Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, Rule 5: Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them

For those of us just joining me, I’ve been reading the (somewhat) controversial Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Amazon Affiliate link). The fifth chapter is as interesting as the previous chapters, and really caused me to have a bit of a paradigm shift in my interactions with children.

If you just want to hear what I have to say about the book in general, I’ll probably write a review of the book once I’m done.

Rule 5 is the first rule of Jordan Peterson’s that is going to force you to look outside yourself. Where the first four rules all deal with self-improvement and self-concept, the fifth rule is no less centered on reflection and analysis, but requires a different approach.

I don’t do a whole lot of shouting about it here, but I’m a teacher by trade (which should explain to some the difficulty I have had in maintaining frequent updates). This chapter, along with some of the insights in Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People (Amazon Affiliate link) have probably caused one of the most intentional and probably beneficial shifts in my teaching style at any point in my career.

The reason for this is simple: one of the things I used to do as a teacher is simmer. I would allow a student to “get away” with something, only to respond with incredible unfairness later; not because of intentionally wanting to over-react, but because I had allowed the student to do something that was not really acceptable by my standards, and continue to do it.

At some point, the student would hit a threshold where all their behavior hit a boiling point, and I would call them out—for a truly minor offense—and levy at that moment the sum penalty for all the misbehavior of the class period.

However, the purpose of this chapter is not simply to produce more proactive disciplinarians. I genuinely want what is best for my students.

To sigh, roll my eyes, and say to an equally beset colleague “Students, am I right?” does not help students at all. If anything, it does them a disservice, telling them that their misbehavior will always be accepted by authority figures as some minor nuisance; part of a “local flavor” as it were, unique to each individual that comes with the territory.

I’ve seen improvements in students’ behavior just this week by applying these principles, and stopping more quickly to have conversations with my students (who are in middle grades), and say “This is not a good behavior that will win you success and popularity in the long run.”

A lot of Peterson’s work in this chapter talks about the psychology and logic that goes into many of the decisions being made by parents and authority figures in childrens’ lives, as well as the literature on child psychology of the recent era. While I feel his point is very clearly evidenced in the title, there are really three things I’m going to draw out real quick for further reminiscence.

  • For one thing, many people permit their children to have free reign to foster dominant personalities perceived as in line with success.
    • While this can produce fruit in the sense that these children grow up to be willing to exploit others, they do poorly with limits and resent authority.
    • The other downside of this is that the parents often wind up with regrets because a permissive parent will have a hard time being a confidant and support later in life when children need to make important decisions.
  • Many of the behaviors that children choose (in absence of other pressures) are self-destructive and poorly thought out.
    • Peterson uses the example of a four-year-old who would not eat because he didn’t want to. His mother, a psychologist, did nothing about this, and allowed him to engage in physically self-destructive behavior.
    • However, proper encouragement and direction, using guidance and not force (unless absolutely necessary for immediate protection) leads to a win-win scenario where both child and authority achieve benefit; the four-year-old being eventually coaxed into eating, sating his hunger and managing an achievement.
  • Despite modern philosophies often disagreeing, age and experience does bring wisdom, or at least something approximating it, and adults have a role as mentors.
    • Anti-social children suffer the most from their own behaviors. While authorities often are focused on their impacts on others, they are damaging their own prospects and ability to engage with others.
    • Worse, anti-social children have the same effect on the adults who are supposed to help them; by becoming “problem” children, they are undermining their own future, simply because they were never taught the skills to be pleasant and therefore receive beneficial social contact with other people on a voluntary basis: forced interaction of a hired teacher or babysitter, or even a begrudging parent filled with regret, cannot match the benefits of someone who is pleasant to be around and achieves synergy with those around them.


2 thoughts on “Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, Rule 5: Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them”

  1. Chapter five was one of the best. My wife and I have raised two great kids and have three grandchildren. The most recent 12/22/2017. I have bought the book and sent copies to both. The book is great and chapter five should be read by parents who care about their children and their future.

  2. Insightful summary of Peterson’s Rule 5, thank you. I agree, it’s great advice for parents. Children absolutely need guidance from parents so they can thrive. Letting kids get away with negative / unhelpful behavior does them a great disservice. I recently made this video summary of a Rule 5:

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