6 Things Parents Can Take Less Seriously

Parents seem to worry about every aspect of raising their children more than ever, wondering how every decision they make will impact their child’s future. If you lighten up on how you parent, you might raise happier children and feel less stress. You can take the following six things less seriously when it comes to parenting.

Feeding Your Children – Woah, woah, woah. Hold on a minute. You still have to feed them! That’s one of your main responsibilities. BUT so many moms and dads lose sleep at night wondering if their child is eating well enough or if the macaroni and cheese they’re always asking for is going to lead to obesity, depression, and clogged arteries one day.

Much like the controversy between breast and bottle feeding, your child does need healthy food in order to thrive. However, your child will survive if he or she doesn’t eat it at each and every meal. Sometimes the fighting derived from children refusing to eat healthy foods causes more emotional damage than the macaroni and cheese. Work for balance in their diet while encouraging positive eating habits instead of deprivation, anger, and resentment.

Feed Your Baby via Breast or Bottle – Breastfeeding has received much attention across the nation. However, not every mother — or baby — will take to this method of eating. If you choose to give your child formula for whatever reasons, relax. He or she will survive and likely even thrive no matter how they are fed.

Co-Sleeping – Parenting experts have discussed the controversy over co-sleeping for parents and children for years. However, parents might not sleep as well when the baby is in bed with them. While babies who co-sleep might be at lower risk for SIDS according to some professionals, sleep-deprived parents might not care for their child as effectively. This is just another matter where you have to do what is best for your family and not worry so much about what other people’s opinions are.

Traditional Schooling – Public schooling is a hot topic these days. Do kids have too much homework? Is the testing too severe? No matter what’s going on with your child academically, don’t stress. They’re better off having a parent that is happy and supportive than a parent who is pushing their teen for A’s instead of B grades. A drive for learning is developed by positive encouragement and an atmosphere that inspires. Few positive results ever come from forced achievements.

Slamming Doors and Temper Tantrums – Whether it’s a toddler or a teenager, your child is going to get mad at you from time to time. It doesn’t mean they’re going to start sneaking out and committing crimes. It just means they are human. Most likely, the two of you have communication skills to work on. But don’t worry. Let them blow off some steam and when everyone has calmed down, talk about ways you and your child can communicate your frustrations without having to explode in anger.

Constant Supervision – Hovering over every single detail of your child’s activity is also known as helicopter parenting. Constantly monitoring your children (even with the best of intentions) is a sure fire way to limit their exposure to decision making. When you take away their opportunities for making decisions, you create children who grow into adults, unable to care for themselves. Take a step back and give them some breathing room! You’ll find that you are less stressed and worried. You’ll also be pleasantly surprised by how independent your children can be.

Kids Will Be Kids

Sometimes children and teens negative behaviors can be more extreme and in these cases, definitely monitor their behavior for patterns and signs of disorders or cries for help. For the most part though, kids will be kids. They’ll overreact to minor set backs – because to them, these setbacks are some of the hardest trials they’ve ever faced in their short lives. They’ll cry. They’ll huff and puff when they don’t get what they want.

Just remember to love them through it. What’s most important is that you don’t lose their cool when your kids act out. Take a deep breath and do what you have to do to calm down before starting a discussion. If you’re worried your child or teenager might be on a dangerous path to self destruction, find help from a professional for advice, a diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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Why I Don’t Want My Kids to be Happy

Written by Mia Von Scha.

It seems obvious that we would want our kids to be happy… always. We go out of our way to protect them from negativity, disappointment, sadness and anger. We try to create peaceful home and school environments. We think up creative ways to cheer our kids up when they’ve been hurt. It seems to be the basis of good parenting. I disagree.

I don’t want my kids to be happy. I want my kids to be real.


And real people have a variety of emotions every single day.

What I want is for my children to feel so comfortable with me that they can scream and shout, cry and lament, moan and complain, and genuinely express whatever it is that they are going through at the moment. I know it will pass. Emotions that are expressed don’t stick around for very long.

Emotions that are repressed can stay for a lifetime.

I want my children to be free to be whoever or whatever they are in the moment and to know that they are loved in all states. I want them to feel safe coming to me with their pain so that we can connect and share stories and feelings and our very humanness.

When we assume that the best thing for our kids is to be happy–and we encourage and work on happiness above all else–we give the unspoken message that if you are not happy then that is going to affect MY happiness and well-being as a parent. We can then put our own guilt, fear and sense of failure onto our children. They cannot be real without worrying about us, and how they are letting us down.

