Web exclusive: Interview with parenting advice columnist John Rosemond

John Rosemond interview with HONOLULU Family from “Discipline Strategies That Work.” As told by Cathy Cruz-George.


Effective discipline requires old-fashioned parenting techniques, not child psychology, says John Rosemond, a nationally renowned speaker and author of more than a dozen books, including The Well-Behaved Child: Discipline That Really Works, Teen-Proofing and Making The Terrible Twos Terrific! He recently spoke with HONOLULU Family about shifts in modern methods of discipline.


Thank you for making time to speak with HONOLULU Family today. We understand you conduct workshops for parents and schools across the country. How often do you visit Hawaii?

I’ve been to Hawaii at least three times in the last four years. All told, my wife, Willie, and I have been to Hawaii for business and pleasure about eight times.


In a nutshell, what is your approach to child discipline?

It’s very traditional. I simply believe that when children do bad things, they should feel bad about it. If they don’t feel bad about it independently, they should be made to feel bad about.

You discipline a child in your presentation; in the [authoritative] way you look, the way you talk. Today, you watch parents talk to their kids, and they look like they’re pleading with the king. They grab their knees and bend over at eye-level, then they end with, “OK?” Mental health professionals promoted this ludicrous thinking.


Some parents get down to eye-level to respect the child.

Why does a child need to be made to feel respected when they talk to him? Every explanation begs more questions. Obedient children are happy children. You may feel that parents are exercising power over him, but they’re doing it in the child’s best interest. It is good to obey. People who disobey authority in the military and in the workplace are not happy.


What’s your view on praise?

Praise should be conservative. The more a child is praised, the less the praise means to the child. The same is true for any form of punishment, by the way. Any form of punishment you use a lot, loses meaning to the child.  Being spanked a lot won’t mean anything to them.


Spanking is controversial. You don’t advocate it, but say it’s a reasonable option for some children. Please explain? 

Everybody wants to talk about spanking. It’s very unfortunate that this discussion has evolved in the shouting match between two equally indefensible positions. No. 1: Spanking is child abuse and results in terrible trauma for the child. No. 2: The Bible tells us to spank our children.

To me, it’s no big deal. Some children respond well to being spanked, and some don’t. Some parents do it properly, and some don’t.


Your books say spanking should not be done with objects, such as belts and sticks, and that spanking should be done with a bare hand (so the adult feels the impact). That’s very interesting.

I’ve done studies on the Scriptural use of the term, ‘rod.’ The word, ‘rod,’ is used in the context of discipline and is clearly used in a metaphorical manner. It is not in reference to an object.


Were you spanked as a child?

Everybody my age was spanked as a child. My stepfather spanked me three or four times. I don’t feel like this scarred me for life, or anything like that, some dramatic interpretation.


So, how can today’s parents get tough on their kids without feeling cruel or guilty?

Just by understanding that, all the research supports this, the happiest children are the most obedient. And the most obedient children are the ones whose parents act authoritatively, calmly, straightforward and casually. “I’m not willing to discuss it with you.”


In your books, you mention wayward kids diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiance disorder (ODD) and other conditions. You’re a psychologist. When did you start seeing this medical shift?

It started very slowly in the 1970s and accelerated from there. Today, if a kid presents a discipline problem, you take the kid to a therapist, and there’s almost a guarantee you’ll get a diagnosis, and the child will be put on medication. Therapists claim that these problems are transmitted genetically, but there is no evidence in significant numbers that exhibit these problems. 


Therapists and medicine aside, what other major changes do you see in discipline today, compared to, say, 50 years ago?

I really believe in giving children lots of freedom, and an equal amount of responsibility. The problem with today’s kids is they don’t have a lot of freedom and responsibility. This was the expectation of people in my generation. We were given a tremendous amount of freedom and responsibility, and our parents did not buffer our responsibilities.

Our parents didn’t help us with homework. We achieved at higher levels than today’s kids. We did chores and did them for nothing. We did them because we were members of families. These are the kinds of things lacking in American parenting today.


Please explain what you mean when you say that today’s kids don’t have freedom.

I seem to be a member of the last generation of American children who grew up with that. As a child, I rode my bike ten miles from the house, on a fairly regular basis. My mother knew what I was doing. She had no problem with this. Today’s kids aren’t growing up with these influences in their lives. If a kid today rides his bike ten miles away at age 12, the Department of Social Services is knocking on doors: “So and so is letting his child ride his bike miles from their house.”


Parents worry about child abductors. Recently, three Ohio women were found after spending their teen years in captivity. Two years ago, a Hasidic boy was kidnapped and killed less than ten blocks away from his Brooklyn home.

You’re right. There wasn’t a 1950s national media, even to some degree in the ’60s and ’70s. Things happened in Podunk, Iowa, that didn’t reach the 6 p.m. news. Walter Cronkite didn’t talk about it. There weren’t signs on the expressway saying, “Amber Alert.”

There’s no evidence that the per capita of child abduction has increased since the 1950s. Today’s parents, because of these variables, are certainly receiving the impression there’s a boogeyman waiting for you to send your kid down the street. This leads to a heightened sense of paranoia and restrictiveness.


Well, thank you again for speaking with our magazine. Our readers will appreciate your insight.

You’re welcome. Anytime.