Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Who's the Real Brat Here, Anyway?

It's social commentary time again, folks. After a breeze through my blog feeds this morning, I linked through Young House Love onto the Momformation Blog at BabyCenter. It was this article on child-hating adults that caught my eye. Aiming to really get at both sides of the debate, I went and found the CNN article on permissive parents that the blogger links to. (Incidentally, she links to a drastically shortened version of the article I found.)

The comments were interesting, with people on both sides of the divide both railing against the entitled whinging of this guy on CNN and praising his no-nonsense stance on out-of-control kids. So which is it? Does he simply not understand the challenges of parenting in this day and age? Or is he taking a stand against parents who just don't know how to be parents? Are you ready for my $0.02? I think it's the latter. I back Mr. Granderson and his CNN-publicized stance.

This does not mean that children should be "seen and not heard" - personally, I think that's the biggest load of baloney I've heard since discovering that homeopathy is basically over-priced water. Kids will be kids, and I know that I, for one, wasn't the least rambunctious kid on the block in my day. But I knew that when my mom told me to sit down and be quiet, that I needed to listen to her. Not on any threat of violence, but because Mom was someone you listened to. When you didn't listen...or worse, wilfully disobeyed, privileges were taken away, Mom got upset, and the rest of the day was a pretty rotten one. Plus, as I got older I realised that even though I didn't always agree with my mom, if she was telling me to do something or not to do something, there was usually a reason behind it. It wasn't ever a case of, "Well, I'm the adult and I say so." (For the record, that's the most crap logic ever. If you want your kids to lose whatever respect for your authority they had, by all means, try using this argument sometime.)

But back to these little hellions and their detractors. To hate kids just because they aren't miniature adults is, I agree, bratty behaviour and indicative of a lack of understanding and coping mechanisms. But, when insisting, as Granderson does, that parents need to step up to the plate and teach their children how to behave in society, that has nothing to do with feeling entitled or being a brat. No child will receive any long-term benefit from constantly being allowed to do exactly as they like with no consequence for petulant, dangerous, or inappropriate behaviour. All it teaches them is that their actions have no consequences, which is a dangerous lesson to learn before being unleashed on society. Other people won't be as kind as your parents, most of the time.

Yes, parents have a duty to protect their kids from the dangers of the world. But those dangers aren't things like disappointment at not getting your own way or mild physical discomfort. The things parents should protect against are physical and emotional harm or abuse, unnecessary injury due to negligence, undue cruelty, or other detrimental influences. Everyone will be disappointed in this life. You won't get into every college you apply for, you won't escape a broken heart, you won't always get the promotion you deserve. The world is a tough and unfair place, and while we should strive to make it as fair and just as is humanly possible, there's no use in pretending that injustice, disappointment, death, and pain don't exist. To pretend those things will only set kids up for bigger disappointment and depression further down the line. And in the meantime, they're likely to become entitled individuals who take no responsibility for their own actions. And those sorts of people do no one any good.

Let's just take a look for a minute at some of the things both articles say (with my necessary commentary).

...The latest Census reports have been showing that in all ways, there are fewer kids in our society these days. Fewer people have them, and those who do, have fewer. Around the turn of the century, kids made up 40 percent of our society. Now? Twenty. Almost 46 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 do not have children, up from 35 percent in 1976. So you would think that kids would be bothering people less than ever before.

