We are still very close to the horrific shooting at a Jacksonville video-gaming tournament and details about the disturbed shooter are beginning to emerge. What has stood out the most is that 24-year-old David Katz had severe mental health issues and an extremely unhealthy video gaming addiction.
His mother says she sometimes tried to hide his controllers, but he would become very angry and despondent. What she didn’t ever seem to do during his teenage years is just throw away the video games altogether. She doesn’t ever seem to have told him he just couldn’t have it, at a time when she may have still had some control over his reaction to that.
I don’t mean to minimize the depth of this young man’s mental illness. While his parents clearly made some grave errors in their handling of his situation (and their apparently bitter divorce), there are some things that simply were out of their control. Most state governments give family very little purview over the mental health of sick relatives. It’s nearly impossible to have someone involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, even if you suspect they are dangerous.
But reading the account of how Katz’s parents chose to deal with his diseased mind and his ensuing gaming obsession got me thinking about all the ways we parents hobble our non-mentally ill children by withholding one of the most powerful tools in the healthy development of any young person…the word “No”.
Katz’s mother was in an extreme situation but it is just an amplified version of what too many parents succumb to every day. There are too many parents in modern America who have made their children the center of their universe, and while that may sound like the normal, natural way to do things it is anything but.
Our children come into our lives. They fit into our family. It is not the other way around. When we raise children to believe that we are only the conduits through which they indulge their every whim, we disrupt the natural hierarchy of the family. We put the kids on top which effectively puts them in control. That’s not where they belong, and not even where they really want to be. It’s upside-down and often children who are raised in this hierarchy begin to behave as though their worlds are upside-down.
“No” is a powerful word. It is one that needs to be exercised regularly with our children. What many modern parents don’t seem willing to grasp is that to say “no” to our children will most definitely cost us something. It hurts us to say “no” to the most precious people in our lives. No parent wants to be the person who makes their child cry. No parent wants to see their child angry with them. Every one of us longs for our child’s approval. Saying “no” rarely gets us that in the short term.
“No” has a lot of usefulness. It is a word every child will hear often as they grow into adulthood. Teaching them how to cope with it in the safety of their own home is vital to a productive transition to adulthood and career life. You can’t have everything you want when you want it. We do our children no favors when we regularly bend to their childish desires.
Sometimes “no” is something we don’t just use as a lesson, but because it has direct benefits for the health of our children. I know many parents who proudly declare they don’t allow their child to have sugar, but those same people find it nearly impossible to say “NO!” to a child who is throwing a tantrum in the store or refusing to do a basic task/chore. Those same parents will put a halt to everything in their life just to run out and get a game, the latest clothing trend or drive their child to go hang out somewhere rather than dare say, “No. I don’t have time for this today. You can’t have it.”.
Sometimes the word “no” is a reminder that your needs are not the most important needs in the world at any given moment…or even in the room. And that’s a valuable lesson. It teaches us patience, charity, and grace – three things sorely lacking in modern American discourse.
The cost of that word for a parent is heavy. It costs us joy. It costs us pride. It means we must be mature enough and strong enough to withstand the wrath of our own children. It sometimes (temporarily) costs us the respect of our child. It costs us our very hearts to see our offspring so sad/angry/despondent over whatever privilege we have denied them.
Parents who continually acquiesce to the whims of their children often justify themselves by saying they only want to make their children happy. That’s a form of self-delusion. What they’re really saying is, “I just can’t handle feeling bad,” because they know how crappy it feels to be the one who made their child sad or angry. It’s a form of cowardice, really.
Cowardly parenting too often yields cowardly children. Obviously, most of those children don’t end up shooting up gaming tournaments. However, many of those children do end up floundering, struggling to find an individual identity in the world, and living at home far past the time they should be experiencing adult independence because they don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with failure and rejection in the “real world”.
The failure of modern parents to expose their children early and often to the power of “no” has left us with several generations of young adults with very weak coping mechanisms and the inability to be flexible when roadblocks are placed in their way. The smarmy term for it is “snowflakes” but it is much more serious than that. It is the utter failure of a world-view that has placed children in the role of decision-maker for the entire family and voluntarily weakened the power of parenting in favor of empowering people who have zero life experience to inform their decisions.
In truth, “No” isn’t a word to be afraid of as parents. It indeed is a very powerful word, but not just that…it’s empowering. There is a power and a confidence that comes from the understanding that you won’t crumble to pieces when you don’t get your way; that you are in control of your emotions and actions; that you have what it takes to navigate the “no” and earn the “yes”.