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Good parenting requires a little tough love

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My 10-year-old son recently handed down his sentence, declaring my wife and me “the worst parents ever!”

Our crime? A new policy at Casa de Navarrette where we require that our three kids — our son and his two sisters, ages 12 and 8 — unplug from their brain-sucking electronic devices Monday through Friday. They may reengage their precious darlings —

iPods, video games, tablets, etc. — only on weekends.

For my son, this is crazy talk, and the new policy amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Can I live with that — and with my new title? No problem.

After 12 exhausting years of hands-on parenting, here’s what I’ve learned: If your kid doesn’t resent you a little bit, and doesn’t think you’re too strict or too much in his or her face, then you’re not doing parenting right. Your kids don’t need a best friend, or someone to defend them, right or wrong, and make excuses for them when they foul up. They need a rulebook, a dose of personal responsibility and a reliable compass. 

Which is why, this Father’s Day, my nomination for Father of the Year goes to Brad Howard of Houston. 

It seems that Howard’s son, 17-year-old Bradley, is a chatterbox in his high school physics class. So much so that his teacher has repeatedly called his parents to complain. Mom and dad got fed up with the calls, and they had just about given up on getting through to the teenager. 

Then came divine inspiration.  

Brad Sr. told junior that if they got just one more call, he was going to go to the school, pull up a chair and sit next his son in physics class — just to make sure he behaved himself. Well, the parents got a call. And Bradley got some company. 

According to the local NBC affiliate, on a recent Friday, Bradley walked into his physics class, grinning and greeting everyone as he entered. Then he heard two words that no doubt made his blood run cold: “Hello, Bradley.” It was his dad. 

And to make this already great story even more awesome, Brad Sr. took a selfie and sent it to mom, who sent it, well, just about everywhere. Thanks to social media, these are now the most famous group of study buddies in America. 

“His classmates seemed to love it,” the father told the TV reporter. “But Bradley ... not so much.”

Well, I love it so much. And, I bet, so do a lot of other parents. It’s a real shame we don’t recognize it, but this is what good parenting looks like.

But I also have a clear idea what bad parenting looks like. 

Bad parenting is when we’re weak and permissive. It’s when we’re too eager to please kids who are supposed to be trying to please us. It’s when we leave our kids with the mistaken impression that the world will be easy on them because we’ve all but encased them in bubble wrap.

Bad parenting is when we let our kids off the hook, allow them to wiggle out of an uncomfortable situation or skip an unpleasant chore because they beg, plead or complain about how they don’t want to put up with it. Rather than demand that they meet our expectations, we lower the expectations.  

The first time that your kid comes home and tells you that he has a conflict with a classmate or a teacher, or that he has been accused of doing wrong, that’s your test. If you take your child’s side sight unseen, or let them quit some activity that they’re not loving before they give it a try, you fail.        

I know this failure. A few years ago, my daughter was putting up such a fuss about having to attend daily workshops intended to improve her math skills that my wife and I finally gave up and pulled her out. 

That was a mistake. My daughter is still struggling in math, and now she wishes she had dedicated more effort to the program that was meant to help her. 

My wife and I are determined not to repeat the mistake, so we’re doubling down. My daughter complains about the demands of her swimming, and my son about the time that goes to playing baseball. But they’re not coming out. They both enjoy those activities, just not the effort they have to put into them.

Wait, that reminds me of something I’ve heard about. It’s this cool new thing. It pays huge rewards if you invest in it. There is nothing easy about it, but it is worth the effort. As parents, it’s our job to teach our children all about it.

What is that thing called? Oh yeah, I remember now. It’s called life. 

 

Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group, a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a columnist for the Daily Beast, and author of “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano” (Bantam).

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