National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Family Matters

Do Standards Make Rebels?

BY Dr. Ray Guarendi

June 1-7, 2003 Issue | Posted 6/1/03 at 2:00 PM


Q What do you think about the idea that, if parents are “too strict” or put their moral standards too high, a child will ultimately just rebel?

A I think it is utter nonsense. How's that for sugar-coating my answer?

Certainly if a parent is dictatorial and unloving, he risks raising a child who sees little rationale or warmth underlying the standards and who may ignore or challenge those standards with time. As one expert puts it, “Rules without relationship can breed rebellion.”

The critical difference between strong parenting with love and strong parenting without love, however, is often ignored. Implicitly, the warning is that, no matter how much love, if you expect too much good behavior or you are too different from the rest of the parenting crowd, you're asking for psychological trouble. Your high expectations will be the very thing leading to your child's unruliness. This notion finds face in the stereotype of the “preacher's kid” who, as everyone knows, is the sneakiest, most morally profligate kid in the crowd.

Truth be told, most preachers' kids are more moral and mature than the norm. False notions are fueled by the exceptions that do fit the stereotype.

Some kids will rebel against good rules and limits — regardless of how loving their parents are. As long as free will exists, there are no parenting guarantees. But again, these are the exceptions and, of these, many only temporarily rebel before finally and fully embracing what they were taught for years.

The most crippling aspect of this nutty notion is that it keeps parents from resolutely taking the stands that, deep down, they know are right. All for fear of somehow emotionally pushing their children away. After all, Dorothy already thinks she has the Wicked Witch of the West for a mother and Attila the Hun for a father. So you'll only make things worse by being “too controlling” in your rules. You need to compromise your moral position here and there so as not to appear unreasonable.

It seems to me that, once upon a time, back before the onslaught of all the experts and their theories, parents instinctively understood that it was healthy to set high standards and enforce them vigorously. This led to good kids, not rebellious kids. Now it seems that this instinct is being challenged. Set your bar too high, the new wisdom says, and your children's resistance is a sure sign that you're being too pushy about this whole parenting thing. On the contrary, it's a sure sign that you're a parent and they're kids.

But what if you are clearly way above the parenting norm in your social supervision, in the chores you require, in the respect you expect and so on? Won't your kids draw comparisons? “How can all those people be wrong and you be right?” Sure they will. And they'll resist you even more than they otherwise would if more people thought as you do. Stand strong. The results you want — great kids — will happen. Even if your ride is bumpy and you are much misunderstood along the way.

Dr. Ray Guarendi is the father of 10, a psychologist and an author.

He can be reached at

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