Methods and philosophies regarding control of children have been the subject of heated debate and disagreement for centuries. The pendulum has swept back and forth regularly between harsh, oppressive discipline and the unstructured permissiveness of the 1950s. , It is time that we realize that both extremes leave their characteristic scars on the lives of young victims, and I would be hard pressed to say which is more damaging. Unfortunately, the prevailing philosophy at a particular time seems to be more influential on parental approaches to discipline than does common sense. For example, I know of one mother who spanks her six-month-old baby for not lying still while being diapered. Many such foolish examples of repressive discipline are easily observable in our society. However, the opposite is still more prevalent. I knew of a family with four of the world's most undisciplined children. These youngsters were the terrors of their neighborhood; they were disrespectful, loud, and aggressive. They roamed in and out of garages, helping themselves to tools and equipment. It became necessary for neighbors to remove the handles from outside water faucets, because these children enjoyed leaving the water running when the families were gone. It was interesting to observe the method of discipline used by their mother, because whatever it was, it didn't work. Her system of controlling children boiled down to a simple formula: she would rush out the front door about once every hour, and scream:
"I have just had it with you; I have had it with you kids!"
Then she would turn and go back into the house. The children never even looked up at her. If they knew she was there they gave no indication of it. She apparently felt it was sufficient for her to come out like a cuckoo clock and remind them that she was still on the job. Certainly, it is not difficult to find such classic examples of poor discipline. Logical, reasonable, and consistent approaches to discipline are a bit more rare.
The American public has been subjected to many wild-horse opinions about child discipline, which have galloped off rapidly in all directions. Everyone from Aunt Bessie to the local undertaker has his own unique viewpoint about how children should be controlled, and what is worse, the experts have often been in direct contradiction with one another. The cause of their disagreement is simple: the principles of good discipline cannot be ascertained by scientific inquiry. The subject is too complicated and there are too many variables involved. Psychologists have been criticized and even ridiculed because they could not agree on a workable philosophy of child mangement, and yet every other profession has its unresolvable conflicts as well. The Supreme Court often splits five to four in its interpretation of the law. Physicians disagree violently on hundreds of medical issues, although their patients are usually unaware that the controversy exists. Likewise, there are thorny, unsettled questions to be faced by every profession and it should not be considered strange that experts on the subject of child development have failed to agree on the ideal approach to discipline in the home. Despite this disagreement in the past, I am thoroughly convinced that the proper control of children can be found in a reasonable, common sense philosophy, where five key elements are paramount.