What we’re doing is setting our kids up to focus on a fantasy life where everything is easy and everyone is happy all the time, and if you’re not happy you’re somehow not OK. This is the very basis of depression. It is also the basis of a multi billion dollar industry in anti-depressants.

The message we need to get across is that everyone feels everything at some point, and we all feel a variety of emotions every day. Some of these are really strong and long lasting, some are mild and fleeting, but all of them are part of our human experience. Every emotion has a place and a purpose. Every emotion will pass once you have listened to it and allowed it some breathing space. Every emotion is beautiful; not just happiness.

When we can allow ourselves and our children to experience all emotions, then we open up the possibility of learning and growing from the things that we feel. We are also free to share these with other people without feeling bad about feeling bad. And so we get to explore the depths of what it means to be alive. We don’t need to fear our own experiences. We don’t need to hide from our pain.

This is a beautiful and connected place to be with your children. You will find your relationship with them becomes richer, and you get to see your children for who they are, not who you hoped they would be. Real, raw, beautiful, expressive, amazing beings just waiting for you to love them in all of their complexity.

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Acceptance vs. Tolerance

Written by Scott Noelle.

Acceptance is one of your greatest sources of Power. Without it, you couldn’t receive or own anything, handle unexpected change, or listen effectively.

In general, acceptance means being at peace with What Is. When you refuse to accept something, you sacrifice your peace.

Non-acceptance creates resistance and shifts your focus away from what you want, toward what you don’t want.

Can you see, then, how you disempower and undermine yourself when you deem your child’s behavior “unacceptable”?

It’s entirely possible to accept something while choosing not to tolerate it. For example, if your child were trying to hit you, you could accept (make peace with) that — even while using protective force to prevent the hitting.

The difference is how you feel in the process:

  • Tolerance without acceptance leads to resentment.
  • Tolerance with acceptance leads to appreciation.
  • INtolerance without acceptance leads to conflict.
  • INtolerance with acceptance leads to creativity.

In other words, when you accept What Is — AND you’re clear that you want a change — it’s easy to solve problems creatively.

Originally published at DailyGroove.com.

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Social Norms, Moral Judgments, and Irrational Parenting

Written by Peter Gray.

We are all conformists, whether we admit it or not. It’s part of our human nature. We couldn’t form and live in human societies if we weren’t conformists. To a considerable degree, conformity is a good thing.

Social psychologists commonly describe two primary reasons for conformity. One reason has to do with information and pragmatics. If other people cross Bridge A and avoid Bridge B, they may know something about the bridges that we don’t know. To be safe, we had better stick with Bridge A too. A great advantage of living in society is we don’t have to learn everything by trial and error. We don’t have to try crossing Bridge B and have it collapse on us in order to learn to avoid it. We just look and see that other people avoid B and that those on A are surviving, so we take A too. This kind of social influence is referred to by social psychologists as informational influence.

The other general reason for conformity is to promote group cohesion and be accepted by others in the group. We depend for our survival and wellbeing on membership in social groups, whether they be bands, tribes, nations, friendship groups, or work groups. Social groups can exist only if some degree of behavioral coordination exists among the group members. Conformity allows a group to act as a coordinated unit rather than a set of separate individuals. We tend to adopt the ideas, myths, and habits of our group because doing so generates a sense of closeness to others, promotes our acceptance by them, and enable the group to function as a unit. We all cross Bridge A because we are the Bridge A people, and proud of it!  If you cross Bridge B you may look like you don’t want to be one of us, or you may look strange and therefore possibly dangerous to us. Social influence that works through each person’s desire to be part of a group or be approved of by the group is called normative influence.

This is all well and good, but sometimes our strong human tendency to conform can cause us to say or do things that objectively don’t make any sense. They may be things that are downright silly, or in some cases even downright tragic.

Solomon Asch’s classic experiments on conformity in the laboratory

Let’s start with silly before moving to tragic. Here’s an example from a classic series of experiments conducted by social psychologist Solomon Asch in the 1950s.

