An ode to old-school parenting

Last week, a Virginia father posted a video showing the creative way in which he punished his son for bullying other kids on the school bus. The video shows 10-year-old Hayden Thornhill jogging a mile to school in the rain while his father, Bryan Thornhill, trails behind him in his truck. Perhaps inevitably, the video went viral on social media, garnering more than 30 million views on YouTube and prompting a debate over Thornhill’s parenting style.

That a video of a parent showing his son a little tough love would generate a backlash on social media and subject Bryan Thornhill to withering criticism says a lot about the state of parenting in America.


Hayden’s bullying was bad enough to get him suspended from the school bus for three days. Bryan later said that he wasn’t going to reward his son by driving him to school. And he certainly wasn’t going to keep him home. Making him jog as punishment was a no-brainer for him.


Some commenters were concerned that Hayden would get sick running in the rain. Others thought it might humiliate Hayden to have his misbehavior and punishment seen by so many people.

Please. This sort of punishment is only controversial in today’s age of bubble wrap parenting, safe spaces and participation trophies.

Up until a couple of decades ago, this wouldn’t even have been called controversial. It would have been called tough love, or, as Bryan put it, “simple, old school parenting.”

What is “simple, old school parenting”? As the father of three grown children, I would like to humbly offer my take. Old-school parenting means not doing things for your kids that they can do for themselves. It means being roles models for your children, especially in matters relating to character. It means allowing them to make their own mistakes but instilling in them the confidence and knowledge necessary to learn from those mistakes. And it means worrying less about your child’s immediate happiness and more about helping to build their character for a lifetime. Too often parents are concerned more with what’s going to get their kid into the best college (or pre-school!) than with how to build their character or sanctify their soul.

Finally, old-school parenting means allowing your kids to spend some time away from you, so that you can maintain a healthy relationship with your spouse. That’s because it’s kids who benefit most when their parents have a happy and loving marriage. 

Today, even when parents are present for their children, it’s the kids who call the shots. Many parents want to be liked by their kids or seen by their kids’ friends as cool. Some even end up talking and dressing like their children.

These parents often see their kids more as peers or friends to be consulted in every decision instead of children to be raised, nurtured and, yes, disciplined in a hierarchical family structure. It’s the kids who ultimately lose when their parents fail to model good character, set boundaries, or instill discipline.

Of course, a bigger problem in America today is that we are in the midst of a societal crisis in which men too often are nowhere to be found when their kids need them. For those outraged over Bryan Thornhill’s parenting style, where is your outrage over the 20 million children who don’t even have a father there to discipline them when they do wrong, praise them when they do good, and love them no matter what they do?

The real crisis in parenting is that a quarter of kids in America don’t know what it’s like to have a father around. I’m still waiting for a video about that to go viral. 

Gary Bauer is president of American Values and chairman of Campaign for Working Families.

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