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At what point does the parent become more "observer" than "manager" with regard

At what point does the parent become more "observer" than "manager" with regard to parenting issues? I've always tried to maintain a "value-driven" approach; no helicopter parenting. I've stressed "doing your best" rather than "making a grade," with regard to schoolwork. I've given books as gifts, encouraged them to find something they love as a guide to helping to find a vocation, etc. What I'm struggling with is seeing my 19-year old college freshman show some major blind spots with regards to how he conducts his relationships with family. He's arrogant and disrespectful at times, and will never apologize when confronted about his behavior. His first impulse is to make excuses to justify his behavior and, if failing that, will immediately go to blaming the other person for his perceived contribution to the situation. He's extremely smart scholastically, healthy, nice-looking, and is likely to be successful at anything he decides to do. How does a parent deal with an adult child who's not ready...

You sound as though you are thinking of two choices (1) tell your son to shape up or you'll cut the financial cord OR (2) bite your tongue and keep your promise to help him through grad school. But there are many more choices than this. In fact, there need be no association between your efforts to improve your son's behavior and your financial support of his education. You can make it clear to him that keeping a relationship with you is contingent on mutual respectfulness, and simply walk out of the room when he is disrespectful. If you would not tolerate the behavior from a friend or a partner, then don't tolerate it from him.

Do you think that money is your only "leverage" when trying to influence your son? I hope not: let's hope he has respect for you as a person.

Obviously you are proud of your son's achievements and promise. But I have seen smart, healthy good looking people fail to achieve their potential because of moral/interpersonal flaws such as the ones you mention. You want him to succeed in life, so it makes sense to try to help him change (if he seems willing).

Likewise, I don't think the only options you have is to "observe" or to "manage." Your son is an adult whom you love deeply. There are many possible relationships that are appropriate at this stage of parenting. You can tell your son what you wish for him without trying to directly manage his behavior.

What is it that makes some things childish and others not? And why is it that

What is it that makes some things childish and others not? And why is it that most of the things we call childish are things we do for fun? Why are adults expected to have less fun and be more serious about everything?

Great questions! As for your main point or the point behind the questions, it does seem a great pity to think that adulthood must be defined in terms of a seriousness which frowns on fun, though I have some hesitancy about the way you are setting up childishness versus adulthood. I am not sure you are 100% right "that most of the things we call childish are things we do for fun." You may be spot on, but I suspect that we also call persons or actions childish when we believe they are immature, reckless, selfish, not thought through or naive. And in my experience children are sometimes just as serious, if not more so, than many adults I know. Also, the term "adult" has a pretty stable use in English for describing (perhaps inappropriate?) fun --as in "adult" films, bookstores, products.

Stepping back from the above observations, however, it is interesting to note that in the old days (e.g. industrial revolution) childhood was often not associated with fun and education, but labor, viz. child labor. Thank heavens, we today generally condemn child labor and seek to safeguard childhood as time for both fun and exploration. Hopefully (and here we may agree?) we can do more to continue that spirit into adulthood!

Why do parents have the right to decide anything about a child's upbringing, or

Why do parents have the right to decide anything about a child's upbringing, or their moral, social, political and spiritual education? Young children are trusting when it comes to their parents, and may even believe falsehoods if their parents are the ones who are repeating these falsehoods. So why do we recognize a unilateral right for parents to teach their children whatever they want, and to withhold whatever information from their children that they deem appropriate? Why do we let parents pull their children out of sex ed class, or teach them a religion as a unilateral source of truth? Shouldn't parents have responsabilities, instead of rights? Surely shaping a child's mind, personality and outlook is not the "reward" parents get for feeding and clothing them! Is this just a practical issue ("There's nobody in a better position to take care of the kids, and there's no way we can stop people from teaching them whatever they want")? Or is there some fundamental moral reason parents have the...

I think you are right to claim that parents have responsibilities towards their children, and do not have the right to raise them "any way they want." Children are not property. The larger moral concern, however, is that the state will decide what children are to learn, and in American society, we are most fearful of that (because of our history with totalitarianism and communism). The law protects the rights of individuals. So parents have a legal right to withdraw their children from state-sponsered education. They also have a legal right to teach them rubbish. However, I would argue that they do not have a moral right to teach them rubbish, particularly if it is rubbish that is harmful (Santa Claus probably does not fall into that category; but Abstinence is harmful rubbish).

