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District Superior's
Letter to Friends & Benefactors

March 2006

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

I am sure that many of you have had occasion to see how the standards of child-rearing have changed in our country. Or, even if you are not aware of the changes, you are at least aware of the ill effects these changes have had not only on our youth, but also on our families, our schools, our communities and even our Catholic parishes. Disrespect, irresponsible behavior, and lack of perseverance are among the most obvious weeds that the changes have cultivated.

One of the factors which has led to a change in standards here in the U.S was the breaking up of the extended family unit after the last world war. Shortly after the war, family members began to disperse themselves hundreds or even thousands of miles away from one another. Thus, the extended family was broken up into smaller units and young parents found themselves without the support of their parents or grandparents. This, coupled with family problems caused by the rapid pace of "progress", pushed parents into the hands of various so-called professionals (e.g., family counselors, psychologists, and clinical social workers).

These "professionals" took an intellectual (more in the clouds) rather than commonsensical (down to earth) approach to child-rearing. With their modern philosophies in hand, they persuaded parents that the ultimate goal of "parenting" was something called "self-esteem" and that the family needed to be "child-centered." In order to raise their children’s self-esteem, these "experts" told parents that they needed to pay a lot of attention to (i.e., be highly involved with) their children; the more attention, the better the parent.

They were also told that they must praise their children a lot, while ignoring their inappropriate behavior. The "experts" said that if children received a surplus of "warm fuzzies" for their good behavior, they would in turn pass them on to others. But if too much attention were given to the inappropriate behavior, by making any mention of it, that bad behavior would be likely to happen again. Also, by telling children that they did something wrong, a parent would make them "feel bad" about themselves, thus causing low self-esteem from which they might never recover.

Finally, the "experts" instructed parents that they must protect their children from frustration and failure. This aspect of raising "self-esteem" seems to have taken root especially in our public schools, where educators ran with this idea and did all that they could to try and take the frustration and failure out of learning and make both the process and the place "fun." This was accomplished by dumbing down the level of education, grading students according to their ability rather than their performance and promoting students whether or not they had mastered the material, because, as they said, to hold them back would hurt their "self-esteem."

The "experts" also tried to discredit the traditional methods of child-rearing by saying that these methods were psychologically damaging to children. To prove this, they referred to such professionals as Sigmund Freud, whose bizarre theories had achieved great acceptance among intellectuals prior to being thrown upon the general public. Freud’s contribution caused parents to begin questioning even the most mundane approaches to child-rearing and every little aspect took on great psychological significance.

Other psychologists such as Carl Rogers, Thomas Gordon and Dorothy Briggs also had their hands in the destruction. In his best-selling book of 1970, Parent Effectiveness Training, Gordon says that the real problem is not so much that parents repress but that they suppress their children’s intellects and psyches. They do so by demanding obedience to rigid rules, punishing deviations from "unreasonable" narrow parameters and by not allowing their children to freely express opinions and emotions. In his view, power and authority were the source of many, if not all, of the world’s problems and his solution was for families to become democratic rather than autocratic. "[Gordon’s] No-Lose, Method III approach communicates to kids that parents think their needs are important, too, and that kids can be trusted to be considerate of parental needs in return, this is treating kids much as we treat friends or a spouse. [The method] feels so good to children because they like to feel trusted and to be treated as an equal."(P.E.T., p. 213)

Dorothy Briggs amplifies Gordon’s themes in her 1970 book Your Child’s Self-Esteem, another best-seller. In her book she fires at the traditional child-rearing methods saying that they were damaging to "self-esteem", as was the very concept of obedience. According to her, parents were not to make unilateral decisions when it came to dealing with dissatisfaction or disagreements on the part of children; rather, they should engage in "active listening", respecting the child’s point of view, then negotiate with them a compromise. Thus, there would not be one winner and one loser but two winners. "Discipline is democratic when parents share power, when adults and children work together to establish rules that protect the rights of all. In democratic homes, children have an equal part in working out limits. The family works as a unit to establish broad, general policies while permitting flexibility within those limits." (YCSE, p. 244)

The underlying theme in this thought is that children are born into this world pure little beings. They are then corrupted by their parents, who, in turn, were corrupted by their parents and so on. This way of thinking can be traced back to the self-serving philosophy of the eighteenth-century philosopher Jean-Jacque Rousseau, who fathered, abandoned and refused to support three children. Rousseau argued that humans were inherently good and thus not guilty of anything. They were only warped by society, which alone could be held responsible for all the depraved things people did.

As these highly subversive ideas were picked up and echoed throughout the professional community, the effect on parents was crippling. For the first time in history, parents began to walk on eggshells around their children trying not to upset their state of bliss. Soon they became the most insecure, anxious, indecisive and guilt ridden parents that history has seen.

Since the 1950’s, one need not look very deeply to see the impact that these new practices have had on our culture. For example:

  1. Violent crimes committed by juveniles have increased sixfold.

  2. Violence on the part of children against their parents and teachers, almost never heard of before, has become a serious problem.

  3. The rate of unmarried teenage births has increased almost 200 percent

  4. Teenage depression has almost become epidemic.

  5. Classroom discipline has become a serious problem, as teachers no longer have to deal merely with children talking out of turn, or cutting in line, but must deal with drug and alcohol use, assault, and robbery.

  6. Since 1960, the rate of teen suicides has more than tripled and is now the second leading cause of death among teenagers.

Child-rearing standards or practices play a major role in setting the social foundations of any culture and it is not too difficult to see how, in the final analysis, a culture is defined by its child-rearing practices.

Neither is it too difficult to see that these standards or practices have been ultimately designed to attack the rights of God and His Church by trying to destroy legitimate authority and our dependence on it. Should we wonder that our youth and now young adults have such a problem accepting authority; that they show such a weakness of will when it comes to practicing self-sacrifice and perseverance; that more and more of them often find it difficult to be serious about their responsibilities?

One modern psychologist, by the name of John Rosemond, seems to have come down off the intellectual cloud and returned to the common sense of the time-tested traditional practices. He holds to the necessity for parents to train their children in the "Three Rs". No! He is not referring to "reading, riting, and rithmetic"(although these are also very important in education) but rather to "respect, responsibility and resourcefulness."

In days of old, these were the standards of good child-rearing. Parents were not measured by how exhausted they made themselves driving their children from one event to another or how involved they were in their children’s homework or how many "warm fuzzies" they gave each day, but rather by whether or not they had managed to endow in their children adequate amounts of each of the "Three Rs." The success of whether or not a parent had succeeded at endowing adequate amounts of each "R" in their children was self evident to friends and neighbors, who would have held them in high esteem and said they "were doing a good job." Whether their children became doctors, carpenters or janitors was secondary to the fact that the good child-rearing had all but guaranteed that they would be assets not only to their family but also to the community in whatever vocation they chose.

Good child-rearing practices are, of course, important for both parents at home and teachers in school. Thus, over the next few months, we will consider a bit more in depth each of these "Three Rs." Suffice it to say for now that they must ultimately be grounded in the respect we show to God, the responsibility we, as members of the Mystical Body, take for our actions, and the resourcefulness in cooperating with His graces during our daily struggles.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Fr. John D. Fullerton

 
 

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