At his general audience this week the Pope regaled the crowd by telling them of the time when he was in primary school and he said a bad word to his teacher. His teacher brought his mother in. His mum, Regina, told him off – gently – in front of the teacher. The Pope hinted that a worse punishment awaited him at home, but said he’d leave that to our imaginations. More likely his dad wasn’t as gentle as his mum – maybe he was even given a slap. But Pope Francis does not hold it against his parents that they corrected him so swiftly. He is not so keen on the trend in classrooms today where, if a teacher reprimands a child for saying something rude, then the parents scold the teacher for scolding their child.
The Pope’s advice flies in the face of modern child-centred tenets, the sort that Melanie Phillips covered in her groundbreaking book All Must Have Prizes.
The Pope’s advice is more rounded than merely punishing the child. In the Pontiff’s Twitter feed, he called on parents to forgive their children.
This is the essential second part in the Pope’s advice to parents. First he’s all for the “old-fashioned” approach of getting a child to say sorry; secondly he stresses that the adult caring for the child must not hold a grudge. Some may feel that he should have said more about slapping – does His Holiness think it necessary or not?
Pope Francis is even more unerringly direct to parents who are separated. He has instructed them to “never, never, never take the children hostage”. For many children, their lives are torn apart when warring parents ask them to take sides. If they do so, they end up pleasing one parent and hurting the other, trapping them in a cruel cycle of guilt.
The Holy Father strikes a good balance between the child-centred approach in asking parents not to endlessly rub their children’s noses in past mistakes, but does not ask parents to overlook rudeness, effectively cosseting the child’s ego at the expense of their character. This is a small example, but it shows that the Pope is not the woolly liberal of popular thought.
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