The shift away from the passion of amateur parenting, toward the cold impersonality of professional parenting, is disheartening enough; but to see parents and pundits alike studiously investing the television set with parental authority is chilling. Certainly, television has been the de facto authority in many children’s lives for a long time now; but for parents to embrace and encourage this unnatural “relationship” is a new low.
It's important for kids to know and rely upon the fact that their parents are the ultimate earthly authorities in their lives -- not teachers, not the police, not the government, not television, nothing except God himself. These days many parents abdicate authority by refusing to make decisions and by then refusing to back up the few decisions they do make. They negotiate with their kids and implicitly give the kids power and influence by their own laziness. Kids become more afraid of what their friends will think and do than of what their parents will think and do.
When I was in third grade I had a friend named Jake who would tease me by grabbing my hat and running around with it. I complained to the teachers and they scolded him a few times, but when I told them that I wanted them to prevent him from stealing my hat again rather than just respond weakly each time, they said there wasn't anything they could do. I told my dad about the situation that night and he taught me where the solar plexus is and told me to punch Jake next time he stole my hat. Which I did.
The teachers were furious of course, but I told them that I shouldn't have had to do their job for them. (Which didn't soothe their anger, for some reason.) The school called in my parents from work and told them what happened. "Michael punched Jake!" they said, and I'll never forget my dad's response. "I know, I told him to. Good job," he said, and patted me on the shoulder.
This, again, didn't assuage the anger of teachers or the principal, but it lifted my spirits enormously and imbued in me a profound respect for my dad. I knew he'd stand by me and support me when I did the right thing, and I knew that as long as I did what he said everything else would be alright. I trusted him, and when he later instructed me on other matters I took his advice seriously and obeyed his (few) commands with confidence.
I don't have any kids yet, but from observation it seems that it's rather hard to be a good parent. It's not difficult to know what morals your kids should be learning, but it appears to be a real challenge to actually muster up the energy and love it takes to do the rearing. Everyone knows their kids should learn not to steal, but it takes attention and discipline to notice and correct a child when he does it. That's why children of two-parent families have such an advantage: it's not just the extra money (if any), it's the extra parental availability and energy.
(HT: Bill Hobbs for the pointer to Mr. Witt.)