How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes

Originally published at: How to Raise Kids Who Aren't Assholes | Boing Boing


This is tricky, I’m going with “don’t be an asshole” and your children won’t be assholes.

Thank you for listening to my “don’t be an asshole” Ted Talk.


Research suggests that the more parents talk about their feelings and other peoples’, the more kids are likely to be generous and helpful.

We need to talk about [racism] quite a lot, which is really hard for white parents

I consider myself fortunate to be a Gen Xer who was a child in that brief period from the late '60s to the late '70s when the old and emotionally withholding “strict-father” standard model of parenting was being rejected by a larger number of people and when racism (and sexism) was actually being discussed with young children.

The nuturant model combined with greater awareness of racism didn’t completely eliminate arseholes – contrary to Father Flanagan, there is such a thing as a bad boy, and large swathes of the country remained in thrall to the old model during that period. However, I would contend that it reduced the number of arseholes-due-to-parenting substantially before the Reagan era re-instituted the crappy old models as the norm just as the Boomers were having their kids.


Putting a lot of pressure on kids to excel in their education can be a bad thing depending on how its done and the child’s personality. I’ve always been kind of a lazy person but very intelligent, so it took a lot of coaxing to get me to do school work and my parents very harsh methods to get me to do homework and whatnot is one of the reasons why i have a lot of anxiety still. I’m not sure what my parents could’ve done differently but i really wish they had, i’m only just recently starting to deal with that part of my personality in the last 10 years and its been difficult to change.


Not sure if I’ve mentioned it here before, but yeah, when I was 5 and ignorantly followed the lead of one of my friends in calling another friend the N word in the school playground, the approach my teachers and Dad took was remarkably progressive, considering this was the rural UK in the Seventies.

They didn’t yell or scream at me, but took me aside and asked me calmly why I’d said it, how did I think it made my friend feel and did I understand what I’d said.
They then explained where the word came from and why it was wrong and hurtful. This was also followed up with me visiting the friend I’d insulted, and we eventually became best friends, to the extent that when his family chose to move, they moved next door to us.

My Dad’s an old hippy, who at the time was a social worker, raising me on his own, as well as being an amputee. I count myself fortunate to have had him as a guiding light.


I feel seen. Although my parents did not use harsh methods, instead respecting the fact that a supposedly intelligent child like myself could grasp the concept of consequences presented honestly.

In my case, the consequences amounted to “if you don’t keep your grades up we’ll pull you from the school you like so much” or making me aware of the fact that – fair or not – society rewards people who get good grades (more true in the days of the post-war economic anomaly than it is now). It worked, although I can’t say it did much to cure my laziness (though laziness can have its own counter-intuitive benefits).

I feel the same about my parents, as well as about the timing of the parenting trends. This period was the height of the the influence of experts like Benjamin Spock (“Baby and Child Care”) and Alice Miller (“The Drama of the Gifted Child”), a time when a lot of parents gave their kids books like “Where Did I Come From” and records like “Free to Be You and Me”, a time when civil rights activists were still regarded as towering heroes (despite their being flawed humans) and their opponents were still seen as deplorable or sometimes clownish villains (without any excuse-making about “economic anxiety”). It wasn’t a universal phenomenon in the U.S. or in the UK, but it penetrated on a popular culture level beyond the affluent cities into areas it didn’t before and hasn’t since.


Hah, I wasn’t aware of that quote, but that’s pretty much my approach to life. If I can do things quickly and efficiently, I’ve got more time to myself to be lazy :smiley:
I seem to remember the Pratchett character Victor Tugelbend espousing the same philosophy in Moving Pictures.


I’m extremely fortunate in this way as well. In 1970, my dad would drive home each day (he was an electrical engineer) at lunch in order to feed me Gerber Baby Food and bond with me.

This nurturing continued throughout my childhood. I remember waiting for him to get home so he could read the picture captions from National Geographic.

