Parents Losing Control
Two stories recently stood out to me that, at first, might not seem related, but in truth are.
The first featured an “expert” saying that parents should ask their child’s permission before changing their diaper. No, I’m not making that up. The second reported on a set of parents going to court to try to evict their 30-year-old son. They had asked him to leave, he wouldn’t, and it went to court. The son demanded a 6-month notice before being forced to leave. And no, I’m not making that up, either.
The loss of parental authority and control within the home is pandemic. Whether it’s culture attempting to take it away, or parents abdicating their role, it’s eroding fast.
The irony is that countless parents wonder why their children are acting the way they are when the answer is clear: the parents aren’t in control. If they would take control, they effect would be dramatic.
Many years ago, James Dobson told a story about a 10‑year‑old boy named Robert. He was a patient of a California pediatrician. When Robert was scheduled for a visit to the doctor’s office, the news would spread like wildfire.
Nurses would whisper to themselves, “Batten down the hatches—Robert is coming!” He was an undisciplined terror. He would come in and tear magazines out of the holders, throw trash all over the waiting room and wreak havoc throughout the clinic. Each time, his mother would helplessly say, “Oh Robert, oh Robert.” And if the office staff corrected him in any way, he would bite, kick and scream his way back to the seat.
During one of his examinations, the pediatrician noticed that Robert had several cavities. He needed to refer him to a dentist, but he didn’t want to inflict one of his dentist friends with this holy terror. But then he remembered that one of his colleagues had an unusual rapport with children, and decided to send Robert there.
Robert saw his trip to the dentist as a new and exciting challenge in his ongoing battle of the wills. As he was ushered into the dentist’s office, he announced to the dentist that he was NOT going to get into the chair.
“Robert,” the dentist said, “I’m not going to force you, but I want you to climb up into the chair.”
Robert just clenched his fists and screamed at him that he would not.
The dentist patiently explained that Robert needed to get into the chair in order to get his teeth fixed.
Robert again refused—loudly.
Then Robert played his trump card: “And if you come over here and try to make me,” he said, “I’ll take off all my clothes.” Then, the dentist looked over at his assistant and back over at Robert, and simply said: “Fine. You go right ahead.”
And Robert did. He removed his shirt, undershirt, shoes and socks, and then stood there in his “Fruit of the Looms” and looked at the dentist in a pose of victory.
Then the dentist said, “All right, son, now get in that chair.”
“You didn’t hear me,” said Robert, “I said that if you make me get on that chair, I will take off all my clothes!”
The doctor did not back down.
So Robert continued to remove his clothes until he was as naked as the day he was born.
“Now,” said the dentist, “Get in that chair.”
And this time Robert did as he was told. No crying, no hitting, no kicking and no biting. When the cavities were drilled and filled, Robert climbed down and asked for his clothes. The dentist said: “No, son, I’m not going to give them to you. You can tell your mother that we’re going to keep your clothes tonight. She can pick them up tomorrow.”
So out came Robert from the dentist’s office into the waiting room, naked as the day he was born, to a very shocked mother!
But she didn’t say a word! She just took him by the hand, led him down the hall, and walked him right out into the parking lot to their car.
The next day the mother came for her son’s clothes and asked to speak to the dentist.
When he came out, she said:
“Doctor, I want to thank you for what you did to Robert yesterday. For as long as I can remember, he has threatened us with just about everything.
“But his favorite [threat] has been that he’ll take off his clothes if he doesn’t get his way. You’re the first person that has ever called his bluff, and he’s already become a different child!”
I know, that same story in today’s world would find the dentist in jail. But that’s the problem. We’re asking kids permission to change their diapers and having to sue to get them to leave their bedrooms.
I recall listening to NPR one day some years ago and heard an interview with a juvenile court judge. He said that, in his court, he had seen violent juvenile crimes rise dramatically over recent years. The reporter asked him why he thought that was happening. He said: “First, kids lost the admiration of authority. Then, they lost respect for authority. Now, they’ve lost the fear of authority.”
James Emery White
Kashmira Gander, “Ask Your Baby’s Permission Before Changing Diaper, Says Sexual Consent Expert,” Newsweek, May 10, 2018, read online.
Michelle Singletary, “Parents Who Went to Court to Evict Their Unemployed 30-Year-Old Son Did the Right Thing,” The Washington Post, May 24, 2018, read online.
Ed Young, From Bad Beginnings to Happy Endings.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.