Asch’s (1956) procedure was as follows: A college-student volunteer was brought into the lab and seated with six to eight other students, and the group was told that their task was to judge the lengths of lines. On each trial they were shown one standard line and three comparison lines and were asked to judge which comparison line was the same length as the standard. As a perceptual task, this was absurdly easy; one comparison line was clearly the same length as the standard and the other two were clearly different in lengths. In previous tests, subjects performing the task alone almost never made mistakes. But, of course, this was not really a perceptual test; it was a test of conformity. Unbeknown to the real subject, the others in the group were confederates of the experimenter and had been instructed to give a specific wrong answer, in a confident tone of voice, on certain prearranged “critical” trials. Choices were stated out loud by the group members, one at a time in the order of seating, and seating had been arranged so that the real subject was always the next to last to respond. The question of interest was this: On the critical trials, would subjects be swayed by the confederates’ wrong answers?

Of more than 100 subjects tested, 75 percent were swayed by the confederates on at least one of the 12 critical trials in the experiment. Some of the subjects conformed on every trial, others on only one or two. On average, subjects conformed on 37 percent of the critical trials. That is, on more than one-third of the trials on which the confederates gave a wrong answer, the subject also gave a wrong answer, usually the same wrong answer as the confederates had given.

In subsequent research, Asch showed that the primary reason for conformity in this case was normative, not informational. When the experiment was varied so some of the subjects gave their responses anonymously, in such a way that others didn’t hear their judgment, there was much less conformity. They were much more likely to choose the correct line when nobody would know what they had chosen. If everyone around you insists that black is white, it takes considerable courage (or maybe foolishness?) for you to say, out loud, “No, that’s black, not white.”

Chinese foot binding:  A social norm that lasted a thousand years

Every culture has social norms, which people follow largely because of the negative consequences of appearing different. Generally, most such norms are benign, but some are harmful, even cruel. An example of the latter is Chinese foot binding.

For roughly a thousand years, beginning in the 10th century and ending in the 20th, girls in China were routinely crippled by a process of binding their feet. Beginning typically between age 4 and 6, girls’ feet were bound tightly, with increasingly tight wrappings. The binding process involved deliberately breaking the bones of the toes and other bones in the feet, and curling the broken toes underneath, so the feet grew to look more like a hoofs than like feet. The binding was done by the girl’s mother or by a woman chosen by the mother. The goal was feet no longer than 3 Chinese inches (4 US inches), which would fit within tiny silk slippers. The whole process was extremely painful and had the effect of crippling the girls. Throughout their lives they would have to walk in a mincing manner that was viewed in China at that time as the height of femininity. The process also often resulted in infections, such that many girls and women died of gangrene.

Historians suggest that this practice began, in the 10th century, when Emperor Li Yu became entranced by one of his concubines who bound her feet and danced seductively on her toes (Foreman, 2015). Other court ladies then began to bind their feet, and gradually the practice spread and became increasingly extreme. By the mid-17th century the practice was so widespread that nearly all girls and women, throughout China, had tiny hoof-like feet (Schiavenza, 2013). The only ones who didn’t were daughters in very poor families, especially among the ethnic Hakka people, where girls and women needed to work in fields or on boats at jobs that would be impossible with bound feet. Unbound feet became, therefore, a sign of being lower class, unfit for marriage to a man who was not of the lowest class himself.

At various times over the course of this thousand-year history campaigns were organized to try to do away with foot binding, but the social norm was so powerful that the campaigns were generally unsuccessful. It wasn’t until the 19th century, with exposure to Western ideas, that upper class women began to stop binding their daughters’ feet, which led finally, by the early 20th century, to the extinction of this cultural practice completely.

Social norms affecting parenting practices in our culture today

We don’t bind our children’s feet, but there are other ways in which we interfere with our children’s development. Children are by nature designed to develop physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually largely through self-directed play and exploration with other children. Throughout most of human history, except for times and places of slavery or intensive child labor, children spent large portions of their time playing and exploring with other children away from adults. This was their major source of joy and their natural way of learning how to function as independent, responsible, competent human beings. As recently as thirty or forty years ago it was still standard practice for parents to shoo children out of the house, where they would find other children and play to their hearts’ content. Over the last few decades, however, in the United States and many other nations, social norms have gradually developed that prevent such play. As I have argued elsewhere (e.g. here and here), there are good reasons to believe that these norms of restricting children’s freedom are a major cause of the record levels of depression, anxiety, various other psychological disorders, and suicide among young people today. I’m not sure that depriving children of play is less cruel than binding their feet.

