April 13, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, April 13, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Why can't positive reinforcement replace punishment in parenting? Children are born sinners.
The way we parent reflects our worldview, and inevitably our worldview determines our parenting. That comes to mind in a recent article that appeared at The Atlantic. It’s entitled,
“No Spanking, No Time-Out, No Problems.”Show Full Transcript
“A child psychologist argues punishment is a waste of time when trying to eliminate problem behavior. Try this instead.”
Well, what we ask might this be? Olga Khazan writing for The Atlantic says,
“Say you have a problem child. If it’s a toddler, maybe he smacks his siblings. Or she refuses to put on her shoes as the clock ticks down to your morning meeting at work. If it’s a teenager, maybe he peppers you with obscenities during your all-too-frequent arguments. The answer is to punish them, right?
“Not so, says Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center. Punishment might make you feel better, but it won’t change the kid’s behavior. Instead, he advocates for a radical technique in which parents positively reinforce the behavior they do want to see until the negative behavior eventually goes away.”
Now, before we look at the proposals advocated by this professor, we ought to consider what’s really at stake when we are understanding a child. The big worldview divide in this country when it comes to children comes down to whether or not the child is understood to be a sinner. That’s a theological category indispensable to biblical theology. But it’s also an idea that is increasingly at odds with our secular society.
But this question actually didn’t appear only in the modern age. Even the ancient Greeks debated as to whether or not children were inherently morally good, morally neutral, or morally bad. The biblical worldview makes clear that it’s not just children, that all of us are sinners.
“All we like sheep have gone astray.” “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
The Christian biblical worldview makes clear that children are born in sin, indeed, each one of us conceived in sin, and thus we as Christian parents are not surprised when our children sin. That’s what we expect. That’s what the biblical worldview tells us that we must expect. And yet if you’re operating from a secular worldview, what do you expect from your own children? Certainly when you’re looking at the child in the earliest stages, it looks quite innocent. He or she is there without any apparent moral malice. But in a period of time, that moral malice shows up. Disobedience is not unexpected when it comes to raising children, and here you have a professor at Yale University who says the wrong thing to do in the face of misbehavior or disobedience is to punish the child.
Now when we’re considering the impact of worldview on parenting, it really comes down to whether or not we believe that what we’re trying to do is to pull out the innate goodness in the child, or whether we are trying in some sense to discipline the child from what is innately a desire to do what is wrong. Now the biblical worldview does not say that either we ourselves or our neighbors or our children intend only to do evil. That’s not what the Bible tells us. The Bible tells us that evil is wrapped up in virtually everything that we do, and evil we are told, is bound up even in the heart of a child. That’s a very important thing for the Christian to understand. Again, that doesn’t mean that our children do only that which is wrong. It doesn’t mean that our children never mean to please us. It doesn’t mean that our children are constantly plotting how they can misbehave. It does mean that our children do not have to learn how to sin, it comes altogether naturally.
But again the worldview issue comes down to whether or not we believe that what we’re trying to do in terms of parenting our children is to bring out that which is innately good in them or to deal with that which is honestly innately wrong. Furthermore, there are at least some who argue that a child is born as an absolutely blank slate upon which we can write, and not only parents but society at large will write whatever that child will become. When it comes to most parents writes Khazan,
“They’re busy and stressed, so they’re too lenient one day and too harsh the next. They have outdated or no knowledge of child psychology, and they’re scrambling to figure it all out.”
Now this raises a very interesting question from the Christian worldview. Would it help to have a knowledge of what is described here as child psychology? Not, we should note, if that child psychology is based in a secular worldview that is at odds with the reality that is revealed about the child, about all children, in Scripture. The Bible has its own child psychology, and about the child the Bible is very clear. That is why children need parents, and that is why parents must exercise discipline as a part of what they do as parents and raising a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. That’s the biblical phrase. And remember, that nurture refers to that which is positive, but admonition inherently is defined as that which requires a negative action by the parent in order to correct the child. But many modern liberal child experts don’t believe that correction is actually ever called for, and certainly not punishment. But about that the Bible is very clear. We are told that children actually require discipline in order to be rightly taught and in order in one sense merely to be protected from themselves. When it comes to Professor Kazdin he says the answer to good parenting is not punishing bad behavior, but reinforcing good behavior. He says that what too many parents do is to punish when their child does something that is wrong without asking why the child is taking such an action, why the child is demonstrating defiance or disobedience. He says that the research shows that telling an instruction does not change human behavior very well.
Now this is really interesting. In other words, parents shouldn’t actually believe, according to this worldview and according to this professor, that children will merely obey them simply because they are parents. That tells us a great deal about the direction of the modern mind. Kazdin refers to his approach as applied behavioral analysis and he says what it focuses on are three things to change behavior. What comes before the behavior, how you craft the behavior, and then what you do at the end. When it comes to what comes before the behavior, Kazdin says that one of the problems is that parents simply do not give their children choices. For example, he says, all instruction should be given gently “tone of voice dictates whether you’re going to get compliance or not.”
