French Moms and Social Psychologist Silliness

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Should parents shout, "Vive la France"? (Image via Wikipedia)

This weekend, I read the Wall Street Journal’s wonderful article “Why French Moms are Superior” by Pamela Druckerman, who has written a book with the same theme (Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting) that is being published today. It seems to be similar in spirit to the recent “Tiger Mom” fad, inspired by Amy Chua’s book about the benefits her daughters had gained from her Chinese (versus nominally Western) approach to parenting.

Those who think such books are simply a matter of the horrific “Let’s adopt the practices of other cultures because everything truly American stinks” should think again, because they are not necessarily so. Judging by her WSJ article, Mrs. Druckerman’s discoveries in France match the parenting techniques and approaches that I have seen in many happy households here in the U.S. — frankly, many biblical approaches to parenting, that, indeed, are shamefully lacking on this side of the Atlantic. For instance, there is a focus on real parental authority in the home, “discipline” as training and not just as punishment, being loving but firm and expecting obedience, not seeing good parents as those who are “at the constant service of their children” (which, in reality, does a disservice to those children).

Reactions to the article and the book have varied, some good and some stupid.  Closer to the latter end of that spectrum were some of the reactions I saw in a Yahoo! “Shine” item on the book, “Are French Women the New Tiger Mothers?” provided by a “social psychologist” who “specializes in parenting.”

For instance, here’s the beginning of one such instance:

“While you can’t blame parents for everything, some popular parenting practices aren’t worth adapting. A 2003 poll found that 84 percent of French parents admit to slapping or spanking their child.”

You have to love that choice of word, “admit.” Interesting how the choice of a single word can make spanking seem like something one should be ashamed of, isn’t it? After all, who would say, “Yes, I admit that I kiss my wife on the cheek every morning”?

Expect the standard (false) equivocation: spanking = abuse. And to deliver on our expectation, the article provides the social psychologist “expert”:

“Anytime you hit or spank a child, you are teaching them that that’s acceptable behavior,” Susan Newman, Ph.D., a social psychologist who specializes in parenting, tells Shine. “There’s study after study that says abused children have the potential to become abusers themselves. From my thinking there’s no excuse for a parent hitting their child.”

Did you catch the switch? The move from “spank” to “abuse”? I’m glad that she qualified that last sentence with a “From my thinking” — that’s more qualification than most give.

(I’ve posted on spanking before — here and here. The “spanking = abuse” scam is one of the most damaging aspects of our society’s approaches to child rearing.)

But the “good advice well” in the article had not yet run dry…

But there are some things we can teach the world, too. “American parents are known for putting their children first,” says Newman. “As a result, children overall feel and know they’re special.”

This is a bit ambiguous, so I’d love to give our “expert” the benefit of a doubt as to what she really means. But does this mean putting the children’s “needs” at the very top of the family’s needs? If so, then it’s contributing to part of our society’s problems not the solutions.  If spanking them supposedly turns them into abusive monsters (it doesn’t), then why doesn’t making sure the children’s desires come first in everything turn them into narcissistic little entitlement monsters (it does)? We suffer from a terrible “I’m special and the world owes me” entitlement mentality in younger people today, thanks to the insidious influence of Darth Rogers. (Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. Mister Rogers was a sweet fellow. But read the article at the link for what I’m talking about.) And families have been ruined by the choices some parents make in putting their children’s wants ahead of even the health of their marriage, ironically and tragically sacrificing the most important foundation children need in the name of those same children.

If anyone reads the article or book for himself or herself, feel free to leave your comments below. But, as the above comments demonstrate, don’t expect it to be reviewed sensibly by a society that may see some of its most cherished “sacred cows” offered up as barbecue.

13 thoughts on “French Moms and Social Psychologist Silliness

  1. Glory Talbott

    Contrary to what this woman says, spanking my daughter when she wanted to lash out or throw a fit was how I taught her how NOT to hit & to correct the wrong behavior & wrong attitudes! It taught her how to stop and how to practice self control instead, even at the young age of 2. The kids who were not spanked were the most brutal in the play dates I attended when my kids were small. These children lacked self control and did not have any limitations clearly set with consequences of wrong behavior. I have had many comments from people, strangers and friends at how well balanced my kids are. I think all of that had to do with following Bible principals which define clearly in how to raise a child! Without those scriptures, I would have been lost in how to parent. How wonderful God’s inspired word is. It WORKS!~Glory

  2. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    You sure you don’t mean Darth Spock (the child psychologist, not the Mirror-Universe Vulcan – now there’s a lot of geekitude in one clause!), rather than Darth Rogers? Well, I haven’t seen the article you give us yet – and I only saw bits and pieces of “Mister Rogers” over the decades, so I have virtually no idea about what he actually promoted. But I do know something about Dr. Spock’s Baby Book (if that’s the precise title) because my mother hand it – not that she followed it, with regard to child discipline.

