Buzzfeed is calling for all the kids who had strict, conservative, fundamendalist parents to grouse about how horrible it was to grow up guided by two strong pairs of hands. I guess they wouldn’t know it from, you know, observing other people, but perhaps the only thing worse than having strict parents is having lax parents.
1. Learning Self-Restraint Pays Off Big
Back when I was immature (cough), I had a close friend whose parents let everyone know they believed in “giving kids their space.” I was so jealous that “Nicki’s” parents bought her a car when she turned 16; my parents could have, but they made me buy my own and pay my own insurance and gas, to boot. They also let her run around ordering ketchup packets from fast-food restaurants at 2 a.m. and laughing uproariously at how annoying she was to tired minimum-wage workers. Probably they never knew she did this. It was just one small expression of her utterly unrestrained attitude. This also contributed to her underage and non-underage binge drinking, petty thievery of yard signs, and later dive into drugs, from which so far she has not recovered. It’s been almost a decade.
One of the major functions of parents is to restrain and direct their inherently rambunctious and barbaric offspring, gradually letting off external controls as these offspring develop internal controls. The parent who stops his kid from running around under the clothing racks at Target turns out a child who respects social boundaries. In that respect, this parent performs two public services: One short-term, where the child is not running into Target shoppers and being a tiny nuisance, and the other long-term, where that child grows up and doesn’t play his stereo so loud neighbors have to hear it booming inside their child’s bedroom every night as they’re trying to put the baby to sleep.
Kids who learn self control at an early age earn more money, achieve more in school, and have more satisfying marriages. These sorts of behaviors have all sorts of positive benefits not just for the individual, but for society. And they are largely a result of parenting.
2. Life Has Tradeoffs
Nicki could watch any movies and listen to any music she wanted. We were limited to classical and contemporary Christian music (the latter of which I now can’t stand because the content and musical quality are so terrible). It felt like a huge act of rebellion for my brother to turn the radio to the “latest hits” station when we were out shlepping around in our cars in high school. This largely accounts for my horrible lack of pop culture knowledge.
But I consider it a worthy trade to not know about Snoop Dogg (or whoever—celebs are largely interchangeable) while having used that time to learn to play piano classically and by ear at a moderately high level. For most kids, the knowledge ratio is reversed. Does anyone really believe that the type of person who knows more about Snoop Dogg than Beethoven has the rich life we all aspire for our children to have? Does anyone really think a child’s life is more enriched by having spent it checking out porn or playing “Call of Duty” until his eyes bled?
I especially consider my restricted upbringing a worthy trade because it meant I’ve never been groped by boys at drunken parties or had to retch out my innards afterward, because I never went to those parties. By the time I was in high school, however, I didn’t avoid such illustrious events because my parents had banned me. I didn’t have a curfew in high school, because my parents trusted me. And I didn’t abuse their trust. If I was going to be home after midnight, I told mom, and she left the door unlocked and went to sleep in peace. Our arrangement protected me and de-stressed my parents while giving me the freedom young adults crave.
In college, I partied just fine when I was too tired to study any more, at the sort of off-campus houses where young men walk a lady home for safety after giving her a drink or two of the best stuff they have in the house, because they care that she enjoys herself with them more than they care about using her body like toilet paper. It’s a real tragedy more young ladies have not had the opportunity to enjoy a party like that. We all know their current party options are more likely to end in date rape than enriched mental, male, and alcohol tastes.
3. Saying ‘No’ Means ‘I Love You’
The message parents who “don’t interfere” send their children is that they just don’t care. They don’t care enough to step in and teach that child how to live. Nicki certainly felt that way. She acted like a vagabond, in part because her parents treated her like one—not through direct physical abuse or neglect, as theirs was a warm, well-curated, middle-class home, but through boundary neglect. They attended to her physical needs but neglected her spiritual needs.
As I noted earlier, children are born barbarians. Just have one. You’ll find that out within the first 24 hours. They can’t even eat properly. You have to teach them. And sometimes teaching even a baby means telling him “no.” No, you can’t bite mommy, because that injures her, which means no milk for you. No, you can’t wake mommy up eight times a night just to cuddle, because that makes her a raging bitch in the morning, which is also bad for you.
It’s actually hard to think of anything more cruel for a child who enjoys an otherwise comfortable home than parents who refuse to tell him “no,” because it’s an utter abdication of their responsibility for his character. Children who do not control themselves are miserable, and they inflict that misery on everyone around them. Children who know the rules are happier because they do not have to live in emotional chaos.
4. Strict Parenting Reduced My Propensity for Addictions
My parents were sugar police. Candy was for holidays and grandma’s house. And they were screen police. We were lucky to watch two whole kids’ movies per week, and subject to serious limits on computer time once we finally got one.
When I miraculously find a spare half hour for leisure and turn away from my Kindle towards something more productive or fulfilling, I thank my parents for setting my default programming to real life rather than virtual life. When I enjoy one little piece of cake but am quite satisfied to stop there, I thank my parents for setting my tastebuds to a wider range than the corn-syrup section. I never really developed a taste for or habit of gobbling sweets or escaping life through screens, thanks to my parents. So I actually have hobbies like gardening and crocheting and reading; I have a trim and healthy body. I feel like a multidimensional, capable person. What gifts!
5. I Enjoy Life More
When you watch just one movie per week, those weekends you get to binge watch Saturday morning cartoons at grandma’s are the bomb. It’s like having Lent before Easter: Saying no to sugar for 40 days makes Easter candy and cakes and pies super-delicious. Plus, then you get the joy of anticipation. Good things really are better when you wait for them. Just as pornography ruins people’s ability to enjoy or even respond to sex, gorging yourself on otherwise good things has diminishing returns.
In short, my upbringing meant I never lost out on anything worth having. In fact, my strict parents expanded my self-reliance and self-control, and allowed me to blossom slowly, without feeling wrenched from the bud. Every child deserves to have parents who love their kids enough to tell them, “No.” Those parents are entirely justified in then turning around and snickering when the kids predictably have a hissy fit and self-righteously proclaim, in the attitude of Buzzfeed, “you never let me do anything! You hate me!”
If you’re lucky, mom and dad, they’ll grow out of it. Maybe it will help if you limit their Buzzfeed intake.