What do you mean by “good”?

Part 1: What do you mean by “good”?

I just finished a very interesting book called Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason. It’s by a guy named Alfie Kohn, who has written in the areas of parenting, education, and human behavior. Kohn is one of the leading progressive voices in the field of education, and critiques many of the traditional views on parenting and education. I think it’s also important to note that he doesn’t seem to be a follower of Christ, but he seems to be very concerned about children being moral, compassionate, generous, “other”-oriented people.

While there are some major arguments in his book that I do not agree with, I must say that this book has probably been the best parenting book I have read to date. A key question he asks at the beginning of this book really made me think: What do we mean when we say that a child is “good”? Do we mean that s/he is curious? Or compassionate? Or helpful? Or creative? Or do we mean that s/he is well-behaved or obedient?

The next question is- do you want your child to be that quality as an adult– is your child being “good” your long-term goal in parenting? I’ve been thinking about these questions for a week or two, and I have to admit that my answer is no. I don’t want our children to just do whatever they’re told. I want them to be able to think, to respond, to have discussions, to challenge the status quo if it needs to be challenged. I definitely don’t want my girls to just do whatever they’re told (i.e. cave into peer pressure from a boy in the back of a car). I want them to be compassionate, generous, faithful, creative, loving people.

But the question stands, is how I’m parenting helping them to have the tools they need to become those kinds of people? Kohn suggests that most of the books on parenting are actually not helpful in helping kids to become anything but obedient, and rely heavily on the use of control and manipulation. In this book, Kohn makes a case that there may be a different kind of discussion that may prove to lead us to a kind of parenting that helps our children develop in more whole ways.

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