    Anyway, nice calls on the equivocations used. If I knew where to find it quickly I’d point you to an article – either on Yahoo or MSN – that says spoiling your child has even worse consequences than you think. I believe it showed up today.

    Sacred Cow as BBQ – probably glazed with hot sauce or something. Sounds interesting. 😀

  3. Kudos to Glory Talbott. She is exactly right in how she applied spanking and set clear rules. We did the same thing with our kids, and they turned out just fine. They make straight A’s in honor classes, have an active social life, and have a sterling reputation. You might think I’m bragging, but in fact I’m just sticking up for God’s way of doing things.

    Anyone expecting or planning a baby should take a child development course at their local college. Forget the “guru” parenting books. Take a good, solid course. It prepared me in ways that I didn’t expect, and it made me start connecting the dots in the Bible.

    Can I give you an example? In the child development course we learned that a toddler’s brain simply does not have long term memory. That’s why you have to keep repeating things. Constant reinforcement by the parent actually helps the child to develop long term memory. Now, does the Bible anywhere talk about a parent using constant repetition? It absolutely does!

    It might seem like I’m straying off the topic, but I’m trying to make a point: Children will thrive in a structured environment with set rules. A child growing up in a chaotic environment where the rules keep changing (at their parents’ whim) will have problems.

    So what will we do? Give the kid a couple of slaps because he happened to irritate us – for reasons that he doesn’t understand? Or will we spank him in proper order – without anger, and with love and concern for his future? Because there is a huge difference between the two.

  4. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    I think you will find even more interesting (one way or another) a link I’m going to send you privately which appeared on Yahoo! Health. Allegedly, parents should think twice about spanking because of the “mountain of evidence” concerning the harm it does. (The reason I’m not simply posting the link here is because what I think I understand about your policy regarding commentators posting links.)

    I will be very interested in your response to that article, should you have the time to give one.

  5. Howdy, Mr. Wheeler. The link is fine. Here it is from the e-mail you sent me.

    In most of the cases I’ve seen, the “mountain” of evidence is rather indiscriminate and not carefully done, being rather motivated by one’s beliefs instead of a search for facts. Some studies I have seen aren’t truly about “spanking” at all but lump any sort of “corporal punishment” into the same category, including acts that are truly abusive. Consequently, it is no surprise when a “study” shows that what they call “corporal punishment” has negative consequences: they are failing to distinguish between abuse and non-abusive measures, thus assuming what they are claim to prove.

    The author of the study referred to in the article gives up the game when she declares “We’re really past the point of calling this a controversy. That’s a word that’s used and I don’t know why, because in the research there really is no controversy.” However, she either hasn’t read all the research or she is counting on the ivory walls of her profession and position as an “authority” to cause people to simply take her word for it and not look into it themselves, because there is research, real research, that completely contradicts her position.

    I’ve already discussed some of that research in a previous post, which I will link to again here: “Spanking bans, good idea or not?” The post has a link to a great WSJ article ” “Spare the spanking, spoil the report card? – What a new study and the Bible say about punishing children.” and to an article in the Akron Law Review journal by Jason Fuller, “The Science and Statistics Behind Spanking Suggest that Laws Allowing Corporal Punishment are in the Best Interests of the Child” (the website has the abstract, but the entire article is downloadable, as well), which puts the lie to the “no controversy in the research” claims of the “expert” cited in the article.

    (I can’t help it. Another dumb comment in the article you mention is this one: “‘If we had two or three studies that showed that if you took 500 mg of vitamin C a day you could reduce cancer risk, we would all be taking 500 mg of vitamin C a day,’ Durant said.” She’s right: For some lemmings people those two or three studies would be all it would take for them to start gulping down vitamin C… Until the next two or three studies showed that the same dosages of vitamin C increased kidney damage or hemorrhaging risk or whatever. The “perfesser” seems flabbergasted that a portion of the culture exists that isn’t sitting on the edge of its seat waiting for the latest “study.”)