I was taught by my parents, as a young boy, that I should never hit first, but

I was taught by my parents, as a young boy, that I should never hit first, but that if anyone hurt me, I should hit back, to show them I wasn't worth messing with. This is basically how I dealt with violence until the fifth or sixth grade; I don't remember ever starting a fight, but I was picked on often because I was bilingual, and when push came to shove, I shoved. I always got into trouble with teachers when I fought back, and came to believe that they supported bullying because they never helped me when I was being bullied; I felt alienated, and didn't trust the teachers at all. Yet I remember what happened when I stopped hitting back, and just turned the other cheek: nobody helped me then, either, and I found myself defenseless against bullies who harassed me because of my bilingualism and my good grades - and because I was a "pussy" who wouldn't hit back. My girlfriend and I recently had a frank discussion about our future plans, and we would like to have children in the next few years, if...

There are different forms of violence- some physical, some verbal. It has been my experience that there are some angry and aggressive people whom you need to stand up to - if only to help them control themselves. I suggest that you get you future child involved in the practice of one or another martial arts from the beginning. People who feel like they can defend themselves, who feel grounded in themselves are less defensive, less easily threatened than others-- and as a result much less inclined to anger and violence. So, if your aim is to raise a non-violent, loving kid, be loving and nurturing, and get him or her boxing from an early age.

Do parents have a responsibility to take care of their biological children. Or

Do parents have a responsibility to take care of their biological children. Or do they just have a responsibility to make sure their biological children are being taken care of (and it need not matter who does the actual taking care.) To illustrate the difference, suppose a wife and husband are perfectly capable of producing healthy children together. However, the wife has a demanding career and would rather avoid pregnancy. So the couple finds another woman who is willing to be inseminated by the husband, and pays her some money in exchange for delivering the baby. When the baby is born, he is genetically the son of the surrogate mother, however he will be taken care by the wife. Has the child been wronged, since his biological mother will not take of him? Or did the biological mother fulfill her obligation to her child (making sure he will be taken care of by someone, even if that person is not his biological mother?)

Anyone can look after a child well, and many of the best carers are not biologically related to the child. Those who are hostile to surrogacy do have a point though in wondering at whether the subsequent psychological and legal issues would bring in their train difficulties for the growing child. How flexibile can society allow its links between parents, carers and children to become?

We have quite rapidly moved away from a particular image of the traditional family where the father works, the mother stays at home with the children to a very different constellation of different arrangements, where there all sorts of domestic arrangements, and a nagging feeling that there must be something wrong about it all. Yet in the past the so-called traditional family was often replete with problems, and there is no reason to think that as the family changes it will not be able to reconstitute itself quite satisfactorily in a different form.

Last night my 4 year old son asked me, "where was I before I was born (or in

Last night my 4 year old son asked me, "where was I before I was born (or in your tummy?) was I alone?" What should I tell him?

Kids do ask some amazing questions.

I am no expert on child psychology. I am just a philosopher who is also a parent. So please do not take what I will say the wrong way. I do not really mean to be giving parenting advice here.

To some extent, what you should tell your son depends upon your religious beliefs. Some traditions would hold that your son was with God, waiting to be embodied. Some would hold that your son may have had a prior life, about which you would not know very much. But I am guessing that none of these traditions is yours, since otherwise the answer to the question would be clear enough. So I will answer assuming that you believe that, prior to your son's birth, he did not exist. (Note that many religious traditions would hold this view. So this is not a religious vs non-religious issue.)

So, telling your son the truth would mean saying something like this:

We can make cookies, but before we make the cookies, there aren't any cookies. There is flour and butter and sprinkles, but they have to be made into cookies. Before we make the cookies, they aren't anywhere, are they?

Well, Mommy and Daddy made you, but before we made you, there was no you. So no, you were not alone, just like the cookies are not alone before we make them. And like with the cookies, before we made you, the stuff that we made you from was already there. Part of you was already in Mommy (the ovum), and part of you was already in Daddy. [OK, that's not really true if we go far enough back, but let's not be pedantic.] And then we made you, and we sure are glad we did!

I think something like that would be comprehensible to a four year old, and I'd be fascinated to hear how the discussion would continue. But you will have to judge if you think your child is ready for this kind of thing.

It's odd, by the way, how the idea of nothingness after death is so much more terrifying than the idea of nothingness before birth.

