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True Story: How Johnny’s parents unknowingly set him up to fail

By Marty Callahan

“There are times as a parent when you realize that your job is not to be the parent you always imagined you’d be, the parent you always wished you had. Your job is to be the parent your child needs, given the particulars of his or her own life and nature.”

-Ayelet Waldman, Novelist

Names have been changed to protect the unknowing parents and the innocent child.

Four years before Jill had given birth to a beautiful baby boy that she and her husband had named Johnny. Robert and Jill had held off having children until they had established their careers. Jill was 38, Robert was 41 and Johnny was their first child.

They were perplexed by the fact that their son could be a strong-willed terror with them but shy and reticent with others. He dominated them with angry outbursts and temper tantrums until he got his way. While outside their home he would adamantly refuse to try anything new. They dealt with this by giving in to him and bribing him with toys and food. But he was going to be starting school soon and they were worried that it would not go well.

Johnny had seen martial arts in one of his cartoon shows and had taken a liking to it. Jill had heard that good martial arts training could teach self-control to a child who was prone to angry outbursts and give confidence to one who was shy. They wanted to give karate training a try. So they brought him to our school with the hope that this nightmare would end and that they could get the happy child they had dreamed about.

Jill and Robert believed that the problem was with their son. They wanted him to become independent so they were letting him have a say in family decisions. Jill believed that using her position as the mother to control her son would harm him emotionally and stunt his personal growth. Robert, on the other hand, didn’t believe in rules. His parents were strong authoritarians who harped at him constantly about being responsible. They had rules for everything and didn’t believe in coddling their child. As a matter of fact he could only remember them telling him that they loved him once in his whole life and he didn’t want to be that kind of parent. He felt that his son needed a friend and not a disciplinarian. He wanted him to be free. So the few rules that the family had were rarely enforced.

Coming into Our School

When they came into our school, even though Johnny had been excited about taking karate, he refused to come out on the floor. Robert told us that he was ‘shy’ and then Jill asked Johnny if he wanted to take the class. Johnny continued to refuse and knew he could get his way by throwing a tantrum. They looked at us and said they didn’t want to make him do anything he didn’t want to do. There was no doubt about it. Johnny was in charge.

The Dangers Inherent in a Permissive Parenting Style

What Jill and Robert didn’t know was that they were employing a permissive parenting style which based on their past experiences with their parents seemed like the right thing to do. But what they didn’t know was that permissive parenting often leads to low achievement, poor decision making, displays of aggression, less understanding of emotional states, inability to manage time, poor habits, delinquency and substance abuse. They were setting Johnny up to suffer from severe emotional and psychological problems later in life.

Description of Four Different Parenting Styles

Research by Diana Baumrind from the early 1960s and later research by Maccoby and Martin suggest that there are four different parenting styles: Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive, and Neglectful.

Authoritarian Parentingis seen where the parents set firm rules and punish their children for breaking them. They provide no explanation of the reasoning behind the rules. The answer is “Just do it.” Very little affection is given to the child.

The Authoritative Parentingstyle is one in which rules are put in place but the reasoning behind the rules are given and they are enforced affectionately.

The Permissive Parentingis high on nurturing but low on expectations and rules. The parents indulge their child and rarely discipline them.

The fourth parenting style is the Neglectful Parent. This style of parenting is characterized by few demands, no rules, and little or no communication or affection.

A study done by a Brigham Young University research team showed that Permissive Parenting resulted in teen binge drinking that was three times above normal while Authoritarian Parenting resulted in teen binge drinking that was two times above normal. From these studies it appears that the optimal parenting style is the Authoritative Stylein which the parents set rules but enforce them in a nurturing and supportive way.

Teaching Method Used at Shotokan Karate Leadership School

The teaching method we use is an authoritative style wherein rules are in place but they are enforced in a nurturing and supportive way.

The Naturalistic Observation Research Method

Naturalistic observation is a research method used by psychologists and social scientists to study subjects in their natural environment. It is a research method that we have used for nearly 50 years. Our conclusion is that the real students in our school are the parents of our students.

So… is there hope for permissive parents like Jill and Robert? The answer is yes. The events of our lives can shape us in ways we don’t always know and cause us to act in ways we won’t normally have. Shotokan Karate Leadership Schooltraining will give you an insight into the impact your life events have had on you and free you to see a better way and empower you to change. Through our training you can learn to set rules in your household and enforce them with affection. Contact us if you’d like our help.

References: Verzello, Amanda. “Teens and alcohol study: Parenting style can prevent binge drinking.” News. Brigham Young University. December 2014.


Marty Callahan has spent his life understanding and improving the lives of students both young and old. His passion led to the founding of Shotokan Karate Leadership School in Santa Rosa, CA in 1981 with a dream to awaken the extraordinary leader in his students. Having inspired, taught, coached, supported, and trained over 15,000 students in 40,000 classes in Santa Rosa, Marty has become Sonoma County’s preeminent martial arts leadership instructor. His students, hundreds of whom have gone on to become leaders in their chosen fields, appreciate his engaging, student centered approach to teaching and they believe you will too.