But then he goes on to say that parents should give their children choices. Instead of putting on a particular coat, the child should be told, why don’t you put on your red coat or your green coat? You choose. The professor then says this,
“And now the behavior itself. When you get compliance, if that’s the behavior you want, now you go over and praise it … very effusively, and you have to say what you’re praising exactly.”
Professor Kazdin summarizes his approach by saying that what parents need to do when they’re raising children or teenagers is give an emphasis to reinforcing the non-occurrence of bad behavior. Just consider those words one more time: reinforcing the nonoccurrence of the behavior. The parent is instead praising when a bad behavior doesn’t happen, rather than when a good behavior does. In this case, the approach is all about praising what is defined as a nonoccurrence of an undesired behavior.
Now once again, what we’re looking at here is the revelation of a worldview behind this entire understanding of parenting, and we’re also seeing simultaneously that the way one approaches parenting in this case reflects everything about one’s worldview, whether or not you understand human beings in general and children specifically to need instructions, to need boundaries, to need very clear directions, and to need from time to time discipline and corrective parental attention.
This raises a host of studies done in recent years that have demonstrated that there are two ways of parenting that generally do not work. The first is permissive parenting and the second is authoritarian. Permissive parenting is parenting by those who simply say that the child is left to his or her own devices, where the parent does not instruct, the parent does not discipline, the parent does not punish, but instead takes a permissive attitude towards the behavior of the child. When it comes to authoritarian parenting, that means that parents are simply using parental authority in a way that is a blunt instrument. They are simply implicitly or explicitly using the expression, “because I said so” as the end of the argument.
Now any parent will come to certain moments when the phrase “because I said so” does have to end an argument. But the Christian parent understands that the child actually deserves far more. The biblical vision of raising a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord requires that children not only be given directions, but the children be taught. That’s a very important element. The child is to be taught by the parent from the Scripture concerning all that God is revealed. Raising the child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord requires not only that the parent give clear directions and expect to be obeyed, but also that the parents teach the child. That’s the nurture. The biblical parent is defined for instance in the book of Deuteronomy as a father who teaches his son the law of God in order that the son may have a long life. What we have here is what’s missing in this modern secular worldview when the child is misunderstood and thus the entire concept of parenting is similarly misunderstood. A humanistic worldview has replaced the biblical worldview and there is untold confusion in that wake.
Well, it’s interesting that even secular observers and secular researchers point out that permissive parenting doesn’t work and authoritarian parenting doesn’t work for long. So what does work? That’s authoritative parenting, as defined as the parent speaking from parental authority as God has assigned that authority, but also using that authority not merely to punish, not merely to threaten but also to teach, not merely to command but also to instruct. This is where the wise Christian parent understands that the entire process of parenting, nurture and admonition, is not only about reaching the mind of the child or even merely the behavior of the child, but reaching the heart of the child. But honestly, sometimes looking at an article like this, I have to wonder if those who are behind it are actually themselves parents, and if they’ve actually parented the way they’re telling others they should parent.
Do women face "pregnancy penalties" at work? Only if motherhood and children are devalued.
Speaking of parenting, NBC News ran a very interesting article that tells us a great deal about the thinking of the modern world. Safia Samee Ali for NBC tells us that,
“The ‘motherhood penalty’ [as identified by many activists and economists], can affect women who never even have a child.”
This tells us as I said, a very great deal about the challenge we now face. Ali writes,
“As women fight what has been an uphill battle for equal pay, they continue to face another exacerbating factor: being penalized for the fact that they could — regardless of whether they will — have children.”
Now this article comes from a very interesting perspective, and the background of this is what’s identified as the wage gap in general between men and women. The closer look at that wage gap demonstrates that most of it is the result of women who leave the workforce for some time after having children only to reenter it lately, and that comes with a vocational or professional gap that often cannot be made up. And yet what we’re looking at here is also the fact that most women indicate that they want to leave the workplace, at least for some amount of time after having a child. But the article here tells us,
“While much of the public discussion of the ‘wage gap’ has focused around women getting equal pay for the same work as their male peers, this quiet ‘pregnancy penalty’ has gotten less attention, in part because it’s so much more difficult to measure. But some experts argue that even the mere possibility that a woman can have a baby can be enough for employers to push her to the back of the line.”
Now one of the things that is really interesting in this article is that having a child is never celebrated at all. As a matter of fact, having a child is treated as more of a professional problem than anything else. Mary Ann Mason, professor and co-director of the Center for Economics & Family Security at the University of California at Berkeley, argues that,
“That’s why female graduate students think twice about children.”
They recognize “the potential damage to their careers.”
Another very interesting statement comes from Anne-Marie Slaughter, generally a very thoughtful person. She’s an author and former director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department. She said that there’s a,
“…higher standard [to which women are held] due to an antiquated notion that women who are pregnant are perpetually pre-occupied with their babies and cannot possibly be productive.”