Why is there such a taboo in society about children and sexual content? It seems

Why is there such a taboo in society about children and sexual content? It seems quite odd to me that we attempt to hide something so fundamental from children. Is it really the case that children, even very young children, are somehow harmed by knowledge of sex, or that they are too immature to comprehend the material? Isn't it more likely that lack of knowledge about sex could lead to unsafe experimentation in early adolescence (or even before, for especially precocious children)? Children seem to have a natural marked disinterest or repulsion about the nature of sex in any case; does hiding even moderately suggestive images and language, dressing up natural processes such as childbirth in misleading euphemistic fairy tales, and cultivating a general atmosphere of awkwardness and embarrassment when discussing sex around children actually help anyone? For my part, natural curiosity caused me to gain a working knowledge of the mechanics of sex from a biology textbook at age 7, so perhaps I am simply odd.

Freud would certainly agree with your concerns but disagree with the notion that children do not have an interest in sex. I think there is a sense that children would not be able to integrate certain kinds of detailed information about sexual life but I'm not sure why we would want to conceal the facts about reproduction. Adults clearly have their own interests in imagining that there is a non sexual time in life- a time of innocence.

Why do we seem to consider the life of a child more valuable than that of an

Why do we seem to consider the life of a child more valuable than that of an adult in many situations? When we consider the actual qualities of a child versus that of an adult, we should find that the adult usually wins on any measure of intelligence, capability, moral faculties, and so forth. Is there any ethical reason why we should value the life of a child more than that of an adult? (And just to be extra clear, I can think of a very compelling evolutionary reason why we would value a life of child more, but I'm not looking for an answer from biology or psychology.)

Isn't the reason just this? When an adult dies prematurely -- say at age 40 -- then she is losing many years of valuable life. When a child dies, then she is losing those same valuable years above 40 and in addition all the good life years up to 40. So the basic thought here is simply that the earlier someone dies, the greater the loss.

While the common view seems to me to be based on this thought, it is not unassailable. You might say that the loss of years above 40 isn't a serious loss for someone dying as a small child, who has no conception of what such years would be like and moreover is very different from the mature adult she would have become 40 years hence.

Thinking this through further, you might reach the view that the worst age at which a human being could die is in her or his mid-20s. At that age, one has a conception of the life one wants to lead and also typically is a productive member of one's family and society. Such a death is a great loss to the person and to many others.

I think that this latter view also plays a major role in our common thinking. For example, if we really thought that the death of a child is worse than that of a young adult, then we would make much greater efforts fighting infant mortality (involving about 9 million deaths of children under 5 each year). As it is, global health efforts are concentrated upon HIV/AIDS, which primarily sickens and kills young adults -- and this despite the fact that HIV/AIDS requires expensive long-term treatment whereas infant mortality could be reduced dramatically at very much lower cost per life year gained.

To be sure, I fully support the ongoing HIV/AIDS efforts (Global Fund, PEPFAR, etc.) and their expansion to those who need treatment and are not receiving it. But I also believe that we ought to make much greater efforts toward ensuring access to clean water, sanitation, adequate nutrition and proper maternal and perinatal care -- the kind of measures that would dramatically reduce under-5 mortality.

Should we teach philosophy to younger children? Would it help them in anyway, or

Should we teach philosophy to younger children? Would it help them in anyway, or would it be harmful in later life?

Children are natural philosophers in that they are naturally filled with wonder. And very early on in life, they have all kinds of pressing issues about justice. In that sense, I don't think it could hurt to talk with them about philosophy. It depends on where the child is calling from, where he or she is at. But it seems to me that some people (often philosophers) imagine that if we just got them going a little earlier on the likes of Plato and Aristotle they would be better, more moral people. I don't see any reason for believing that - which, is to sigh, that I'm not as confident as some in the power of philosophy to convey wisdom. As Nietzsche was well aware, for some folks it just feeds into an unhealthy kind of obsessiveness and a need to be in control.

Is it bad to have a favorite sibling?

Is it bad to have a favorite sibling?

My maternal grandmother was the youngest but one of a Victorian family of ten; her oldest brothers were about twenty years older than her. It doesn't seem at all morally inappropriate that she should have cared about her nearest siblings much more than those hardly-known distant figures who left home when she was a toddler. And she manifested her favouritism in all kinds of ways: surely nothing morally amiss with that! And no doubt the older children who were still at home had their various favourites among the little ones too -- surely nothing amiss with that either so long as no one got too left out.

So I can't see that there is anything wrong per se about having favourite siblings and manifesting that favouritism. Where things get more problematic is when numbers get small: it could indeed, as Sean says, then be wrong to manifest preferences too much. But suppose that (because of a family tragedy) you and cousins were brought up together from young: then surely the same would apply. So perhaps it isn't siblinghood that really matters so much as belonging to a small family.