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Discipline is not a dirty word

Children need boundaries and discipline to be happy. In parenting circles, not everyone agrees. This, in our opinion, is a major mistake.

Bringing up children is a difficult job – and different people have different strategies.

This is fine as long as the fundamental building blocks are put in place. Neglect the foundations, however, and problems soon start to appear.

The basic foundation is love. But love is not all that you need.

Another solid base – a thing that strong and effective parenting should be built with – is discipline. This might sound harsh to some, but it’s one of the key things that our children need to aid their development and shape their outlook on life. Children need us to be their parents, not their friends. Tough love is still love. In this, we’re a little old fashioned.

Consider the alternatives. Methods are very different in Sweden, for instance, where, in 1979, having become the first nation on Earth to ban the physical punishment of children, parents were encouraged to reconfigure their approach to raising their offspring. In families, traditional hierarchies were jettisoned as children were treated as adults from an earlier age. This child-centred style – known as permissive parenting – sounds great in theory, but the truth is rather different.

To some in Scandinavia, this abrupt change in tack has created a generation of arrogant young adults, who are lacking in social empathy and personal resilience. Having been pampered as children, this generation is unprepared for the disappointments that adulthood has to offer. Evidence suggests that discipline in schools has collapsed and that grades are down and suicides up. This is all, experts claim, due to the failure of Swedish parents to impose the basic boundaries that we believe are vital.

‘Saying no to a child isn’t the same as beating a child,’ says David Eberhard, an eminent psychiatrist who has written a book called How Children Took Power. ‘Parents should act like parents, not best friends. Parents should prepare their kids for adult life by teaching them how to behave [and] not treat them like princes and princesses’.

This might not be a popular view and it’s one that some parents might find unpalatable. But it’s one that has merits and one that might just hold the key to tackling some of the problems that are becoming commonplace both here and abroad.

‘[Children’s] expectations are too high and life is too hard for them,’ adds Dr Eberhard. ‘We see it with anxiety disorders and self-harm, which have risen dramatically’.

This isn’t just a Swedish problem. Here in the UK, Frank Furedi, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent and the author of Paranoid Parenting, has described his concern at what he calls ‘a voluntary abdication of adult authority’. He adds, ‘It began with stigmatising the punishment of children and mutated into a fear of disciplining them, which is what parents are supposed to do.’

Therein lies the crux. This is what we’re supposed to do as parents. To set the appropriate boundaries and to ensure a certain degree of discipline. To guide and to teach. To set an example. To put the foundations in place and prepare our children for adulthood and the challenges that life sets.

External discipline leads to self-discipline, which in turn breeds self-esteem. This is what children and young people need in order to avoid certain pitfalls. It is a vital part of parenting. Children don’t develop self esteem just by being told they are great. They also need to act and learn. To try and fail. To try again and eventually succeed.

In today’s society, ‘discipline’ is sometimes made to sound like a dirty word.

The truth, in our opinion, couldn’t be more different.