(excerpted from Teaching Children Self-Discipline)
Less Stress, Less Illness
Other positive effects can be found in families where parents have successfully used a P.E.T. type of democratic leadership. From the widely publicized scientific studies of stress conducted by the famous physiologist Hans Selye, we know that illness frequently follows high levels of stress-stress from grief, unrequited love, depression, financial losses, humiliation, emotional deprivation, and other painful events. As anyone whose mother or father was punitive and autocratic knows, life in such a family always produces a great deal of stress. It stems variously from the pain and humiliation of being physically punished, from the fear and anxiety that you may be punished, from the tension of frequently trying to escape punishment, from the anger and resentment triggered by giving in to someone with power over you, and from carrying inside you the mixed feelings of love and hatred for your parents.
More Problem-Solving Competence
Life is often harsh and complicated, and all children are bound to encounter difficulties in their lives in getting essential needs met. Overcoming these difficulties requires effective problem-solving skills. The model of parenting and teaching I’ve described here encourages children to be active participants in the problem-solving process, as opposed to being handed adult-imposed solutions. In such democratic environments children experience firsthand how to use problem solving to set family and classroom rules, to plan projects, to resolve all kinds of conflicts. When parents and teachers give up being solution givers, decision makers, and lawmakers, they bring children into these processes as equal participants, an experience that provides them with problem-solving competence they can use in all areas of their lives, and for a lifetime. And this is bound to increase their confidence, self-esteem, independence, and sense of control over their lives.
Less Anger and Hostility
When youngsters (and adults, too) feel deprived, frustrated, or defeated, they often become angry, either turning their anger inward and hating themselves or outward and hating others. Such anger and hostility are common reactions of those who feel like have-nots or consistent losers. The skills we’ve reviewed in this book greatly decrease the probability of kids’ losing in their conflicts with parents or teachers, of feeling like second-class citizens. Satisfied, need-fulfilled youngsters are not likely to turn into hostile, retaliatory members of society.
Freedom from Fear
Power-based, punitive discipline, on the other hand, depends upon keeping children in a state of fear of their parents or teachers. Punished dogs become cowed, nervous, vigilant-and so do some children in authoritarian environments. Living in a climate of constant potential danger is damaging to a person’s psychological health, as we have learned so well from studies of Vietnam veterans, an admittedly extreme example. But children in democratic families and classrooms have nothing to fear; they are free of the fear of punishment, of deprivation, of being a loser, of failing.
More Responsibility, More Fate Control
Clinical evidence has shown that the feeling of not being responsible for one’s life, one’s destiny, can be a cause of poor mental health-particularly of depression, anxiety, and stress. At the core of both the P.E.T. and T.E.T. courses is the principle of promoting children’s self-control versus adult control, inner control versus external control. Psychologists have recently become interested in this issue, using the term “fate control.” Autocratic teachers and parents, relying heavily on external control of children, foster feelings of dependence and lack of fate control. Democratic teachers and parents, who give children a lot of freedom and responsibility, make children feel they can be trusted to be responsible for their own destiny. In Chapter 5, I described Stanley Milgram’s (1974) experiments on obedience to authority. Recall his conclusion: “The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.”
Fewer Self-Harming Behaviors
Self-destructive, risk-taking behaviors of young people usually exist in clusters. Kids who feel deprived or who experience a lot of pain and injustice in their lives may react by employing a variety of health-compromising behaviors-smoking, using drugs, [“cutting”, skipping class] reckless driving, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, premature sexual activity. In families or in schools where youngsters’ basic needs are respected, where no-lose solutions are the rule, where fairness is valued and injustice is avoided, children have far fewer reasons to engage in such reactive, health-damaging behaviors.
Better Social Skills
Many parents who have learned how to employ P.E.T. skills in their family life report that their children eventually acquire competence in the same skills, undoubtedly through modeling their parents’ behaviors. Having experienced their parents’ listening to them, they learn to listen empathically. Having experienced their parents’ I-messages, their communication is open, honest, and non-blameful. And, because they have been participants in many such sessions with their parents, they learn how to problem-solve with others and to resolve conflicts so that no one loses.