Today, strong social pressures work against any parent who understands the value of free, unsupervised play and exploration for her children.  Here, paraphrased, is the kind of statement that I have heard from many parents (for many examples of actual cases, see Lenore Skenazy’s website):

“I know that my child needs free play, away from adults, to develop optimally. I know the data indicating that lack of such play can have crippling effects on social and emotional development. I know that the realistic dangers of such play are very small and the advantages are great. But such play is impossible today. Because other parents aren’t letting their children out to play, there’s nobody out there for my child to play with, so he just comes back inside. Or, if he is outside by himself or with another child, playing or walking anywhere outside of our yard, there’s a good chance that someone will report this to Child Protective Services or the police. Even if nobody does report it, I sense the negative judgments of other parents, who view me as negligent for not always supervising my child.” 

Social norms sometimes take the form of moral imperatives, and when that happens it’s especially difficult for people to violate them. Moral judgments cloud and trump common sense. If a practice is perceived as immoral, it is perceived as wrong even if evidence and logic would dictate that the practice is beneficial. Our current norm of extreme protection of children has become, unfortunately, not just a social norm, but a moral norm. If you don’t watch your child (or have some other responsible guard watching) every minute, you are, in the eyes of many people, doing something immoral.

Recently, researchers at the University of California, Irvine, published an article illustrating how moral judgments can cloud our reasoning (Thomas et al., 2016).  In their study, more than 1,500 adult participants, from various backgrounds, read stories in which a child was left alone for some period of time. For example, in one story an 8-year-old was left reading a book for 45 minutes in a coffee shop a block away from her parent. After each story, the participant was asked to rate on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) the degree of danger the child was in while the parent was away.

Remarkably, the most common danger rating for every story was 10—the most extreme danger possible—and the average was about 7. The idea that the high ratings represent, in part, an effect of moral judgment was supported by the finding that the danger ratings were significantly higher when the story indicated that the parent had deliberately left the child alone than when the story indicated that the child was left alone because of some unavoidable accident that kept the parent away. As the researchers point out, common sense would suggest that a child left alone deliberately would be safer than one left alone because of an accident, because in the former case the parent would likely have taken some precautions about safety or known that the child was mature enough to handle the time alone. The fact that the results were the reverse of common sense indicates that participants were, probably unconsciously, inflating the danger as a way of blaming the parent for violating what they perceived to be a moral imperative—that of always watching one’s child.

How can we change this crippling social norm and get back to common sense?  That’s something I’ve discussed in the past (e.g. here) and will, more, in a future post. But now I’m interested in your thoughts and questions. If you are a parent, what social pressures have you experienced that led you to restrict your child in ways that you believed were objectively irrational and not good for your child?  Or, if you resisted the social pressures, how did you do so? How might we, as a society, reduce our tendency to judge parents in moral terms and make common sense and real data more salient in our decisions about how to treat our children?

References

Asch, S.E. (1956). Studies of independence and conformity. A minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs, 70(9), 1–70.

Foreman, A. Why foot binding persisted in China for a millennium. Smithsonian Magazine, Feb., 2015.

Schiavenza, M. The peculiar history of foot binding in China. The Atlantic, Sept. 16, 2013.

Thomas, A., Stanford, P. K., & Sarnecka, B. W. (2016). No child left alone: Moral judgments about parents affect estimates of risk to children. Collabra, 21, 1-15.

Originally published at PsychologyToday.com.

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A Parental Right?

Written by Idzie Desmarais.

Whenever I hear people saying things like “Unschooling obviously wouldn’t work for everyone, but parents should have a right to choose what’s best for their kids,” or one of the hundred other variants on that same sentiment, I always feeling a niggling sense of unease. It’s never a statement I’ve agreed with. But until recently, I wasn’t entirely sure why it bothered me! I mean, there’s the obvious in that I believe unschooling can work for anyone, as unschooling is really free choice in education, so a child could choose something very structured, like their parent teaching them with a curriculum or going to school. But there was something more than that bothering me, and I only realized yesterday what it was.

That type of statement puts the focus on parental rights. “It’s a parents right to educate their children however they choose!”

But to me? Unschooling isn’t about parental rights. It’s about children’s rights. A childs right to choose their own path in life, with the support and assistance of parental or other care-giving figures in their life.

