Why stop with shame? Bring back fear, as in 'Put the fear of God in your kids'

June 23, 1996|By SUSAN REIMER


Thanks to William Bennett and cover stories on major news magazines, we have already brought back shame.

The shame of having a child out of wedlock, the shame of not supporting it. The shame of living on welfare, the shame of driving drunk, the shame of cheating on your spouse or your taxes or your boss.

The old-fashioned mortification that comes with sin, itself an old-fashioned notion in revival, is back in vogue.

Now that shame is no longer considered a disabling emotion destructive to self-esteem, parents can confidently shame their kids as they go about the business of making them responsible (( members of society.

Emboldened by the successful return of shame, I volunteer to lead the campaign to restore fear among children.

I've already called Bill Bennett to let him know he can count on me to do this, to rescue fear from its place of neglect and disrepute, to return fear to the American family, to set a place for fear at the American dinner table.

Not the monster-under-the-bed, bogyman variety of fear.

Your kids will keep you up all night with those kinds of fears.

I'm talking about fear of authority. Fear of consequences. The kind of fear that will keep you up all night if your children don't have it.

The kind of unexamined, nonspecific fear we grew up with. The fear behind the refrain of our youth: "My mother will kill me if I... "

We never knew how our mothers would kill us or how these women would explain our sudden disappearance to family and friends. And our mothers never said, "I will kill you if you " There was no list of offenses. But we knew instinctively when we were approaching an act to which was ascribed the death penalty.

I want that for my children.

I want them to live in fear of what I will do if I catch them doing whatever it is they are thinking about doing.

I'm not going to say what those misdeeds might be because I never want to be on record as enumerating them. I might leave one out, and my children might take that as implicit permission, as in: "You never said we couldn't " That kind of thing.

And I want my children to be afraid of more adults than just me.

I can't be everywhere, after all, and my children must believe that all grown-ups are working off the same list of crimes and misdemeanors and any one of them can be counted on to report to me or exact punishment in my stead.

Something along the lines of, "Paul's mother will kill us if we "

I want my children to be afraid of what their father will do when he gets home. (This will take some work, as it is not now the case. My children consider their father's arrival a death-row phone call from the governor.)

I want my children to be afraid of what the teacher will do when she stops writing on the board, turns around and sees them. Of what she will do if she walks into the bathroom at just the wrong moment. But most of all, I want them to live in stomach-flipping fear of what will happen if they don't do their homework.

And I want the thought of being sent to the principal's office to make them cold and pale with fear.

I want my children to be afraid of the crossing guard and what will happen if they jaywalk on the way to school, of the convenience store cashier and what will happen if they shoplift, of the firemen and what will happen if they play with BIC lighters in the woods.

I want my children to fear the lifeguard and what will happen if they run on the deck or dunk someone at the pool. I want them to fear the coach and what will happen if they pout while he tells them to play left field or back on defense.

I want them to fear the driver of every car when they are riding their bikes.

I want them to be afraid of what will happen if they don't brush their teeth.

I want them to fear every mother on the planet and what will happen if they make that woman's child cry. I want them to fear every father of every girl they ever date.

And at all other times of decision and conscience, I want them to worry about what God would think if he knew what they were doing. Because God will know, even if they fool me.

Pub Date: 6/23/96

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