But somehow no. And I think it’s because the distinct lack of children, particularly in the urban areas from which much of media comes from, makes (some) adults as self-centered as any child. Just look at Granderson’s word choice. “Children are wonderful but they are not the center of the universe. The sooner their parents make them understand that, the better off we all will be.” Riiiiight. So who’s at the center of the universe? Sounds like widdle LZ Gwanderson is! I want my restaurants the way I want them! I want my flights the way I want them! And I want it noooooooow! Or I’m going to kick and scream and throw a big ugly opinion page tantrum! (Maybe it's just me, but I don't see his article as a temper tantrum. It's a rant, sure, but he says that we shouldn't demonize restaurants, cruises, or other services that choose to cater to the 18+ crowd only. Besides, if you want to or have to take your 4-year-old everywhere when you go out; no one's forcing you to patronize the restaurant that doesn't allow small kids. And as for the flights he mentioned one airline that doesn't allow infants - not all children, but just tiny ones - on one section of some of their flights. That hardly seems out-of-control to me.)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of children running freely in restaurants; not the least because it’s incredibly dangerous (tray piled high + person below sight line = head injury). But kids are kids, and sometimes, they are going to make noise! (Let's be honest; his complaint is more than "kids being kids". It's kids refusing to listen and act in an appropriate manner in public to the best of their ability for their age. And the bigger complaint isn't even about the kids, it's about parents who refuse to help their children correct this behaviour so that everyone can rub along comfortably.) And sometimes, that noise is not going to be particularly convenient for you! But we’re all people living together, and we’ve got to all bend a little and let things go. Relax. Stop staring at other people and noting their infractions.
Tell you what. I promise to not take a passel of kids to your four-star wineglass and tablecloth restaurant on Date Night if you promise not to send me the freezing look of disdain when my child dares make a noise above library decibel-level in a pizza joint. (Once again, a straw man argument. The point was never that children shouldn't be allowed in public ever, it was that more and more parents can't or won't teach their kids the necessary skills to be okay in public without running wild. Babies cry and small kids have fits now and then, but to accept bad behaviour as an unchangeable norm is lazy parenting.) You lower your expectations of perfectly modulated adult voices at all times, and I’ll raise my kid to be thoughtful and polite. Because as a parent, that’s what I want. Not just because you’re shooting me the evil eye.

Now, Mr. Granderson on CNN:

Children are wonderful but they are not the center of the universe. The sooner their parents make them understand that, the better off we all will be. (Okay, that could have been worded better, but yeah: everyone has to take a turn and make some sacrifices in order to get along. Fair point.)
This is the part of child-rearing people don't like to discuss, because socially, it's not OK to dislike kids. The ugly truth is it's the spineless parents who parade their undisciplined children around like royalty that make people dislike kids.
Parents who expect complete strangers to just deal with it are not doing anyone, including their children, any favors. They are actually making things worse. Not only are their children allowed to interrupt social events and settings when they are young, but they often grow into disruptive forces in the classrooms later. And nobody likes them for that.
I covered education for years and one of the biggest complaints from teachers was about the amount of time they spent disciplining students. Their threats were empty because parents sided with their kids. And, of course, the use of corporal punishment in the classroom is seriously frowned upon, and even punished.
Spanking is not a cure, and should not be the first resort, (thank you. It's not the best solution, but it can be part of one. Most really young kids don't understand "right" vs. "wrong" very well for a while.) but I don't think it should automatically be taken off the table when dealing with small kids. We're so preoccupied with protecting children from disappointment and discomfort that we're inadvertently excusing them from growing up.
A young child slapping his or her parent's hand away in defiance is not cute, it's disrespectful. In my house, growing up, that would have earned much more than "the look" from my mother. (Precisely. This is the kind of behaviour that we're talking about. Not kids being a bit rowdy because their excited or overly tired, but kids being disrespectful and disobedient because they know nothing will be done to make them stop.)
If I sound a bit old-school, I am. If I'm coming across as a bit of an ogre, so be it.
As a parent, I can empathize with how difficult raising children can be. There are challenges, especially within the framework of divorce, when parental guilt can sometimes blur what should be the best decision.
But I don't believe making a child's wishes top priority is a demonstration of love. Nor do I believe I, or the rest of the world, should act as a surrogate parents for somebody's bad-ass kids.
You wanted them, deal with them. (Preach! Sometimes being a good parent means not being your kid's BFF.)

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