In a society where children are truly an oppressed class, denied the rights given to older people, I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that something I see as potentially majorly liberating for children, the right to take control of their own education, is couched as being a parental right instead. For sure, I think it’s important for parents to have the right to make decisions about their children’s care, instead of the government or other powerful institutions, but in talking about a “parents right to unschool,” I feel like we’re taking away the power, in words at the very least, and words to a large extent shape thoughts, from the children themselves. And that’s definitely not something I think anyone should be doing.

Am I, once again, just quibbling over small details in the language used? Perhaps. But when something unsettles me, even if it seems like just a small something, I feel it’s important to examine why, and I often just like working out or sharing my reasoning here on the blog!

Originally published at yes-i-can-write.blogspot.com.

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Adolf Hitler: How Could a Monster Succeed in Blinding a Nation?

Written by Alice Miller, Ph.D.

“What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.” – Adolf Hitler, as quoted by Joachim Fest

Is it still possible in today’s Germany to escape the realization that without the mistreatment of children, without a form of child-rearing based on violence to inculcate blind obedience, there would not have been a Hitler and his followers? And thus not millions of murdered victims either? Probably every thinking person in the post-war period has wondered at some time or other how it could have happened that a human being devised a gigantic machinery of death and found millions of helpers to set it in motion.

Yet the monster Adolf Hitler, murderer of millions, master of destruction and organized insanity, did not come into the world as a monster. He was not sent to earth by the devil, as some people think, nor was he sent by heaven to “bring order” to Germany, to give the country the autobahn and rescue it from its economic crisis, as many others still believe. Neither was he born with “destructive drives”, because there are no such things. Our biological mission is to preserve life, not to destroy It. Human destructiveness Is never inborn, and inherited traits are neither good nor evil. How they develop depends on one’s character, which is formed In the course of one’s life, and the nature of which depends, in turn, on the experiences one has, above all, in childhood and adolescence, and on the decisions one makes as an adult.

Like every other child, Hitler was born innocent, only to be raised, as were many children at the time, in a destructive fashion by his parents and later to make himself into a monster. He was the survivor of a machinery of annihilation that in turn-of-the-century Germany was called “child-rearing” and that I call “the concealed concentration camp of childhood,” which is never allowed to be recognized for what it is.

I have described in detail how he made this concealed horror manifest in his Third Reich in my book For Your Own Good: Hidden cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence(Farrar Straus Giroux, 1983) and In my other books, for example, Banished Knowledge and The Untouched Key (both published by Doubleday). There the reader will also find a detailed line of reasoning to support everything which, for reasons of space, I can only allude to here in a very abridged way.

In order not to die, all mistreated children must totally repress the mistreatment, deprivation, and bewilderment they have undergone because otherwise the child’s organism wouldn’t be able to cope with the magnitude of the pain suffered. Only as adults do they have other possibilities for dealing with their feelings. If they don’t make use of these possibilities, then what was once the life-saving function of repression can be transformed Into a dangerous destructive, and self-destructive force. In the careers of despots such as Hitler and Stalin, their suppressed fantasies of revenge can lead to indescribable atrocities. This phenomenon doesn’t exist anywhere in the entire animal kingdom, for no animal is trained by its parents to deny its nature completely in order to become a “well-behaved” animal – only human beings act In such a destructive way. According to the reports of Nazi criminals (and also of soldiers who volunteered to fight in Vietnam), their unconscious programming to be violent began in every case with a brutal upbringing that demanded absolute obedience and expressed total contempt for the child. I know of no example of this which is so well-documented and which demonstrates so clearly the consequences of the psychological murder of children – bringing along with it a form of collective blindness – than the fateful success of Adolf Hitler.

The Fuhrer once told his secretary that during one of the regular beatings given him by his father he was able to stop crying, to feel nothing, and even to count the thirty-two blows he received.

In this way, by totally denying his pain, his feelings of powerlessness, and his despair- in other words, by denying the truth – Hitler made himself into a master of violence and of contempt for human beings. The result was a very primitive person, incapable of any empathy for other people. He was mercilessly and constantly driven to new destructive acts by his latent feelings of hatred and revenge. After millions had been forced to die for this reason, those feelings still haunted him in his sleep. Hermann Rauschning reports nocturnal paroxysms of screaming on the Fuhrer’s part, along with “inexplicable counting”, which I trace back to the counting he did during the beatings of his childhood. Hitler did not invent fascism; he found it, like so many of his contemporaries) prefigured in the totalitarian regime of his family. The National Socialist version of fascism, however, does bear unmistakable traces of Hitler’s childhood. But his early experience was by no means an exception. Thus, neither Gerhart Hauptmann nor Martin Heidegger nor many other celebrated intellects of the day were able to see through Hitler’s madness. To do so, they would have had to be able to see through the madness of their own upbringing.

