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Discipline vs. a child's happiness. What's a parent to do?

The natural course of human events relies on a child striving to please his parents. A parent striving to please his child is a new phenomenon and one guaranteed to bring civilization to its knees.

Many of today’s parents are so fainthearted that the idea of their child being upset with them that they resort to 12-step meetings, shrinks’ couches, and doing really stupid things: like supplying beer kegs to a teenage party, or putting their thirteen-year old on birth control pills, or stay up all night writing a term paper for them.

Rules upset children and teenagers. Being told no angers two-year olds and sixteen-year olds.  Suffering consequences of bad behavior can result in slamming doors, moodiness and the silent treatment. If you’re the kind of parent who hurts when their child is mad at them, then it’s easy to wave consequences, forget rules and start saying yes to more and more outlandish demands (i.e. “I want a limo for my seventh grade graduation.“)

Why do parents do these things? Because they can’t handle the pressure of their own child’s anger! Like it actually matters if a middle schooler is mad at her parents. Yet today we have a bunch of hard-charging forty-somethings who run companies, chair PTA meetings, and kick box three times a week coming home quaking at the thought their high school junior will be too mad talk to them. Having their kids like them is more important than teaching them honor, integrity, morals and values, because you know, these things are difficult lessons and like, can make our kids upset.

Fearless Parents remember a couple of things:

  1. Children are natural-born emotional terrorists. They can sense weakness in their parents, and they know how to exploit it:  go right for the heart.  They are masters of manipulation and say they hate you because they know it works.
  2. If we’re going to be the kind of parents our kids need, we not only have to be able to stand up to their anger, we have to parent through it.
  3. Teens especially are emotional basket cases. Their brains are still developing so trying to reason with them is like trying to reason with a head of cabbage.
  4. Fearless Parents allow their child to be angry but not disrespectful or immature.  They demand angry kids watch their words and behavior.  They accept their child’s anger goes with the job, and that today’s reason for a meltdown will replaced by tomorrow’s.

I know a mom whose petulant teenage daughter wouldn’t speak to her after being chastened for missing her curfew. The daughter wanted the whole world to know she wasn’t speaking to her mom. Even among dinner guests she would ask her dad to ask mom to pass the salt. Carrie didn’t back down. In fact, far from being hurt over her daughter’s anger, Carrie said the silence was golden. Since her daughter wasn’t speaking to her, Carrie saw no reason to cook her daughter’s meals or give her money or tell her when her boyfriend called. After about a week, her daughter saw the hopelessness in her situation. She submitted to authority. She accepted her situation. And became a high-powered attorney.

Then there’s Tom, whose seventh grade son angrily pulled a knife on his mother. Tom confiscated the knife, but his son became so furious that Tom broke down and not only gave him back his knife, but bought him a pellet gun to make it up to him! His son is now in rehab for gambling and heroin addiction, completely lost and confused at the age of twenty-nine. Barring an epic miracle, Tom’s lack of rules has sentenced his now grown son to a life of misery.

One of the most tragic episodes to hit our sons’ high school was the death of the drill team captain, a beautiful girl whose boyfriend was a star football player in his freshman year at college. For whatever reason, her parents agreed her high school friends could drink alcohol as long as they didn’t drive. They even provided it.  Her mother collected car keys at the door believing she was being a responsible parent. Several drunken hours later, the girl and boy had a fight and he found his keys then stormed off to his car. His girlfriend begged him not to go, and in desperation jumped in before he burned off leaving a trail of rubber.  Police believe he hit the tree at over a hundred miles an hour. 

Here are 5 things our kids need us to remember:

  1. Parenting is not for cowards. The best parents don’t give a whit about their kid’s anger.
  2. Our kids should be more afraid of our anger that we are of theirs.
  3. If we enforce authority when our children are young they accept it when they are older.
  4. The adult world has rules and doesn’t really care if our children like them or not.
  5. Love means having to stick to consequences.

Our kids need us to be the adult, they need us to be resolute, they need us to be fearless. The fact is, if our children never get angry with us then we’re not doing our job as parents.

This article is an excerpt from Fearless Parenting. Raising a Child to Face the Adult World. Find it at

Harry H Harrison Jr. is a NYTIMES best selling parenting author with over 3.5 million books in print. He has been interviewed on over 25 television programs, and featured in over 75 local and national radio stations including NPR. His books are available in over thirty-five countries throughout Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Norway, South America, China, Saudi Arabia and in the Far East. For more information visit

Harry Harrison Jr's picture
Fearless Parenting

Harry H Harrison Jr. is a NYTIMES best selling parenting author with some 4 million books in print. He has been interviewed on over 25 television programs, and featured in over 75 local and national radio stations including NPR. His books are available in over thirty-five countries. For more information visit