Jan 20, 2011

Attenuated Discipline Disorder (ADD)

I listened to a lecture by Dr. Pelcovitz (a frum psychologist) in which he tells of a call he got two or three years ago from a principal, asking him to come and give a series of lectures on raising kids to be a mentch.  The principal conveyed a sense of urgency and when asked what prompted the call he said, the preschool class was invited to a 5 year old's birthday party which took place at a Manhattan disco complete with DJ.  Parents called to complain so the principal called the birthday child's mother and said, how can you make a disco party for a 5 year old?! Her answer was, "But he asked ..."

As Dr. Pelcovitz said, children can't thrive if love isn't balanced with limits and there is an erosion in parents' ability to say no.

Well, that certainly confirms what I've been thinking about, off and on, for the past long while, that the malady of our generation is not that we're not esteeming ourselves enough but that we lack discipline. I've come up with a catchy way to remember this disorder. It's the initials ADD (Attenuated Discipline Disorder), not coincidentally, the same acronym for another popular disorder. 

When parents are finding it hard to say no to little children, is it any wonder that people are growing up and not saying "no more" when they've had enough to eat and "no" to behaviors unbecoming or worse for Torah Jews?

When how we feel about everything is given the utmost attention and respect and this is deemed more important than obedience/kabbolas ol to what parents, teachers and ultimately Hashem says, we are going to reach a point where all sorts of unacceptable behaviors are elevated to the category of "mental/emotional health disorders" and medication and various therapies are seen as the cure rather than improved middos.  I'm afraid we've reached that point.  It's unfortunate because disciplined living is best learned at very young ages when parents instill structure and values such as seder/routines.  It's hard to retrain ourselves but we must! Here's hoping that we will start hearing lectures and reading articles about discipline and self control.  It will be quite a refreshing and welcome change.


  1. What I think must have happened is that earlier generations instilled discipline with liberal amounts of corporal punishment. I think of the man that used to be my neighbor. He was a non-observant Jew because his rebbe had smacked him in the face, as a child, for buying a non-Kosher ice cream cone. That is a sad excuse for dropping one's entire religious observance but he did it out of anger against his rebbe. I have seen numerous other people make bad life decisions because they were blinded by anger and resentment for what they felt was a controlling and abusive upbringing.
    OTOH, there is a reality show online called SuperNanny who spends several days in homes of people who were just too lazy to discipline their children and be the ones in control. In some cases, it was a wonder that the children had not been injured or killed due to lack of protection from dangers that the children were freely allowed to wander into. These parents are not worried a twit about self-esteem, they are just too lazy and into themselves to make the children obey even the most basic health and safety rules. Maybe their own parents had a misplaced sense of pity for their self-esteems when they were growing up and now as parents they are selfish and neglectful.
    I overheard my brother last night as he spoke to his foster child, a 17yr old boy, who has the maturity level of about 14 dues to his prior circumstances. The boy was asking if my brother could drive him somewhere the next day and my brother said , "yes, as long as your clothes are picked up before we leave." I was glad that my brother was willing to put himself out if the child did his chores.
    I know of plenty of people who rebelled against parents and teachers due to harsh disciplinary and control methods. They made bad decisions in life because they were blinded to the truth by their anger and resentment. Most of us do not react well to being controlled for the sake of being controlled and most of us try as adults to shed ourselves of over-controlling people and relationships. I know of people who refuse to have anything to do with their parents due to anger of how they were disciplined as children. They have no positive feelings or feelings of love toward their parents and it is painful for them to be anywhere near those parents or have even the smallest relationship with them. There are others who choose to have a distant and limited relationship rather than blot them out of life entirely.
    So there is lack of discipline and control, normal discipline and control and excessive or harsh discipline and control. Only the normal range produces a healthy outcome.

  2. Here are links to the articles concerning the Chinese disciplinary approach to parenting versus the Western more easy-going approach to parenting, that have made a furor in recent weeks:

    Why Chinese Mothers are Superior

    A response:
    In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom

    The Tiger Mother Responds to Readers

    another respondent

  3. The Chinese approach should be re-named, the "immigrant approach" since Jewish immigrants in the late 1800's who were seeking a better life in America were just as pushy about academic achievements. Amy Chua also admits that immigrants from other countries force their children to achieve.
    I don't get the impression that Jews in the European shtetlach pushed their sons into medical school but once they got to America, every Jewish boy's goal was to become a doctor and the goal of every Jewish girl was to marry one.
    Those children, who grew up on hard work, intense effort, and deprivation of fun and comfort, could give their own children comforts that were never before heard of and those children were so pampered and protected that the slightest stress in life put them in the mental hospital. There were jokes about extravagant bar mitzvahs and mothers whose sons could afford psychoanalysis to undo the effects of their parents' manipulative parenting. The new Jewish family was one of wealth but not of purpose. Many BTs walked away from the wealth to discover the purpose that comes from the self-discipline of adhering to a set of religious laws. These kids grew up without much discipline but could succeed simply because the wealth put them in a position for a better education.
    Obviously, punitive humiliating discipline can often produce people who cannot succeed because they fall apart but at the same time, those who are protected from every discomfort in life fall apart from the everyday stress of life. The truth lies somewhere in the middle path.

  4. I agreed with the initial piece about having to say no but once you posted the chinese piece it gave it all a different flavour.

    I came across this link from Aish http://www.aish.com/f/p/Are_Chinese_Parents_Superior.html which echoed my feelings on the matter.
    This approach answers both extreme examples.
    Making a disco party for a 5 year old because he asked is something I have no words to describe...

    True chinuch is about imparting to our children the values we want them to have and the people we want them to turn out to be.
    It has naught to do with shaming and bullying into being successful and getting A+ on all your subjects in school, Furthermore calling children garbage is atrocious

    We just made a Bar Mitzva for our son.
    From the start our approach was that this was a fantastic chinuch opportunity. Most of what we chose to do and how we chose to spend our money centred around what values do we want to impart to our son.

  5. Sounds like a special way to approach this milestone. Maybe you would consider writing an article about it to inspire other people when they have a simcha to make.

  6. hmm...thanks for the idea, maybe I will :)