Monday, November 23, 2009

Going to the dogs

This was an interesting read:

It’s little wonder, then, that some parents, and even a few child therapists, have found themselves taking mental notes from a television personality known for inspiring discipline, order and devotion: Cesar Millan, otherwise known as the Dog Whisperer.

The suggestion that the Dog Whisperer is also a Child Whisperer of sorts has popped up — sometimes couched as a joke, but, well, not really — in parents’ forums like blogs, online discussion boards, magazines, Twitter feeds and podcasts. Some parents are starting to take notice.

“When we started watching his shows, we had intended to apply his advice toward our dogs,” said Amy Twomey, a blogger on parenthood for The Dallas Morning News who is raising three children under 10 with her husband, Matt. “But we realized a lot of ideas can be used on our kids.”

Indeed, Mr. Millan’s advice has replaced a shelf full of books on how to tame an unruly child. “It’s all the same simple concept: how to be the pack leader in your own house,” she said. [...]

Allison Pearson, author of the novel “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” which explored the stresses of modern motherhood, explained how parents would naturally envy the authority of dog trainers. “My generation got itself in a muddle about parenting,” she wrote by e-mail. “We thought that obedience was the enemy of love. We didn’t want the kids to be afraid of us, but after a while we found ourselves wondering: do we have to do what they say the whole time?”

“Unlike modern parents,” she added, “dog trainers don’t think discipline equals being mean. They understand that dogs are happiest when they know their position in the hierarchy.”

Do go and read the whole thing.

There are as many philosophies about parenting as there are parents, but I admit to being mystified by the ones which insist that parents need to lay aside such concepts as "obedience" or "discipline." I think too much of that sort of attitude does lead to the phenomenon described by the parents in the New York Times piece: the upside-down, children in charge, parents along-for-the ride sort of situation that can lead to utter chaos in the home.

Now, I know that even those of us who believe in discipline and the idea of obedience can struggle to implement these things--but that makes me think it must be exponentially harder if you are a parent who has somehow adopted the idea that saying "no," or demanding a child's attention to your rules, is bad for the child. It has been my experience as a parent that children need rules and limits to be really happy and secure.

As a Catholic, I know that this is true for all of us. God, our Heavenly Father, knows that we too are often like children: willful, spoiled, intent on getting our own way. Our fallen human nature lets us neglect the good and choose the bad, and even act against our own self-interests or in ways that are dangerous to us. I think any Christian parent who understands the Fall of Man knows why children need to know that obedience and love are integrally connected.

But in an age that has forgotten that simple reality, that we are not as we were meant to be, it's not that surprising that parental discipline theory may be going to the dogs. Literally.


Dawn Farias said...

Thanks for sharing. I'm glad to see discipline creeping back in to the popular culture. I tried it the "other" way and no one was happy.

JMB said...

In his book, Cesar states that he learned everything about dogs while watching his father and his dogs in his native Mexico, where the Mexicans treat their dogs like dogs. In the US, he claims, Americans treat their dogs like children. So it makes perfect sense that some Americans would apply his dog training skills to their children.

Rebecca said...

When I read the Monks of New Skete, who raise German Shepherds in New York, I thought, "this is better than most child rearing books I have read". I'm not familiar with the dog-whisperer, but I thought the Monks were so refreshing because while they are strong on the obedience/discipline factor, they also recognize a dog's nature and consider the owner responsible for dealing with the dog according to his nature and its needs, rather than the typical behavioral fare of "here's how to get the dog/child to do what you want it to do." I think a big problem with the parenting stuff on both sides--super-disciplined or permissive--is that the child is treated as a lump of behaviors which can be maneuvered at will, rather than a being with a God-given nature.