    So, if you are interested, feel free to check out the post. Regardless, the claims of folks in white coats who say the science is supposedly 100% behind them on their anti-biblical child-rearing ideas are, shall we kindly say, exaggerated.

  6. Glory and Steve didn’t pick up the new Don’t touch your kid theory of today. Now it seems we have Parent abuse from those kids that didn’t get their bottoms touched when they needed the training as a child. No respect for elders or others it seems is the norm for those children that grew up without training. And some teens now are making the papers with drugs and more. Training does have its blessings and cursings come to those who fail to do so.

  7. Michael O'Byrne

    Spanking? Yes! And the rod? I don’t now recall being spanked or being disiplined with a rod, but I had a fear of being punished with the rod. My fear of the rod must stem from it having been used in early childhood even though I have no recollection ot it now. I do remember my older brother being punished by my father when he was in his teens. However my mother did threaten me with the rod when I was 9 or ten. Although I did not have a fear of either of my parents I dreaded being admonished with the sally rod as it did sting. I regret to say I did many things deserving of such punishment, but as I covered my tracks all to well I escaped detection. My brothers and sisters were not devious as I was and I cannot recall any of their behaviour which would have merited such chastisment. As for myself, as I’ve confessed, I was a prime candidate for such attention. However for whatever reason God the Father called me to His Son Jesus Christ, probably because He saw there was a lot of work needed to be done with me. My siblings have achieved many good things with their lives in that they have proved to be useful members of society – have married, reared wonderful children – my nieces and nephews – who are now emulating their parents. I, on the other hand, was in so many ways the ” black sheep “, the one who caused my mother much heartache and shedding of tears, yet she never gave up on me or stopped loving me. But God gave me the opportunity to make amends and I had the privilege of looking after for the last 10 1/2 years of her life when she died at the great age of 100 years and 6 months, yet I feel I returned only a tinty fraction of the love and care she gave me for many years. One thing I do know now is that having parents, as I and my siblings had, we are all the better for it because that they chastised us in love and today all of us honour their memory with love and respect. And we are all better citizens of Ireland and human beings overall because our parents did not withhold the hand of loving chastisment.

  8. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    Thanks for your reply, Kemo Sabe. 😀 And why am I not at all surprised that this kind of lie – statistical lying, which PM Disraeli called even worse than “lies covered with glitter” 😉 – is being employed? Or argument from authority? Or all the rest of it? 😛

    The reason I wanted you to answer the article is that 1) you’re a whole lot more dispassionate on such things than I am and 2) as a minister, parent and voracious reader (not to overlook a stickler for sound logic and “getting all the facts, then deciding” as an ENTP) I knew you’d be able to address this much better than a naturally credulous, single ENFP like me would. Thank you. It was a pleasure to watch your surgery on the patient, Dr. Smith. The truth, no doubt, is expected to make a full recovery (at least among us chickens). 😀

  9. @Mr OByrne: I got the rod a couple of times. Except that my Mom called it a “switch.” For example, I quickly learned that making a bonfire with the kitchen trash can is not a good idea. And mixing weird chemicals that makes everybody choke probably isn’t a good idea, either.

    You said, “I did many things deserving of such punishment, but… I covered my tracks…” With me, it was more like the Great Escape. When I heard my parents yelling my full name, I’d bolt through the bedroom window like a jack rabbit! Hopefully, I’ve changed some since then. (At least I think I have).

  10. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    (…sorry for the mixed metaphors, I have NO idea why I’m in such a weird mood…) 😀

  11. Michael O'Byrne

    Steve, I won’t disclose what it was of which I was guilty and deserved punishment through the use of the sally [ willow ] rod, but I am thoroughly ashamed and deeply regret my wrongdoing. My deviousness is related to how well I concealed my actions from my parents. However there was one occasion when my father was looking for me to punish me for something ther nature of which I do not now recall. But it was serious enough for me to hide and this I did. We had a small garden behind our home in which we had potatoes growing. The crop had grown sufficiently to have tall stalks with a lot of leaves. The potatoes were set in ridges/drills of about a foot in height and I crept in between two ridges in the centre of the potato section of the garden. My father didn’t find me and by the time I emerged he was no longer as angry as he had been. Because he had calmed down I either escaped punishment or it was minimal. But on reflection I believe it would have been better had I received the threatened chastisment and strange as it may seem to some people I regret that I did not get punished for the now long-forgotten misdemeanour. Had I been chastised then it may very well have turned me away from doing the many things I went on to do and for which I have felt and do feel genuine remorse.

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