The Limits of Parental Discipline

The Limits of Parental Discipline  (1893) 

The Limits of Parental Discipline.—The point to which parental discipline may go might be made a subject of fruitful study. It is agreed, of course, that the child must be trained and kept in a certain degree of subjection for its own good and to prevent its becoming a nuisance to society, and a certain pliancy to the control of superiors is, as a writer in an English journal well remarks, absolutely essential to the organization of a household, a school, or a state. "Discipline," this writer continues, "implies ready obedience to orders of which the reason is not understood; but it should always rest on the belief that these orders are given for sufficient reasons, and not for the mere satisfaction of those who give them in seeing them obeyed." The theory of "breaking" the will of the child, in which parents and teachers indulge, is all wrong. The first thing a superior has to learn "is that there is no such thing as property in the character of a human being; that when the individuality of a character has to be suppressed—and of course the organization of society requires that it must often be suppressed—it is suppressed either for its own good or for the good of others to whom consideration is due, and that, beyond the limits of these obligations, individuality, far from being a hindrance and annoyance to be got rid of as completely as possible, is a distinct gain to the universe. The wish of some parents to wield as much power over the wills and characters of their children as they do over the motions of the horses they ride or drive is not only a foolish but an evil wish. To get excellent instruments on which they can perform as they would perform on a piano, always eliciting exactly the particular vibration they desire and expect, is clearly not the true object of family life. On the contrary, character, far from being an instrument to be performed on by others, should always be a new source of life and originality, which no one should be able to govern despotically from the outside, and which, even from inside, is in a great degree a mystery and a marvel to him who has most power over it. The mere notion of making character a kind of repeater, which responds by a given number of strokes to the parent's touch, is a radically absurd one. What a parent ought to wish for is, indeed, instant obedience to orders given for the child's good, and an eager intelligence in the child to trust its parent; but beyond this, as much that is distinct and individual, and that has a separate significance of its own, as the child's nature can provide."