Revisiting 12 Rules for Life: Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them

Note: This is a repost of a blog series that I started in January 2018. Because this was prior to the blog being syndicated on PeakD, and it was some of my most-viewed content on the old blog. I’m going to be editing these slightly, but I’m also going to be adding my own thoughts as I re-read what I wrote. You can find the original post here.

For those of us just joining me, I’ve been reading Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Amazon Affiliate link).

Rule 5 is the first rule of Jordan Peterson’s that is going to force you to look outside yourself. Where the first four rules all deal with self-improvement and self-concept, the fifth rule is no less centered on reflection and analysis, but requires a different approach.

I don’t do a whole lot of shouting about it here, but I’m a teacher by trade (which should explain to some the difficulty I have had in maintaining frequent updates). This chapter, along with some of the insights in Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People have probably caused one of the most intentional and probably beneficial shifts in my teaching style at any point in my career.

The reason for this is simple: one thing I used to do as a teacher is simmer. I would allow a student to “get away” with something, only to respond with incredible unfairness later; not because of intentionally wanting to over-react, but because I had allowed the student to do something that was not really acceptable by my standards, and continue to do it.

At some point, the student would hit a threshold where the sum annoyance of their behavior hit a boiling point, and I would call them out—for a truly minor offense—and levy at that moment the sum penalty for all the misbehavior of the class period.

However, the purpose of this chapter is not simply to produce more proactive disciplinarians. I genuinely want what is best for my students.

To sigh, roll my eyes, and say to an equally beset colleague “Students, am I right?” does not help students at all. It does them a disservice, telling them that authority figures will always accept their misbehavior as some minor nuisance; as if it were part of a “local flavor” unique to each individual that comes with the territory.

I’ve seen improvements in students’ behavior just this week by applying these principles, and stopping more quickly to have conversations with my students (who are in middle grades), and say “This is not a good behavior that will win you success and popularity in the long run.”

A lot of Peterson’s work in this chapter talks about the psychology and logic that goes into many of the decisions being made by parents and authority figures in childrens’ lives, and the literature on child psychology of the recent era. While I feel his point is very clearly evidenced in the title, there are really three things I’m going to draw out real quick for further reminiscence.

  • For one thing, many people permit their children to have free reign to foster dominant personalities perceived as in line with success.
    • While this can produce fruit in the sense that these children grow up to be willing to exploit others, they do poorly with limits and resent authority.
    • The other downside of this is that the parents often wind up with regrets because a permissive parent will have a hard time being a confidant and support later in life when children need to make important decisions.
  • Many of the behaviors that children choose (in absence of other pressures) are self-destructive and poorly thought out.
    • Peterson uses the example of a four-year-old who would not eat because he didn’t want to. His mother, a psychologist, did nothing about this, and allowed him to engage in physically self-destructive behavior.
    • However, proper encouragement and direction, using guidance and not force (unless absolutely necessary for immediate protection) leads to a win-win scenario where both child and authority achieve benefit; the four-year-old being eventually coaxed into eating, sating his hunger and managing an achievement.
  • Despite modern philosophies often disagreeing, age and experience does bring wisdom, or at least something approximating it, and adults have a role as mentors.
    • Anti-social children suffer the most from their own behaviors. While authorities often are focused on their impacts on others, they are damaging their own prospects and ability to engage with others.
    • Worse, anti-social children have the same effect on the adults who are supposed to help them; by becoming “problem” children, they are undermining their own future, simply because they were never taught the skills to be pleasant and therefore receive beneficial social contact with other people on a voluntary basis: forced interaction of a hired teacher or babysitter, or even a begrudging parent filled with regret, cannot match the benefits of someone who is pleasant to be around and achieves synergy with those around them.

Reflections from 2021

I think this was really the point where I started getting into the swing of the reading reflections.

I still remember how much this chapter impacted the way I view the role of a teacher in the classroom and the proper way for an adult to model behavior for a child, in part because I applied it and saw several beneficial effects in my classroom.

I’m also working on writing up my reflections on the third chapter of Beyond Order, which deals with something like a more sophisticated and perhaps self-focused version of this.

One thing that I’ve found quite helpful as I’ve matured is setting up my own self-restraint and building limits for myself so that I behave how I find productive and achieve the success that I want. For instance, I’ve been writing on average over three thousand words a day for the past couple weeks. That requires a certain amount of fulfillment and the willingness to sacrifice some things that I might want to do with my time in order to hit my goals, though it does not take me all that much time to write three thousand words if I set my mind to it and my subjects interest me.

There’s a case for modeling this as an adult, and also for imposing some limits on children who aren’t yet at the point where they can self-regulate their emotions and goals. In economics we might refer to this as the development of time preference, and in life we might call it the development of wisdom and experience.

I don’t really have anything more to add, so I’ll cut my reflections here. I think this chapter resonated well with me and also combined perfectly with my experiences, and my original thoughts have aged well (or at least it can be said that I have not come to a more sophisticated take on these beliefs).

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