By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Raising disciplined children may be serious business, but clinical psychologist, author and EWTN personality Ray Guarendi approached the subject with a lot of humor during a presentation at St. Wenceslaus Church Sept. 30.
Guests in the packed church broke into laughter countless times as the fast talking, animated Guarendi juxtaposed a comedic monologue with commentary and advice on parenting in today’s society.
He explained that about 80 percent of the parents who seek his services or ask questions are concerned about discipline. Today’s culture seems to emphasize self-esteem and “letting kids be kids” as opposed to creating a firm, structured environment where rules are enforced, he explained.
“You want to discipline less? Lower your standards,” he said with a smile and a twinkle in his eye, inciting laughter. “No, we discipline because we love.” He emphasized that parents may fear that their children won’t like them. But if parents don’t discipline, the children may later experience consequences for their actions in the real world that are more severe than any punishment they would have received at home.
Effective discipline, he said, requires two elements. “The first part is love. You love your kids desperately! But the second part — the perception of authority — is what gives even the best of parents fits!” The perception of authority, he said, means that the child knows the parent will follow through with what he or she says.
“Here’s a simple authority test,” Guarendi said. “In a calm voice, levy whatever consequence you see fit. Then step back and observe the reaction. … It will tell you more about how the child perceives you than it does about their nature.”
Parents must consistently offer discipline because the child — as with any human — likely won’t change his or her behavior right away. “We want results now, but it’s not like you put the kid in a corner for 3 minutes and they say, ‘Oh, I’ve been so blind! Let’s go sing Kum Ba Yah around a campfire!’”
He said taking away privileges is an effective, loving method of discipline. This could include temporarily taking away a stuffed animal from a younger child or taking away computer privileges from an older child. An advantage of this type of punishment is that it can be administered anywhere, whether at the grocery store or at home.
Guarendi occasionally pulled from his own experiences to emphasize his points. Ray and his wife have 10 adopted children, most of whom had poor prenatal care or rough early childhood experiences. Consistency in discipline has been helpful in providing the children with a more stable, loving home.
Answering an audience member’s question about cell phones, Guarendi passionately advised the crowd to avoid giving their children smart phones, despite their prevalence in culture. “Cell phones are not your friend. You can’t effectively monitor them.” Teenagers especially may feel tempted to view pornography, and other inappropriate materials, since they will know they can get away with it. Even if none of that happens, it can be a distraction that causes them to miss out on face-to-face conversation and family time. Basic cell phones are a better idea. “You risk resentment, but as Venerable Fulton Sheen said, something isn’t right just because everyone says it is right. Sometimes you just have to do it.”
Kathleen Staley, a therapist and member of St. Wenceslaus Parish, was impressed by the presentation’s tone and content. “I laughed so hard,” she said. “He combined a lot of humor and some very profound truths. In this culture we need to be firm, and discipline is important for positive and productive parenting.”