My inner 17-year-old is surprised to read this, but I am an “old school” parent—my wife and I make all family decisions. Some families may be democracies and I personally know two families that are ruled by six-year-old girls. I am not saying my wife runs our house like a military academy. Our kids don’t have to eat everything on their plate, but we decide what is for dinner.
This approach works best for our family. The extra freedom we used to give our older son overwhelmed him. Asking him whether he would prefer black beans or chickpeas for lunch stressed him out with an unwelcome and unnecessary distraction. He has better things to do than worry about the menu and is happier when we decide for him.
There is a biological explanation for this behavior.
We normally think of natural selection affecting our physical structure. Why do peacocks have those big colorful tails? Peahens prefer them–probably a lot– because large tails are a big disadvantage. You need to eat more if you want a big tail and that could be a problem when food is scarce. Also, I’m sure that tigers appreciate the large colorful heads up that dinner is served.
Natural selection can also select tendencies for certain behaviors over other tendencies. One of those behaviors is to believe without question things that our parents and authority figures tell us. If your parents say, “Stay back from the edge of that cliff!” or “Spit out that red berry!” you are pretty likely to do as they say. This is because your ancestors also were likely to listen to their parents. The kids who didn’t listen fell off cliffs or poisoned themselves and didn’t pass along their “you’re not my boss” genes.
Just as a peacock’s tail has the unfortunate consequence of making peacocks easier to spot by predators, our inclination to believe authority figures no matter what sometimes gets us in trouble. Religious suicide cults are an extreme example. My dad told me (sarcastically, I hope) that even though an hour starts when the minute hand is on the twelve, a minute begins when the second hand is on the nine. I thought that was odd, but it didn’t occur to me to question it. I believed it for fifteen years until I actually said it out loud and logic took over.
Luckily for me, when a minute starts never came up. Unluckily for me, politicians, sales people, and ad execs frequently try to fool me because they know I am inclined not to question authority figures. They are successful sometimes but I swear that I have never bought anything from QVC.
Watch the intro to this Twisted Sister video and you’ll see where I’m going.
Digression for musical history: If you weren’t around in the 1980s, there was a big difference between metal fans then and the last fifteen years of metal fans. Recently, metal fans are supposed to be in shape and with nice tattoos. They are cool and their girlfriends look like Amy Lee from Evanescence. Back in the day, the real metal fans I knew were more like the kid in this video. They wore their coats all year long–even in gym–and didn’t really talk to anybody.
(Actually, they did talk to me. I got to know them when I wound up in remedial gym class. Some of them were pretty good at volleyball. Remedial gym was fun. Once you get rid of the guys who have something to prove the freaks who have nothing to lose can have a good time.) We owe the metalheads a debt for keeping rock alive between The Last Waltz and Soundgarden’s first A&M album. (Remember that I am an authority and you should accept this statement without thinking about it too much.)
So what about the fat metal kid? He didn’t listen to any authority figure. What does evolution say about him? I am not aware that anyone has isolated a Dokken fandom gene. If it exists, it wasn’t being passed on much 25 years ago.
When we mature, our environment requires that we think for ourselves. Otherwise we won’t prosper compared to those people who can. The free spirits with ballpoint drawings of Randy Rhoades on their jean jackets were pretty independent of the stupid social scene in high school. If they could tell that the prom was crap, maybe they could see through other more important things later in life. Maybe they didn’t invest in Enron. Maybe they know that new cars are for suckers. Maybe they know that iTunes isn’t going to save the music industry and their budget portable music players contain .wav files off the new Motörhead double live CD.