I don't think I know of any faster way to set off a near tirade, beginning with the almost automatic "you do not ask me why; just do what I tell you to do" assertion, than for a child to ask a parent-"why?"
"Thou shall not ask a parent why" could have just as well been the eleventh commandment.
This was especially true growing up in a household like mine where any remark made in response to a house rule or a clearly wrong statement about something was thought to be stepping outside of a child's place.
In retrospect, I think that maybe this is the one area where my folks would say I gave them the toughest time; although to me, I was doing no more than what they had taught my siblings and I to do, which was to stand up for ourselves and not be afraid to ask questions when we did not understand something.
I spent most of my childhood struggling to realize that that was one lesson that did not apply when it came to communicating with parents. I never realized it.
Frankly, I was one of the lucky ones.
The potential consequences of placing children in such a double bind can be grave. I do not think it is a concept that too many people, particularly parents, consider all that often.
Think for moment about the child who is being told, on the one hand, to "go to school and learn all you can", then on the other, is being reprimanded at home for using what he/she has learned to correct a parent on a mistaken fact.
Think even longer about the child who is condemned for questioning a parent's decision about a punishment or some directions he/she's been given, but is encouraged to ask questions, let's say, in the classroom when he/she is not clear about what is going on.
Consider the conflicting message a child then receives.
Will such a child be confident enough to ask questions in the classroom? Does such a child become a confident adult unafraid to offer insight to a boss about a workplace issue, to challenge discriminatory or biased practices of some organization?
For many parents, the real answers to these questions and questions like these have probably never occurred to them. For starters, most haven't gotten past the idea of a child questioning them-why? Largely because parents are the adults, right?
Well, this reasoning is the premise upon which I make my case.
What greater responsibility a parent has than to teach their children rules of conduct that rightly includes respect for authority, but also, coupled with this responsibility is the opportunity to make sure that their children understand the whys of things being asked of them and of decisions made regarding them.
Not only will they have a better understanding perhaps about rules they may have broken and the impact their actions could have on themselves or others, but they will also come to make the necessary distinction between disrespecting authority and being assertive about the things they know or making a stand for something they believe in.
If you are a parent, the next time your child asks you why, don't think of it as a challenge of your authority as a parent, instead think of the opportunity you have to instill a sense of confidence in him/her that will stay with them and manifest in many crucial areas of their adult lives.
Many of the world's greatest minds-are so-because they asked somebody-why.
Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.