But the really interesting thing is the direct quote from Anne-Marie Slaughter where she says,
“Pregnant women and mothers are assumed to be less committed to their careers.”
But at this point we simply have to make the observation that having a child as a mother would certainly bring into the equation something different than the experience of not having a child. At the very least, that child represents an unmitigated priority at times that must in terms of a mother’s life takes some priority over the professional context and professional responsibilities.
Now I think most operating out of the Christian worldview would think not only that that’s necessary, but that in some sense, that’s absolutely right. And that’s why what we should pinpoint as the problem from a Christian perspective is too little respect for mothering as indeed a calling that is so highly honored in Scripture. The fact is that this reveals the worldview of so many in our society that a woman really isn’t doing important work if the woman is not in a professional context and recognized as such. And furthermore, what’s described here as a ‘pregnancy penalty’ is something that in one sense is going to be inevitable. And it is something that is absolutely built into nature which points to something else. What we see here is not only a demand for righteousness and justice and equity—all of that should be respected. But what is understood here is that women will never actually be equal with men, unless the question of pregnancy can be taken off the table in terms of any professional consequence whatsoever.
Now before we leave this we need to recognize that that was part and parcel of the argument made to the United States Supreme Court in the Roe v. Wade case back in 1973 legalizing abortion. The argument was that unless a woman has a right to terminate a pregnancy, she will find herself at a professional disadvantage when compared to men who by biological definition do not suffer the same professional risk in terms of having a child. When looking at a story like this the most interesting question to ask is how in the world would anyone propose that this be rectified. From a secular perspective, from a secular worldview, how is this problem here identified to be resolved?
One of the things we see increasingly on the left is because the biological realities cannot be equalized in terms of the investment in pregnancy and childbirth and child rearing, then the workplace must in some sense be equalized so that even if women do leave the professional context for some time it comes with no penalty. But you’ll note, virtually no one explains how that is supposed to happen. By definition, no one should be underpaid, whether male or female, mother or father, but that’s not the interesting worldview perspective revealed in this article. What’s revealed in this article is the secular worldview’s war on biological fact and its resistance to the idea that in any way there is an inherent difference in men and women when it comes to the experience of being a parent and how that should be recognized in the larger society.
I simply have to come back to the fact that the saddest thing in all of this is that childbearing and pregnancy is never celebrated and motherhood is never adequately honored, and that points to the biggest problem in our society when it comes to what is pinpointed in this article. The biggest problem is that motherhood isn’t adequately honored in the society around us. That’s something important for us to note, and something about which we should be concerned. But the bigger problem would be if motherhood isn’t honored among Christians, the way a biblical worldview would clearly demand.
John Kasich says he wouldn't sign "anti-LGBT" law, asks why we can't just agree to disagree
Next, the 2016 presidential race has been far too contentious, often times crude and rude. But there’s an equal and opposite problem, and that’s reflected in a comment recently made by Ohio Governor John Kasich when he said he wouldn’t have signed North Carolina’s recent law indicating that bathrooms in public context should be assigned according to the biological sex determined at birth. Ryan J. Reilly, reporting for the Huffington Post, tells us,
“Republican presidential candidate John Kasich said Sunday that he wouldn’t have signed a North Carolina law that banned cities in the state from passing anti-discrimination measures and mandated that transgender people use the public bathrooms for the gender they were assigned at birth.”
The Governor said,
“I wouldn’t have signed that law from everything I know.”
He was speaking in response to a question on CBS’s program “Face the Nation.” He then went on to say,
“Why do we have to write a law every time we turn around in this country? Can’t we figure out just how to get along a little bit better and respect one another?” Kasich asked. “I mean, that’s where I think we ought to be. Everybody chill out. Get over it if you have a disagreement with somebody.”
Now that’s the kind of statement that you might expect from Mr. Rogers on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” That is not the kind of serious statement, you would expect from a serious candidate for the presidency of the United States. Yes, it would be absolutely nice if everybody got along. But Christians understand that would only happen if, at least to some considerable degree, we share a worldview and basic moral understanding of the universe around us. We’re looking at the fact that there are very real and very deep disagreements over some of the most basic moral questions we face as a society, including the very question of gender, the ordering of human sexuality, and the institution of marriage. This isn’t something that we can simply agree to disagree upon, and that’s exactly why this statement is in itself an example of what happens when a politician evades dealing with the question rather than directly acknowledging it. The other basic problem is that as governor of Ohio, John Kasich can’t avoid over time dealing with the very same issues that the Governor of North Carolina had to deal with when confronted with this law. Thankfully, the North Carolina Governor did sign it.
The 2016 presidential race has given us too many examples of how people can be rude and crude and worse, but in an example like this we’re also shown that evading a question and a genuine, deep, cultural disagreement is something that also doesn’t help our American political discourse; it doesn’t help to move us forward. Regardless of the reason, it is not good news that the Ohio governor running for the Republican presidential nomination told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he would not have signed this North Carolina bill. That also tells us something very, very important.