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Do You Want to Raise an Obedient Child?

It may be dangerous to raise a child who automatically obeys.

"Morality is doing what's right no matter what you're told. Obedience is doing what you're told no matter what's right."—H.L. Mencken

iStock/Used with Permission
Source: iStock/Used with Permission

Most parents feel embarrassed when their child doesn't obey them. When we say jump, they're supposed to jump, right? If they don't, isn't that evidence that we're lousy parents?

Actually, no. It would certainly be more convenient if our children responded to our raised eyebrow by jumping to it. But it may even be dangerous to raise a child who obeys automatically, who swallows his objections and does what he's told without question. Here's why.

Obedient children grow into obedient adults. They're less likely to stand up for themselves and more likely to be taken advantage of. They're also capable of simply following orders without question, without taking responsibility for their actions.

Even for children, unquestioning obedience isn't healthy. Here are a few situations that children I know have confronted in the past year:

  • A 3-year-old was molested by an older child.
  • A 5-year-old was molested by an older child.
  • A 6-year-old was screamed at, up close and personal, by a coach.
  • An 8-year-old was bullied.
  • An 11-year-old was recruited by the mean girls to participate in their behavior.
  • A 12-year-old was offered drugs.
  • A 14-year-old was date-raped by a boy at a party.

Are these children responsible for what happened to them? Of course not, and neither are their parents. No matter what.

And if they had been able to say "No!" louder, would these events still have unfolded as they did?

Maybe. Maybe not. We can't know. But we do know that bullies and molesters select targets who they think won't stand up for themselves. We know that experts say children should be trained to resist abductors. Research shows that teens are more resistant to peer pressure if they're used to asserting their opinions with their parents.

The truth is, no parent can know what her child will have to face, so we can only give them all the inner resources we can. One resource is the ability to stand up for herself; to raise her voice and refuse to go along with the person who is trying to take advantage.

That doesn't mean you don't set limits. And sometimes children do have to do what adults say. But children also need to learn they have a right to say no sometimes. How do they learn that? Experience.

  • Every time your child comes to you when he's upset, and you listen and take his concerns seriously.
  • Every time you set a limit with empathy, so you acknowledge her view, even when she can't get her way.
  • Every time you look for a win/win solution instead of imposing your will.
  • Every time you remind yourself that you can't control anyone but you.
  • Every time you remind yourself that your baby, your toddler, your preschooler is a person in his own right, with a right to his own preferences.
  • Every time you say "You're in charge of that decision" or "What do you think about that?"
  • Every time you calm yourself enough to say "I hear you think I'm being unfair...I really want to hear what you think...let's try a do-over with respectful voices so I can understand your perspective."
  • Every time you remind yourself that force creates pushback.
  • Every time your child objects, and you take her objection seriously.

So if you've always thought that children should be obedient, I invite you to reconsider. Respectful and cooperative? Yes, absolutely! Kids grow up that way when we listen to their thoughts, treat them with respect, and invite cooperation by working together on solutions.

Obedient? Maybe not.

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