-PC crowd over and over and over again, and it isn't based on any particularly deep or interesting take on parenting. Stephen Metcalf over at Slate opined in reference to the Imus scandal that, "in talk radio, the P.C. bogey is kept on life support, the better to allow the heaping of abuse on the marginal and disenfranchised to pass itself off as speaking truth to power." What's true on talk radio is also occasionally true on internet magazines, even nominally progressive ones.

Most good parents lose their tempers every once in a while and say things they should not. Most of their kids learn valuable lessons when the adults own up to their mistakes and apologize. A few unlucky kids have parents who like to make excuses for their bad bahavior. Some of those excuse start out with "in the good old days ..."

 
At 1:13 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

How is "chief" derogatory? Even if it could be argued to be such, is it any more so than "dense"? And correcting spelling is wrong? Huh.

Not playing any kind of rhetorical or argumentative game.

You'll forgive me, but given our conversational history, and even the language used in the earlier posts, you can see how that impression has been left behind.

So, yes, I take Havrilesky's quote from above as exaggeration, poetic license, caricature...But is it really THAT common?

To be honest with you, I see it more and more these days, depressingly so. The specifics in the quote may have been exaggerated, but not necessarily the circumstances. I'm not saying that cussing at the kids doesn't exist, or that kids don't get yanked around (nor do I necessarily approve of that kind of thing), but just as often as these happen there are kids who're allowed to run the household, via tantrums, and who physically lash out repeatedly and get no retribution for doing so.

It's the opposite extreme of beating your kids at the store, and the result isn't entirely dissimilar.

You seemed kinda pissed in those last two comments and I'm not sure why.

Nah, not pissed. You have to admit that it got you to say something definitive, instead of continuing to joust with me.

 
At 1:54 PM, Blogger Stine said...

but just as often as these happen there are kids who're allowed to run the household, via tantrums, and who physically lash out repeatedly and get no retribution for doing so.

- This is precisely why I asked the questions I did in my last blog entry. I wanna know who follows through with punishment, positive or negative. Postive or negative reinforcement - does it work, or does it not.

Should discipline be varied or changed based on any sort of physical disability?

I realize these aren't questions that directly pertain, but I found it interesting that you were talking about parenting in your blog too.

And I think Alec is an ass with or without the comments.

 
At 2:17 PM, Blogger Sereena X said...

I didn't read the Salon article, so my comments are probably out of context, but I did hear the Baldwin recording, and I think he's a moron. Does he speak to his friends like he speaks to his daughter? Does he kick his dogs? He sounds like a selfish and cowardly bully full of self-hatred laced with personality disorders, and he's probably a mean old drunk.

Unless this was an isolated incident. Right.

 
At 3:27 PM, Anonymous Becky H. said...

Parent of an 18-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl with an opinion: parenting rarely comes down to a single incident. I'm sure that people have seen me with my kids in a grocery store or a park or in my car and thought I was too permissive, too strict, abusive, unstructured, unfit in some manner. Those moments don't matter. It's the whole collection of interactions, the follow-up, the love, the apologies, the modeled behavior, the genuine concern, the recognition of imperfection. It's a relationship. It's how the relationship develops. It's being firm. It's letting it go. It's acknowledging together that we all screw up. In the privacy of my own home, parenting is a most humbling experience. I can't imagine attempting it under public scrutiny. I heard the cell phone call and thought... ouch. I hope for her sake he knows how to say he's sorry.

 

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