I also remember that he told me that you could tell a lot about a person by their eyes. If their eyes were scary or I felt really nervous, run away. Kind eyes and feeling happy when I looked at a person’s eyes were the only thing that mattered when it came to making friends.

My dad was incredible, and I miss him every single day.


Tbh this is only about 33% of it. I know plenty of people who are not assholes but also have zero discipline for their child and this essentially turns them into uncontrollable assholes.

You need to not be an asshole, discuss openly different types of asshole behavior (like in the racism example but also for any other bigotry etc) and show why it is wrong, and you have to hold the child to some level of discipline in their behavior. This typically can be manifested in an approach I describe to new parents as “be more stubborn than the kid is” in ensuring punishment is kept up but also in terms of not just giving up on your principles when you’re feeling too lazy to actively parent your child.

It’s difficult and time consuming to do all this, but if you do it your kid will end up like mine who is a kind and considerate person.

Now this doesn’t even start on how to make your child be an interesting person which takes even more effort. Raising kids is hard, most people are shitty because their parents were too lazy or dumb to do it right.


In my parents defense i was/am immensely stubborn, so i understand why their approach was to push or force me to do things and be forceful at times but it did instill a lot of nervousness and anxiety in me that i wish i didn’t have.


Often overlooked: Don’t have kids just because your besties on Facebook are all having kids, or you think having a kid will fill some kind of void in you, etc. Kids aren’t fashion accessories, status symbols, therapy, photo ops, or a checklist requirement for adulthood.

It’s incredible how nonchalantly some people bring entirely new minds into the universe, and then don’t pay any attention to how they’re faring in all this madness.

Full disclosure: I don’t have kids myself. But I am grateful every day for my wonderful parents. Even as an adult, understanding well their fallibility, I recognize how crucial their care and willingness to communicate with me about emotion and empathy shaped the person I became.


I know at least three cases of non-identical twins where one of twins is an asshole and the other is not. One expects that in such a situation, the parents are raising the kids in the same manner. I’m not saying that “nurture” has nothing to do with personality but the tendency to hold parents entirely responsible for all of the personality defects or even personality virtues of their children is just garbage. The idea that you as a parent have much control over whether your children are assholes is an illusion.


Yeah, some people are going to be assholes no matter what. I don’t know any twin situations, but plenty of sibling situations like what you mention.
Others can definitely get turned into assholes by their parents or other environmental factors, but they can later recover if they want to and work really hard at recovering.


Let’s make a bet on that.


Haha! Great movie, and interesting analogy. But @prooftheory is talking more about when people are brought up in the same situation with the same skin tone and access to (or lack of) resources.
A friend of mine has two sons, neither are assholes, but just as an example of how little control parents might have. The first one is what is kindly referred to as an “indigo” child, I think, in the parenting books. Very, very difficult, prone to tantrums, etc. Her second son was a super mellow kid. She herself said, “Thank gawd I had the difficult one first, or I would have been such a smug mother, thinking that I was somehow to credit with the fact that this one is so mellow and easy.”


I know. I just can’t resist bringing up the Trading Places dollar bet in any discussion of nature vs. nurture. It was a brilliant bit in a great movie.

Like I noted above, I agree that there are some kids who are just difficult by nature, and that the best the parents can do in those cases is mitigate the worst of it.


It’s like fads in educational theory-every method will work for some of the kids some of the time. No method will work for all of the kids all of the time.
Modeling the behavior you want, dealing with the behavior you don’t want. Adapting to the kid. Hoping for the best.


There’s no set formula that’s ‘guaranteed’ to work, but like @Papasan, I think a great start is NOT being asshole yourself.

After that, it’s doing the hard work that’s required when it comes to raising a kid, in addition to taking advantage of every teachable moment that one can - as others have already noted, avoiding uncomfortable topics (like racism) won’t make one’s children oblivious to those problems.


Parents who raise their children exactly the same (even twins) are part of the problem. Every child is different, and each needs unique parenting to bring out their best potential.