Raising kids the old-time way

Family: Parenting expert James Jones advocates spanking and says children need to earn their material things, lest they become a generation of spoiled brats.

September 12, 1999|By Laura Saai | Laura Saai,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Today's parents are creating "parasite" children. So says parenting authority James Jones.

Parents are giving their children money instead of love and things instead of time.

"We're raising a spoiled, indulged generation," he said. "Our affluence is so destructive for these children. They develop a sense of entitlement. They're self-centered, ungrateful and usually lazy. They should be earning what they get."

Jones advocates making children work to earn the basics, including the clothes on their backs. And he believes in spanking.

But if he sounds like a throwback to a previous era, he's also gained a following among a newer, softer generation, particularly those who believe that parents have become too permissive.

Getting children to work is only one part of his approach, which he has laid out in his "Let's Fix the Kids" parenting program, which includes 16 audio cassettes and a 374-page resource manual.

At the root of his philosophy: Parents are fooling themselves if they think they can control their children. But they can learn to motivate them.

"If you have a 12-year-old or a 15-year-old who's absolutely bound and determined they're going to experiment with drugs, or they're going to find some booze somewhere and get drunk, can you control that? No," he said.

Parents shouldn't even have to ask their children once to do a chore, he said. The children should know that if they don't comply, they will face consequences.

"When attempts to control do not work," he said, "parents become frustrated and start to nag, criticize, blame, shame, intimidate, threaten, and even rage in order to get compliance."

Jones knows that control doesn't work because he has tried it -- raising four children. His academic credentials lean toward psychology and counseling. And although the doctorate he advertises in his promotional material was obtained from correspondence and Internet courses from a nonaccredited university, he seems to draw most of his parenting advice not from academics but from his own experience.

The son of an alcoholic, he had a difficult childhood. The family moved frequently, and Jones changed schools 14 times in 13 years. His father hit him from time to time in a drunken rage, and Jones pledged that he one day would raise his own children differently.

He studied psychology, became a social worker and a counselor, taught in the inner city in Los Angeles. He said he had little sympathy for parents who were having problems with their children.

"Just love them, and talk to them and they will listen to you," he would tell the parents.

At home with his own children, he went beyond just loving his children. He obsessed over them. That worked fine, until his fourth child came along.

He spent more time with his son than any of his other children. But beginning at 14, his son started taking drugs, ran away from home and started breaking into houses. He lived on the street. He ended up in and out of Juvenile Hall from ages 14 to 17.

During a court-mandated family counseling session, his son yelled at him: "Stop trying to control me."

Said Jones: "That was when the sun came up."

He told his son that he was responsible for his own life from then on. And the next time a judge asked Jones to take responsibility for his son, Jones told the judge to put his son in jail.

But after Jones let go of control, his son began to turn a corner, going to rehabilitation programs and eventually finishing school.

Today, Jones counsels parents whose children are in trouble to make them face the consequences.

"Every time you rescue a child from the consequences of their irresponsible choices," he said, "you're rewarding them for being irresponsible."

On the punishment side, Jones said he swore he would never hit his own children. But once he began to raise children, he changed his mind and began to use a paddle, he said, in controlled, unemotional situations. Now he is a believer in corporal punishment. But doesn't this open the door for parents who lose control to beat their children?

"A spanking must be administered in love, under control," he said. "To get a spanking by someone out of control is a terrifying experience. A swat is one thing. A beating is something else."

But Irwin Hyman, a scholar with Temple University in Pennsylvania and director of the National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment, said that research shows that when parents report they spank in controlled settings, their children report quite a different story -- that the parents lost their temper.

"Smack, swat, what kind of message does that give a child?" Hyman asked. "The message of pain inflicted on his behind, not the message of love. There are all kinds of positive ways of raising a child. Spanking is not necessary."

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