Gateway Gazette

Tom Barthel: Mixing morality with parenting can be a dangerous combination!

This is going to be tricky because I do not want to raise the “emotional fire” that comes up when people talk about morality and their opinions. Morality is very much situated in the part of the human brain that also operates opinions. The human brain values opinions in a certain way that can cause the person to vigorously defend their opinions and have great emotional outbursts.

Let me explain in a very quick manner. Our brains have very strong drives that give us a variety of emotion. These drives have very little thinking behind them. Like our drive to drink water, eat food, panic when we are afraid, and sex, etc…… All things which are necessary for us to survive. Although sometimes these drives cause us trouble, but that is because they are not intelligent drives. Another drive our brain has is to protect it’s self esteem.  Our brain will not want us to be wrong about something because that means there could be something wrong with us, and that is not good for survival. That is extremely over simplified.

So when people have an opinion about something it is usually for a deep rooted reason. If someone comes along and tells us we are wrong, our brain kicks in with the biggest   *&%$!@ __you  it can come up with. This is why I don’t want to offend anyone by trespassing on what they think is right or wrong.

That is exactly my point with addicted, mentally ill, and troubled youth and family members. If you make them “wrong” about something, their ears will turn off and might even behave worse. If I tell you your morals are wrong, you will get defensive too and that will be the end of you learning anything from me.

Reason #1 You don’t make troubled youth wrong: They will get defensive and reject you and more advice from you.

Reason #2 You don’t make troubled youth wrong: Troubled people live in a different world. They could be walking around with different emotions than what me and you are feeling. 9 times out 10 their actions are the most logical thing they could be doing in that moment to relieve them of their painful emotions.

  1. They could have crippling low self esteem and be absolutely dying for acceptance by other youth. This means that committing a small crime to “impress” some other boys is actually very logical because it brings them the one thing that could relieve them from crippling low self esteem.
  2. A girl might engage in sexual relations because that will keep a boy interested. This could relieve her of extreme feelings of loneliness and low self esteem. She might even do that even if that boy or man abuses her. Abuse however proves she is important to that person, anger is a form of intimacy and is very personal, and all of that still satisfies her need for intimacy and attention.

So when a troubled person makes these decisions in life they are in a desperate attempt to sooth extremely uncomfortable emotions. When their parents come along and say “Your decisions are wrong!” All that kid hears is their attempt to feel better is wrong, or they don’t have the right to feel better. It is the ultimate insult. Then the child becomes defensive, the ears turn off, and you lose all influence over them. This is bad.

Conclusion: Don’t make your child wrong for the decisions they make.

The real big catch with this: If you have morals as a parent, and your child does something immoral by your standards, how do you not make them wrong when they are?

Allow them to adopt their own morals for themselves because he/she will anyways. As have 7 other billion people on earth.

It is okay tell your children what your morals are and why their behaviours are offensive to you.

But do not bear down on them with a heavy burden of anger and displeasure with the very essence of who they are, convincing them you dislike or disapprove of them.

Reject the behaviour not the person, Jesus probably said that.

Instead of making them wrong, carefully explain how their behaviour can cause great disadvantage to them in the short term and long term. Make it about showing them how some behaviours are against their own self interest.

(Street Smart Counselling)

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