Hitler could make Europe and the world into the battlefield of his childhood because in the Germany of that time there were millions of people who had experienced the same kind of upbringing he had. Although not necessarily conscious of the fact, they took the following principles to be self-evident:

  1. Not life but order and obedience are the highest values.
  2. Only by means of violence can order be created and preserved.
  3. Creativity (embodied in the child) represents a danger for the adult and must be destroyed.
  4. Obeying one’s father absolutely is the highest law.
  5. Disobedience and criticism are unthinkable because they are punished with beatings or the threat of death.
  6. The living, vital child must be turned as early as possible into an obedient robot, a slave.
  7. Undesirable feelings and real needs must therefore be suppressed as vigorously as possible.
  8. Mothers must never protect their children from punishment by the father but after each incidence of torture must preach to them to honor and love their parents.

Fortunately, there were persons now and again with whom a child could find refuge from this totalitarian regime, and perhaps even experience love, respect, and protection. On the basis of these good experiences, even simply on the basis of the comparison they provided, a child could at least pass inward judgment on the cruelty endured and not want to inflict it in turn later on. But when there were no witnesses to come to the rescue, the child had no choice in this bizarre scenario but to stifle every natural reflex such as anger or even laughter, and to practice absolute obedience daily in order to keep the father’s menacing behavior within bearable limits. It was this kind of early character training that Hitler was later able to exploit. In strict accordance with this system of child-rearing he then developed his Nazi ideology, which had the following practical consequences:

  1. The will of the Fuhrer is the highest law.
  2. The Fuhrer will forcibly create order and make Germany into the paradise of the Aryans, the master race.
  3. Those who submit like robots to his orders will be rewarded.
  4. Whoever dares to offer criticism will be sent to a concentration camp.
  5. Jews and gypsies must be annihilated – men, women and children.
  6. The disabled and mentally ill are likewise to be put to death.
  7. Poles and Russians are fit to become useful slaves.
  8. Free art is dangerous and “degenerate”; like every other form of free creativity, It must be persecuted.

Without the numerous documentary films that attest to the frenzied acclaim Hitler received, no one today would believe that a madman with this ideology of contempt for human beings could generate so much enthusiasm. How was it at all possible that Hitler found such an immense number of followers? By promising his people a solution to all their problems and by offering them a scapegoat? Certainly. But that alone would not have been enough. In order to use untold numbers of people as marionettes, he had to make his promises in the style of the domineering, violent father most of his followers knew, feared, and admired.

From the history of human sacrifice – from cannibalism to the Aztecs – we can learn how some religions have sanctified such acts in order to exonerate parents’ crimes against their children. Whoever reads this history with open eyes is struck again and again by the same pattern: “If I do to others what was once done to me, then I don’t need to feel all the pain I would otherwise have to experience. If I put everything in ideological or religious packaging and repeat all the lies those around me have been taught to believe, I will have many followers. If, in addition, I – like Hitler – make use of my acting talent and imitate the manner of the threatening father whom almost everyone once believed blindly and absolutely and whom everyone feared, then I’ll be able to find countless helpers for every conceivable crime – all the more easily, the more absurd the crime.”

The famous Milgram experiment, in which participants complied with instructions given by an authority figure to administer electric shocks of increasing intensity to other participants, has proved this very convincingly. For many adults, formerly obedient children, are just waiting for a legal form of discharge of the rage they pent up decades earlier. In the mistreatment of their own children, known as “child-rearing,” or in wars and genocide, society offers them this discharge and the culturally specific label to go with it.

