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The Democratic Revolution

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, November 05, 2013

This article is a bit of a departure for me, in that I didn't actually write it myself.  It was a handout that I received at a workshop that I attended when I was in graduate school, and have recently come across while spring cleaning my filing cabinets.  I think it gives a great overview of how parenting has changed over the past number of generations, and helps us to really understand why some of the previous "go-to" parenting strategies are just not working as they used to.

The article was written by an Adlerian counsellor named Steve Maybell.  Unfortunately I couldn't find any contact information for him as he doesn't appear to have a web site.  But he has written a number of books that you should be able to find at http://www.chapters.ca/ or by going through the North American Society of Adlerian Psychology web site at http://www.alfredadler.org/.  This article is quickly becoming a staple in the work I do with parents today; I hope it provides you with a number of your own "aha" moments.

Our Changing Society: The Implication For Parents Of The Democratic Revolution

By Steven A. Maybell, Ph.D. (adapted from Raising Respectful Kids in a Rude World)

Our society has changed in many ways in the past couple of generations: advanced technology, availability of illegal drugs, more working parents, latch-key kids, overcrowded schools, etc. One of the most impactful change in our society that has brought about far reaching effects, we call “the democratic revolution”.

Since the beginning of human civilization, human relationships have been organized in the same manner. In every human relationship there has been a built-in structure defining one member of the relationship as occupying the superior position and other the inferior position. This kind of relationship is referred to as a “vertical” relationship (picture a vertical line from above to below). Society was structured in this way and this consistency resulted in general acceptance and compliance. Some of the obvious examples were:

Area of Social Life The “Superior” Position The “Inferior” Position
Government Dictatorial leaders The citizens, the people
The workplace Boss, owners, management The workers
Race relations Caucasians People of colour
Gender relations Males Females
Parent-child relations

Parents (moms and dads)

Children

People in society who occupied the “superior” position had all the power and those occupying the “inferior” position were restricted to adapting to this power.

The essential methods applied by the “superiors” to maintain order (and power) included the following coercive tactics:

1. Imposing rules

2. Rewarding those who obey the rules

3. Punishing those who violated the rules

Looking again at the social institutions and the hierarchy that was traditionally established in all of them, it is interesting to note the vast changes that have occurred:

· In government: a worldwide trend toward democracy where people have influence, e.g. representation, ability to vote.

· In the workplace: the union movement, strikes, progressive workplace legislation (the 40 hour workweek, minimum wage, profit sharing). Workers now have influence.

· In race relationships: the civil right moment. People of colour standing up for equality.

· In gender relations: the women’s movement. Women empowering themselves in government, the workplace, marriage, etc.

The above developments are what is meant by the “democratic revolution”. As if in mass during the latter part of the 20th century, the human community has declared that all human beings have value, must be treated with respect, and therefore are deserving to take part in matters that affect their lives, regardless of position, race, gender, or even age.

Equality is in the air, and whether we like it or not, our children breathe the same air. Today’s children are raised in a different social environment than we were. They are raised in an environment where social equality is a given. Beginning with kids growing up in the 1960’s, children have increasingly pictured themselves as equals to their parents, and are operating on an “equality identity”. The current generation of parents were raised on the tail end of the traditional period, when parents still occupied a superior position and where kids operated on a “subordinate identity”. Since most parents have learned their model of parenting by observing their own parents, what we are witnessing is a collision of forces occurring in all of our homes and schools.

We tend to operate from the vertical coercive traditions learned from our parents, applying these methods to a generation of children who for the first time picture themselves as equals. What is the result?

1. When rules are imposed on kids – rebellion is a way of demonstrating equality.

2. When we apply the punishment model – kids in their efforts to be equal find ways to punish us in return.

3. When we use a reward system – kids expect a reward for most everything they do.

The “clash of forces” between the outmoded, traditional model of parenting and today’s youth may result in considerable conflict and violence. The remedy is not to go back in time and attempt to make the coercive model work, anymore than we can expect citizens, employees, minorities, or women to once again accept a position of inferiority. The coercive model of parenting so often results in power struggles between parents and kids that can have difficult and painful results. The remedy is also not to pamper our kids, that is, do for them on a consistent basis what they can do for themselves. Pampering is another kind of vertical relationship. In our democratic world, kids who are pampered move so readily from the mindset of being equal to their parents to one of being superior. They consider special treatment to be something they are entitled to with dependency, self-centeredness, vindictiveness, and stalled development as a frequent outcome.

The discouraging message we send to our kids when we adopt the coercive model is, “It is obvious you are not able to do things well enough on your own, so I will make you.” The discouraging message we send to our kids when we adopt the pampering model is, “It is obvious you are not able to do things well enough on your own, so I will do them for you.”

The irony is that parents who adopt the coercive model and attempt to control their kids lose all control. Likewise, parents who adopt the pampering model and attempt to make their kids happy, tend to make their kids miserable.

The new tradition that is required is one whereby our kids are not able to picture themselves in a position of inferiority to their parents or other adult leaders…for when they do, based on their “equality identity” they are compelled to actively or passively resist or rebel.

At the same time, parental leadership is important in any family. The question becomes, what type of leadership? Controlling, demanding, and punitive leadership always result in resistance, rebellion, and disrespect. Overindulgent leadership always results in dependency, a sense of entitlement, and demanding behaviour. Kids today will be truly influenced only by a parent they respect. With the democratic revolution in full swing, respect cannot be expected and demanded, it must be won. Winning respect involves giving respect.

The real solution is in developing a new tradition in parent-child relationships where parents as leaders in the family incorporate methods of communication, problem-solving and discipline based on mutual respect and which emphasize taking the child’s value as a person into account.

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Andrea Ramsay Speers • Psychotherapist & Parent Coach • Oakville Family Institute • 175 Glenashton Dr., Oakville ON • Tel.: 905-491-6949

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