The Australian Catholic Truth Society Record
May 20, 1953 (No. 520)
Fr J W Gleeson
AUTHORITY AND DISCIPLINE
Because of the need of proper discipline in the home, authority must be used, but used wisely. Sometimes the discipline in a home is harsh. In these homes it is not, "Do this because it is a reasonable and good thing to do it," but "Do this because I say so, and, if you don't you won't be able to ask why." Such an attitude can build up a spirit of rebellion among the children. There will, of course, be times when Dad or Mom must lay down the law. Also it is wise for both Dad and Mom to agree on the required rules and remedies before taking any action. On no account should they disagree over this in the presence of the children. Once children know that they can play one parent off against the other, their authority is seriously weakened. While the use of authority presents difficulties in dealing with young children, it can present tremendous difficulties in the case of adolescents. The adolescent is not inclined to rely on others and has not yet gained sufficient insight to be capable of understanding the necessity and right of authority. He may reveal this in various ways, he may seem to be ashamed of his parents because they are out of date; he wants to rebel against all authorized and traditional authority; he wants to show that he is no longer a baby; he may rebel against parents who continually nag that he is not progressing satisfactorily in school work; he, and probably more frequently she, is antagonized by coercion in trivial things, e.g., she does not want to wear the school uniform or gloves or stockings, as laid down by school rules or current etiquette. In this, of course, there might at times be a lot to be said in defence of the adolescent; e.g., the attitude of parents and even teachers that makes it appear that "bobbing" hair, smoking or wearing slacks (jeans ed.) are mortal sins when such is not the case.
YOUTH CAN CO-OPERATE
In solving the various problems, it is necessary to work with adolescents and not against them. To let them see that there are reasons for things in both individual and general cases. The adolescents in families can be assisted to make their own rules and to see that they are kept. It is amazing what results can be achieved in this way, particularly in such matters as the performing of duties at home, the number of evening outings per week, spending and saving, etc.
Do not mistake me, however, by thinking that there is no place for direct parental authority. It is essential that this must exist and be exercised, but exercised in a reasonable and sensible fashion. In the Encyclical on the Christian Education of Youth by Pope Pius XI we read: "Parents and all who would take their place in the work of education should be careful to make the right use of the authority given to them by God. This authority is not given for their own advantage, but for the proper upbringing of their children in a holy and filial 'fear of God, the beginning of wisdom' on which foundation alone all respect for authority can rest securely."
Sometimes, parents make the mistake of appealing to the perfection which they exercised when they were young, e.g., "When we were young, we were not allowed to do that," or simply, "We always obeyed our parents when we were young." Bad memories are probably the only excuses which can be offered to prevent such statements being lies. Sooner or later, the children will find out, perhaps from your own lips, that this perfection did not exist.
In obtaining the obedience of adolescents, it is well to remember that the principal incentive to voluntary action is found in the motive or reason for things. It is not sufficient that the motive be really one of value or importance, it must be one that really appeals to the particular individual. We need also to remember that supernatural motives, which are of the greatest worth in themselves, may not appear so at first sight. Further, we must lead up to supernatural motives by the use of natural motives offered by the interests and desires of the youth. Hence, the need to know the interests and desires of the specific boy or girl. This can only be obtained where there is intimate contact, as in the home or in the school. Careful observation can give this knowledge. All this is difficult, but it is very worthwhile. For unless we can reach the adolescent in his intimate interests and desires we cannot move him. But if we have achieved some insight into them, we can't really inspire youth. And he, who can inspire, holds youth in the hollow of his hand.
We must recognize the need for intelligent, prudent and co-ordinated discipline in every home. If it does not exist, respect for authority in the home and outside of it will be destroyed.