In the beginning I enjoyed John Rosemond’s syndicated column “Parenting.” I appreciated Rosemond’s firm approach to child rearing. He is Earthy. And he is good with words. Easy to read. I even wrote a complimentary letter to him once.

But I have noticed some troubling tendencies within Rosemond’s columns. I’m having second thoughts about the advice he gives parents. Some of his advice is badly misinformed. Some of it is counterproductive. Some downright dangerous. Here’s why.

First, he romanticizes child-rearing practices of the past. He frequently describes what “Grandma” (a generic grandma, not his actual grandma) did with stubborn, lazy or otherwise misbehaving children. And he seems to feel that if grandma did it, it must have been good. Never mind that some grandmas were great parents, while others were awful parents. Never mind that Rosemond’s mind-set can lead to some less-than-creative, ineffective advice to parents.

As an example of the latter, a parent wrote to Rosemond that her 12-year-old son was generally unmotivated to do schoolwork. Restrictions had not worked. The parents had attempted none of the frequently effective positive strategies such as allowing the boy to earn points toward a desired item or activity by doing good schoolwork. Rosemond, after suggesting that medication might help, seemed out of ideas. He could only suggest to the parents that they stay the course, that they resign themselves to continuing the same efforts that had already been tried and had failed. He advised the parents to “…remember what Grandma said: You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” I’ll take a guess that the boy’s parents were disappointed with that advice.

A second thing I have noticed about John Rosemond’s advice to parents is that, while he frequently advises parents to be consistent, he is prone to glaring inconsistencies himself. For example, in a column earlier this year he pointed out that anecdotes about best parenting practices prove nothing. He wrote, “…personal testimonies neither validate nor invalidate (a child rearing practice)…They are personal.” I agree with him. But in another column he answered a parent’s question about how to get her 5-year-old to eat vegetables by anecdotally describing what worked with his own daughter—and that was the extent of his advice.

I am not opposed to the occasional, anecdotal “Try-this-because-it-worked-with-my-kids” kind of advice. Who knows? It might work. Then again, it might fail. What I am opposed to is Rosemond’s evident failure to recognize that he talks out of both sides of his mouth.

Third, John Rosemond is prone to wild goose chases when it comes to tracking down the causes of problems in child behavior. Take one of the most talked about, and in my opinion most over-diagnosed, disorders, ADHD–attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. What is Rosemond’s theory of its cause? It is the “flicker” of the TV screen which he contends (in the absence of any research evidence) “…compromises the brain’s ability to properly develop the structures necessary to a long attention span.” He deduced this “fact” after recalling the decade of the 1950s, when fewer people had TV and nobody was diagnosed with ADHD. This is absurd.

I agree that TV has had detrimental effects on child behavior. But the “flicker” isn’t the reason. Hasn’t Rosemond heard of the accumulating research on the influences of violent role models as seen by children on TV? And how would he explain away the 95% of children who are neither inattentive nor overly active? They watch TV too.

Next, much of Rosemond’s advice to parents is impractical. For example, when a parent complained that her 13-month-old constantly shook the dining room chairs Rosemond advised the parent to put the chairs out of reach. Where would that be? And when he offered advice to the parent of the fussy eater that I mentioned above, Rosemond suggested that the child be allowed to take as long as it wanted to finish the meal. He advised the parents to follow this plan even if the child got up from the table and came back an hour later, as long as it ate what it was supposed to. Rosemond claimed that such a plan worked for his daughter who also had been a picky eater. But how practical is it to allow the child’s plate to sit there? Wouldn’t the parents want to get supper finished and the table cleared in some reasonable time? This was another of Grandma’s strategies. By the way, a much more practical solution for many children is to allow a reasonable time limit (say, 20 or 30 minutes) to eat the meal, including a few veggies, in order to earn a small snack before bedtime. Take too long, the table is cleared and there is no snack.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Rosemond’s parenting advice is his generally negative tone. He seldom suggests that parents should employ positive reinforcement of good behavior. Rather he is prone to easily lapse into a “punish the bad—ignore the good” mode. In fact he takes pains to advise parents that they should not reinforce good behavior in their children, as if that would be bad for them. When advising the parent of a stubborn 8-year-old on the “evils” of reinforcing good behavior, Rosemond wrote, “…the idea that good behavior deserves reward has been a flop.” Rewards for good behavior, he said, “…contribute to even more disobedience, more problems with motivation, more tantrums, etc.”

That rewards for good behavior don’t help children, and may hurt them, is a frequent theme in Rosemond’s columns. And it is a misguided theme. A parent wrote that she and her husband were experiencing disagreement about whether their child ought to be paid small amounts for doing routine household chores. Rosemond advised against it. He claimed that rewards for chores, even if done well, give the child the impression that he is privileged within the household (because, he reasoned, parents don’t get money for doing such chores) and that such payment to a child would actually reduce the child’s motivation to do the chores. Research shows that Rosemond could not be more wrong.

Even more strangely, Rosemond concluded that paying a child nominal sums for successful completion of basic chores would teach the child that something could be had for nothing. One can only guess what armchair theorizing led Rosemond to that conclusion. On its face it is unconvincing. Moreover, there is an enormous amount of research with children in families all over America that shows Rosemond is wrong about the effects of reinforcement. The fact is that when they get small rewards for doing chores, children learn that hard work is necessary in order to be rewarded. And that is a valuable life lesson that seems to have eluded Rosemond–and his grandma.

I wonder if all those who are reading this right now would consider whether they ever were paid a bit for mowing the grass, pulling weeds, cleaning house or the like. If you were paid for such chores, is Rosemond right? Did you learn from that experience, as Rosemond claims, that you could get something for nothing? Did you then,as Rosemond claims, feel less motivation to do chores because you were paid? I doubt it. More likely you learned that if you did good work you would be rewarded. Probably your grandma would have liked that.

So why is it that John Rosemond seems to be talking sense? I think the reason that Rosemond’s columns are superficially appealing has to do with the era in which we live. This is an era of permissiveness, absent parents, psychobabble, and capricious invocation of medical disorders, made up on the spot, to exactly “explain” the cause of every unacceptable child behavior.

Rosemond appeals to our feeling that a lot of folks merely need to get tough with their kids. And we all know at leasta few parents like that. Unfortunately, there is danger here too. I believe it is likely that an abuse-prone parent, on reading one of Rosemond’s “get tough” columns, might feel that Rosemond has validated his or her actions—a potential outcome that Rosemond seems not to have anticipated. Rosemond is a self-proclaimed expert who correctly senses the mood of the times, then easily provides the answers. The only problem is, the answers he gives are often inconsistent with his other answers. And he romanticizes the good old days when things were Just Fine. And he is prone to endorsing rather bizarre theories about the causes of childhood disorders. And his advice at times is awfully impractical. And he could be unwittingly reinforcing the actions of child abusers. And he seems unaware of the many advantages of positive reinforcement for good behavior, while showing a penchant for punishment.

The list has gotten long enough. It’s time that parents stop listening to John Rosemond.

W. Joseph Wyatt is Professor of Psychology at Marshall University and Editor of the Behavior Analysis Digest.**


Source: Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies –