Living with Children: The myth of parenting determinism
As the current school year kicked off, I began hearing the same-old, same-old report from teachers and principals: children who have never lied. At least, that is what the parents of said children claim.
When one of these highly evolved kids is accused of misbehaving at school, his parents ask him for his side of the story, his take on what really happened. And sure enough, the child’s story does not match the teacher’s report. The teacher, for example, swears she saw the accused deliberately trip another child during recess. The trip resulted in facial injuries and two broken teeth. The accused claims he only stuck his foot out because he thought his $450 sneakers were untied and that the victim just happened to be running by at the time.
The accused’s parents go to the school and say something along these lines: “Our child is very upset that he’s been blamed for something he did not and would never do. He’s been crying since he got home from school yesterday. We believe him because he’s never lied to us, so we’re keeping him out of school until he gets an apology from Mrs. Machiavelli.”
Ultimately, the dastardly Mrs. Machiavelli apologizes and is summarily transferred to Death Valley Elementary School. Oh, I failed to mention that during the conference in question the child’s parents dropped the term “our lawyer,” which never fails to correct the thinking of principals, superintendents, heads of schools and school board members.
Lest the reader think I am engaging in hyperbole, the above story was related to me by the principal of a school in Southern California. Granted, the teacher in our tale is not related to an infamous Italian prince, nor was she transferred to a school in Death Valley. Furthermore, the accused’s sneakers cost a mere $425. Everything else came straight from said principal’s mouth.
The question becomes: What causes otherwise rational adults, having heard the report of a person who has dedicated her life to the betterment of the lives of children, to ask a child for his side of said story?
The myth of parenting determinism, that’s what. Parenting determinism is the notion, relentlessly promoted by mental health professionals, that every action on the part of a child can be linked to an action on the part of or something about his parents. Parenting determinism explains the “My Child is an Honor Student” bumper sticker. It also explains “My child has never lied.”
Parenting determinism had not yet clouded parental thinking when I was a child. So, when a teacher accused me of misbehavior, my parents believed the teacher. Anything I said in my defense was wrong, a lie. End of story. That no one took my explanation with more than a grain of salt, if that, was, I felt, grossly unfair. I thought it was unfair even when I was lying, which was close to 100 percent of the time.
I did not know it at the time, but I was greatly blessed to have parents I was unable to con. I can only imagine what my life would have been like otherwise. Parenting does not produce the person, but the child is father to the man.