Why the image we have of authority is so important

by | Aug 29, 2019 | Education, Family life | 0 comments

Last week I received a link from a lecture by Haim Omer, a teacher and author from Israel, who gave a presentation on “The New Authority, Part 1“. (lecture hold in german.) 

I found the topic very exciting and diligently took notes.

This article is now based on these notes: in this first article I will try to summarize the theory and in the next article I will show what the practical side can look like with an example he mentioned.

For many of us it is clear what we as parents and teachers don’t want anymore:

This image of a crushing authority that, up to the 1950s, was considered “normal”.

An authority in which no contradiction was accepted and in which every misdemeanor, whether big or small, was immediately “corrected” – not infrequently with a beating.

A good upbringing was associated with the value of “obedience” – an obedience that happens without argument and without delay.

Alice Miller described this kind of education in her book “For Your Own Good” and called it ” black pedagogy“.


Today most of us can no longer identify with it; yes, we even tend to see a child who is obedient all the time as a false result of education!

A survey conducted among ordinary families in Germany also explains why this is so: the value that most parents of this survey want to strive for and implement is no longer “obedience” – but “autonomy, initiative and self-reliance“.

We want children who are creative. Who can unfold. Children who demonstrate tolerance, independence, fantasy and imagination.

We want our children to be able to develop their “self”. That they may grow up, free from this oppressive authority that achieved obedience through control and frigidity.

This is a dream that has been dreamed by educators since the 70s. They believed that, when these children grew up, they would be a healthy society because they had never experienced oppression or violence. That they would then treat their fellow human beings positively, patiently and lovingly.

A dream of redemption dreamed by society.

This has led to the spread of an ideal of education based on four foundations:


Love, understanding, encouragement and freedom.


Unfortunately, such an education did not achieve the results we had dreamed of, but brought with it problems, that had a very disappointing and sobering effect on our society:

The results of research show – and there are over 3oo studies today that say the same thing – that children who grow up in a consistent upbringing without limits or special demands, but only with understanding and encouragement, grow up with a whole range of difficulties. These are difficulties that those children who grow up in a more traditional family that applies boundaries, demands and expectations do not have:  

These children of consequence-free upbringing generally behave more impulsively, find it difficult to control their feelings and do not respond appropriately to rules and obligations. They are often more violent and tend to fall away from social settings such as sport, music and school. Usually these children have a lack of stamina, patience, a lack of sense for cooperation and behavioural problems.

Also, such children are more vulnerable to a wide range of risk factors such as bad influence from friends, alcohol or drugs, promiscuity, low self-control. In addition, most of these children have low self-esteem.

Haim Omer gave an interesting example on this last point:

A child scribbles on a sheet of paper and a whole series of adults are out of their mind and applaud the child: “What a talent, a little Van Gogh!”

Why should a child under these circumstances develop a poor self-esteem? Today we can understand it better:

To believe that we are really capable of something, to develop such a positive self-esteem concept, we need not only positive reflection: This is necessary, but not enough. We also have to experience that we are able to cope with difficulties, to overcome them (…) Experiences that say “you have to do this” are absolutely necessary and form the calcium in the backbone of our self-worth (…).

This above-described reality of the problems that authority-free education brings with it plunges us into a dilemma:

Most of us – and our society – firmly reject this “old” image of authority. This oppressive authority, this “black pedagogy” that was still considered “normal” in the 1950s.

This authority, in which no contradiction was accepted and every misdemeanor, big or small, was immediately “corrected” – not infrequently with a beating.

Others desperately hold on to this old image of authority.

  • Often these are parents who understand that an education without clear boundaries produces children who grow up with difficulties, as I described above.
  • Or parents who want to educate their children according to Biblical principles and firmly believe the Bible demands this kind of authority.

I found it highly interesting to hear what the basic values of such authority were and how such authority was embodied.

Among them were elements like:

  1. distance between parents and the child,
  2. control over the child,
  3. hierarchy: parents above, children below
  4. action-reaction: immediate punishment in case of disobedience

1.Authority meant distance:

Authority was based on distance. The parents did not have a close relationship with the child, but stood remotely on a podium. It was not important what the child felt or thought. Neither did the children know how their parents really were doing. An authority figure was unreachable and unapproachable.


2.Authority means control

This kind of control tried to determine the child’s behavior – but not only that: it also determined what the child thinks and feels.

Such control expected absolute obedience. The criteria of whether someone had authority was measured by the children’s level of obedience.

3.Authority means hierarchy.

The authority person was at the top and the children under it.

The parents were not accountable to anyone. What they did in their family was nobody else’s business. Children had no voice and no rights.

4 .Traditional authority was based on the principle of immediate reaction.

The immediate reaction and punishment when the child had done something wrong, so that the child would not get the impression that it had a leeway.

There was this belief that adults would lose authority if they did not react and punish immediately and even ask why the child did so.

Haim Omer explains:

We know what we don’t want. We no longer want these elements of the old authority. If we know what we don’t want, maybe we start to see what we want.

Do we have an alternative to distance? Is there a way to combine closeness with authority?

  1. Authority – not distance but presence

Natural parental authority arises when the child experiences the parents as present.

When the parents convey the message:

“I am here and I stay here. You cannot dismiss me and divorce me. I am here when you need help and I am here when you need boundaries. I am here when my presence is pleasant for you, but also when it is unpleasant for you. “

Such a child feels the parental presence and it gives weight, strength and authority to the parents.


  1. Authority – not control but self-control:

Natural authority grows when we understand that having control over our children is an illusion. Perhaps we can get them to do what we want them to do – as long as we are present. But we have no control over their feet, mouth, thoughts and feelings.

The only thing we can really learn to control is ourselves.

Haim Omer mentions how this was the main predictor of positive results in families he worked with: the self-control of parents.

If parents are able to say, “I don’t control you – but I do control myself”, it will lead to completely different interactions.


  1. Authority – not just hierarchy but watchful care:

I keep my finger on the pulse of my children.

This happens without being intrusive, but with a sense of duty as parents. If everything is in order, then I give my child the freedom to experiment. This is a positive interest in my child.

But when I get problematic signs, I have to see what is there. Then I have to take a closer look at where problems exist.


  1. Authority is no longer action – reaction but time, self-control and sense of duty

Here the statement is no longer: “You do what I say, otherwise there will be a beating” … but it is “we do what we say”.

That’s something completely different.

This is no longer means “you do what I say now” – control, but “I do what I say” – self-control.

A sense of duty also forms authority. “I am not ready to give up on you”… This is parental sense of duty. “I will do everything in my power not to give you up.”


On the basis of an impressive example, Haim Omer showed in his presentation how these points can be applied. In the next article I will make this example available to you.

If you would like to read what he has to say about the subject, you will find several of his books here. There are also several teachings in english on Youtube


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