BOSTON — When a child has a full-blown, kicking-and-screaming tantrum in the middle of the floor at the grocery store and the young, affluent mother's only response is, "He's just acting out one of his little dramas. He'll be through in a minute," you know that the all-important human activity of raising children is in a serious state of decline.
I will admit right up front that I am probably one of the world's only childless child-raising experts. How's that possible? For one thing, I'm unburdened by the everyday emotional ups and downs that are a natural byproduct of raising one's own kids. Without that burden, my vision of what to do with an ill-behaved child is crystal clear, and no nonsense.
My only other qualification is that I am imbued - rather unremarkably - with common sense. Unfortunately, it is that very commodity which seems most sorely missing in today's ultrasensitive, politically correct era where a child's self- esteem is wrongly thought to be more fragile than a porcelain doll.
There have been too many decades now of child "experts" who have done their level best to convince us that to spank or to chastise or to induce guilt over wrongdoing could damage children's self-esteem or otherwise traumatize them. The result is that child-rearing is a pathetic shell of what it once was.
Because of that, I've had to be on the receiving end of more obnoxious behavior by other people's children than I care to think about. And who hasn't?
I don't know how many times I've wanted to say to a friend or relative, "If you don't have the gumption to discipline that kid properly, let me take a shot at it." (By the way, my wife and I have not had children yet, but hope to.)
The truth of the matter is that, unlike what the overeducated experts would have you believe, raising children isn't rocket science. It's hard work and an awesome responsibility, but it isn't complicated, or at least not during the earliest childhood years before youth culture, peer pressure, and the like become a force to be reckoned with. In the meantime, small children should be putty in your hands if you don't succumb to popular psychobabble about their supposed inordinate emotional fragility.
How can I, a nonparent, be so sure of this?
First, by observing the few really good parents I know - and that includes working couples as well as couples with stay-at-home mothers - who simply do not tolerate blatantly obnoxious behavior or disobedience from their children.
The other way, there for all the world to see, is to look back at what was perhaps the last generation where most children were raised that way. That particular generation has received a lot of well-deserved attention and admiration. It has been called "The Greatest Generation" in a best-selling book of that name.
I'm talking about the generation that survived the Great Depression, won World War II by defeating perhaps the worst evil the world has known, and then went on to create the most successful and affluent society in history.
How could they have done all that if they were so emotionally traumatized by the child-rearing methods of their strict, no-nonsense parents? What better results could you possibly ask of child-rearing methods?
But if you employ those profoundly successful methods - and yes, one of the many happens to be spanking - on your children today, you might find yourself the subject of investigation by some zealous social worker whose interpretation of child abuse laws is so absurdly liberal as to make the serious disciplining of children technically criminal.
You might also be ostracized by your peers, many of whom are obsessed with the idea of "progressive" parenting, which involves being a kid's pal rather than a bossy authority figure.
It is difficult to understand. We praise a generation for having turned out better than perhaps any other, but we crazily eschew the child-rearing techniques that made them that way. In less than a century we've gone from the "greatest parents" to hardly parents at all.
*Greg Strange, a meteorologist, writes from Atlanta.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society