What point is there for us today in learning about Hitler and his history? For me, the main point is this: our knowledge will serve as a warning against our blindness and encourage us to give it up once and for all and to struggle against collective repression. This is what I do consistently in all my books in order to help people understand the psychodynamics of the mistreatment of children and its immeasurable danger for society, as demonstrated by Hitler’s case. My explanations are by no means intended to suggest pity for a man as merciless as Hitler.

it was in large part owing to Hitler and his history that I became aware of the dangers of our traditional morality. We are exhorted to honor our parents and never question them no matter what they have done. Yet when I realize that millions of human beings had to die so that Adolf Hitler could keep his repression of childhood trauma intact, that millions were subjected to humiliation in concentration camps so that he never had to recognize how he had once been humiliated, then I believe that one can’t point out these connections often enough in order to shed light on this unconscious production of evil. How should young people be expected to recognize and reject inhumanity and crime if these continue to be disguised instead of being pointed out as plainly as possible? Only when young people are permitted to know exactly what happened and how it could happen, only if they don’t allow anything to stifle their curiosity and are not afraid of the truth, can they free themselves from the burden placed upon them by their forebears’ blindness.

If Hitler’s name Is no longer taboo in Germany, then these findings will also be able to bring new knowledge to light and create a new stimulus to understanding. The greatest obstacle In this regard is to deny the mistreatment one suffered as a child and to defend oneself against it at the expense of others: of children, of subordinates of partners, or of voters. As recently as 1997, more than half of the parents in West Germany were in favor of corporal punishment as a means of bringing up children – in spite of the many years of effort on the part of the Child Protection League to enlighten the public. Where does this persistent lack of awareness stem from? Why don’t these parents know that physical or – as the case may be – psychological punishment constitutes degradation and mistreatment of children and always, sooner or later, has destructive consequences, whether visible or concealed? Why don’t they know that with their demonstrably false claim that striking children is absolutely necessary and completely harmless they are affirming, preserving, and perpetuating a destructive tradition?

They don’t know this because they are familiar from their own experience only with this form of child-rearing and had to learn at an early age to regard it as normal and harmless. In their eyes, violent methods are the only effective corrective for a child’s behavior. For this reason, they construct complicated theories to explain Nazi Germany’s murder of millions. That seems easier to them than to experience the pain and degradation they once felt at being beaten as children even though this could unlock the door to awareness, an awareness that would protect their children from mistreatment and themselves from their blindness as parents and voters. If they are in government, then their awareness would perhaps also save entire nations from wars and other senseless sacrifices. Countless human beings have already been killed in wars whose instigators didn’t want to realize they were carrying dynamite which they were constantly trying to get rid of at the expense of other people in order to take revenge for old, highly personal wounds. Faced with even the merest possibility of a nuclear war, we must not allow ourselves to ignore this knowledge any longer. And yet we do just that: innumerable experts and officials occupy themselves daily and hourly with the consequences of child abuse without being able to know and see these consequences for what they are.

Even the most macabre childhood doesn’t exonerate a criminal from the guilt that consists in his destruction of life. As an adult he has the opportunity of confronting his childhood, of not denying the horror he endured then, of experiencing the hatred that was repressed and understanding its justification. Hatred experienced consciously Is only a feeling, and feelings don’t kill. But destructive actions blindly directed at ersatz objects are deeds which can cost human beings their lives and for which the perpetrator must bear the blame.

Perhaps our grandchildren will be able to say; “What good fortune that we weren’t beaten like our grandparents and now are able to see things much more clearly than they did. If being beaten in childhood had been harmless, they wouldn’t have been blind to Hitler’s contempt for human beings; they would have seen through it immediately and rejected it, as our children do when confronted with acts of cruelty. Children who are permitted to defend themselves don’t become destructive. It Is evident that destructiveness is not the inevitable fate of humankind, for the loving treatment of children could banish it from the world. The “destructive drive” slumbers in children who were once mistreated and who later don’t want to know what happened to them in their past. We ourselves have no need to strike our defenseless children; we can’t even imagine doing that, even when we’re tired and have no patience for their questions. After all, there are so many other ways to treat children that are truly productive, respectful, and not destructive.

It is just as impossible for us to imagine having been fascinated by a Hitler. People who were treated with respect as children, who weren’t drilled to become robots with the aid of mistreatment, will never want to die out of “faithfulness to the Fuhrer” or send thousands of human beings to Stalingrad against all reason just because some madman planned it. But Hitler’s generals stood at attention In the Furher’s headquarters, and all counter-arguments dissolved into fear and mental paralysis or, on the other hand, into enthusiasm when they heard him (the father) speak. This disastrous political blindness that cost millions of people their lives proves conclusively what our grandparents so hotly denied: that in every case, physical as well as psychological abuse of the child is not only harmful but highly dangerous. Not only for the individual but under certain circumstances for whole nations.

Originally republished at NaturalChild.org.

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