More to Parenting Than Being Liked
- 1 August 2010 by Author 0 Comments
More to Parenting Than Being Liked
By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 08/01/10
Sometimes metaphors work, and sometimes they don’t. There are sometimes more differences than there are similarities, yet it appears that Chuck Klosterman, a writer for Esquire and other publications, is onto something.
“Right now,” he said, “we’re like a nation of Kevin Arnolds (from Happy Days); being likable is the only thing that seems to matter to anyone. You see this everywhere. Parents don’t act like parents anymore, because they mainly want their kids to like them; they want their kids to see them as their two best friends. This is why modern kids act like animals. At some point, people confused being liked with being good. Those two qualities are not the same. It’s important to be a good person; it’s not important to be a well-liked person. It’s important to be a good country; it’s not important to be a well-liked country. And I realize there are problems with America. But the reality behind those problems has no relationship to whether or not France (or Turkey, or Winnie Cooper) thinks we’re cool. They can like us, they can like like us, or they can hate us. But that is their problem, not ours.”
Politically, especially on the international stage, we are seeing more and more discontent with America. We are not well liked, nor are we respected by many around the globe. And who can blame them? The leader of our nation offends and publicly castigates our closest allies, reneges on promises to our friends, and heaps praise on our avowed enemies, all the while groveling in public ignominy lamenting of our nation’s flaws and errors. If there was a recipe book for politicians on how to ensure their country would not be liked or respected, our president could author it. He has compiled quite the anthology already.
Socially and culturally, there seems to be much truth to Klosterman’s observations as well. We have long departed from the “Leave It To Beaver” era of parenting where values and respect were the foundation of the parent/child relationship. Parents want to be “friends” with their kids, so values and respect take a back seat in child rearing, which has the natural yet undesirable unintended consequence of moral relativism in the children. There is less and less of a sense of right and wrong, and parents allow their children to engage in all kinds of promiscuous and self-destructive behavior, not wanting to press issues of morality for the sake of being “friends” with their kids. They are facilitators and accomplices in their kids’ aberrant and destructive behavior.
It also was the norm not long ago that other adults would often serve as proxy parents for misbehaving children. Adult friends and neighbors would look out for others’ children and reprove them for recalcitrant behavior and report them to their parents for proper disciplining. It seems most adults these days have bought into the same notion of being friends with the local kids rather than acting like adults and looking out for their welfare. No wonder we as a culture have regressed so far. Certainly there are other factors, but this fundamental societal breakdown, this shift from being good to being liked, has to be at the top of the causal list for our social degeneration. I think Hillary Clinton was right, it does take a village.
As Klosterman pointed out, being liked and being good are not synonymous. Neither are “unconditional love” and “support” synonymous. Generally we love our children regardless of the hurtful, stupid, and self-destructive things they do. But do we support them in their actions? If my child wants to commit suicide do I support him in his effort? Of course the notion is ludicrous, and so is it casuistic and specious to think parents should support their children in any other self-destructive behavior. But then, to the parent who prefers to be liked than to be a real parent, maybe the two are indeed synonymous.
There are studies bearing this out as well. Code Blue, a 1990 report by a blue-ribbon panel on the health of American teenagers, warned that “never before has one generation been less healthy, less cared for or less prepared for life than their parents were at the same age.” The experts concluded that the teens’ deteriorating condition was due to their behavior and not to physical illness.
Perhaps the distinction of being liked versus being good is just the reincarnation of the classic Platonic distinction of form versus substance. Someone’s nice or comely, and in today’s world those characteristics have more weight than character, integrity, and substance. What a sad commentary that we pass to successive generations not only a multigenerational national debt that they may never be able to repay, but also a collective social amorality where character matters less than aesthetics and likeability.
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board.