Dear Friends and Benefactors of the Society of
St. Pius X,
XII in his document Guiding Christís Little Ones says:
"Train the character of your children. Correct their
faults, encourage and cultivate their good qualities and coordinate them with
that stability which will make for resolution in after life. Your children,
conscious, as they grow up and as they begin to will and think, that they are
guided by a good parental will, constant and strong, free from violence and
anger, not subject to weakness or inconsistency, will learn in time to see
therein the interpreter of another higher will, the will of God, and so you will
plant in their souls the seeds of those early moral habits which fashion and
sustain a character, train it to self-control in moments of crisis and to
courage in the face of conflict or sacrifice, and imbue it with a deep sense of
Another word for this "sense
of Christian duty" is responsibility, which is defined as the moral
accountability of a person for his voluntary acts. Responsibility is also, in
our consideration of the past few months, the second of the essential Rís that
parents must instill in their children, the lack of which has affected todayís
social life and added to the acceleration of our nationís moral degradation.
Nowhere is this more obvious than
in the sins committed against justice, where the common good, duties towards
individuals or ultimately towards God are selfishly thrown aside with blatant
disregard for the moral law. Justice, like every other virtue, enters into the
Christian categorical imperative: "decline from evil and do good"; and,
therefore, it implies not only the obligation to do good to others, but also
that of not impeding or injuring the rights of others.
Ultimately this is a problem that
is caused by the fact that the principles of penance and atonement are not
functioning in many peopleís lives today. When someone does something bad, that
person should be made to feel bad (penitent) about it and held responsible for
correcting the problem caused by his misdeeds (atonement). In many families,
these principles have been turned upside down so that when the children
misbehave, it is the parents who feel bad about their misdeeds and it is the
parents who try to solve the problem, which only the children can solve;
starting with their feeling bad about it themselves. Without penance, atonement
will never take place. Unless complete responsibility for a problem involving
misbehavior is assigned to the child in question, that problem will never be
solved. Parents must, therefore, unload these problems onto their childrenís
shoulders, or better yet never take them upon themselves in the first place.
In the past, when children
misbehaved in school, they were routinely assigned the consequences of their own
misbehavior. They were made to shoulder the consequences and parents were
expected to support the disciplinary actions taken and even amplify them at home
if need be. Even if parents felt that the teacher wasnít the best in the world,
or that the teacher wasnít handling the behavior properly or was even
overreacting to their childrenís behavior, they realized that none of this was
as relevant as two solid facts: their child had misbehaved and thus required
punishment. Parents felt that their first obligation was to back authority and
thus even when there was a doubt they gave the benefit of the doubt to the
teacher and not to their child. Thus the child who created a problem at school
had an agonizing walk home knowing that he was "in for it".
But today, there are many parents
who have swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker, of modern propaganda spread
by "parenting professionals" and so do not want their children to suffer any
"negative consequences" caused by the "old fashioned disciplinary methods, which
were cruel, hurtful and even abusive." This results in their being
overprotective, and because they donít want to be considered as "mean" by their
children, they no longer use disciplinary techniques that are memorable and thus
persuasive. When there is a problem, they blame the teacher for their childrenís
misbehavior and so teach their children that irresponsible behavior is
inconsequential. Thus, no matter what action the school takes, it cannot correct
the problem because of the improper values taught at home.
These same "professionals" equate
discipline with punishment, meant to break childrenís wills to make them
passively subservient. But parents must recognize that this is not the goal of
proper discipline and that discipline and punishment are not the same thing.
Ultimately, the goal of parental discipline is to produce adults who require
minimal "management" of their behavior; in other words, self-disciplined, or
adults who are able to successfully take discipline into their own hands.
Punishment may be part of the whole process of discipline but parents should
keep in mind that punishments are given primarily for helping not punishing
children. Parents must let the punishment fit the crime and the only one that
does so is the one that stops the crime from happening again. Children will not
stop misbehaving because their misbehavior makes their parents upset but
only when it makes them upset.
Nor should we think discipline to
be the breaking of wills but rather the bending of wills toward their proper end
in order to make children autonomous. To do this, parents must establish
reasonable yet challenging expectations by setting and enforcing limits, which
they themselves model as socially appropriate behavior. Parents need to
discipline their children but they must first be disciplined themselves if they
hope to instill the same in their children.
Too often, parents themselves
lack discipline and so correct, or rather punish, even the smallest mistakes
with great drama and passion. But disciplined parents know where they stand and
where they want their children to stand and they understand that a key to
successful discipline is the projection of proper self-confidence. By
communicating their expectations in no uncertain terms, coming straight to the
point, telling (not asking!) the child what to do, parents project this
self-confidence. If enforcement is needed, it is done in an evenhanded way
without brutality or bribery. When children misbehave, self-confident parents
make sure that those same children get upset, while they themselves remain calm.
Only the penitent atones.
Discipline is the process of
making a disciple, i.e. one who voluntarily follows your lead. The result for
parents who discipline correctly will be that their children will respect their
wisdom and seek their guidance. They will place great value on their parentsí
approval and so want to behave in ways pleasing to them. Well-disciplined
children will thus be guided toward accepting ever-increasing amounts of
responsibility for their lives.
Next month I will continue with
this consideration on responsibility training. Suffice it to say for now that
old-fashioned discipline still works and is a key element in teaching
responsibility to children.
I look forward to seeing many of
you at this yearís ordinations in Winona, which will take place on Friday, June
23, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This year there will be four
Americans ordained to the priesthood and one to the diaconate. Please keep the
ordinands in your prayers.
Sincerely in the Sacred Heart of
Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Fr. John D. Fullerton