Monday, September 13, 2010

Let's bring back "Because I said so."

Today I'm treading out onto a limb. I'm going to criticize other parents, not for fun, but in the hope that maybe someone will enlighten me as to why so many people seem content to act like their kids run the show.

I'm all for bribing my kid, as I've written before, because it works. Positive reinforcement elicits better results than punishment in a variety of scenarios. Everyone has good days and bad, including kids.

But sometimes children behave like twits. Eventually other children grow wise to the fact that so and so acts like a spoiled monster all the time, and they seek friends elsewhere. Kids with overdeveloped senses of entitlement don't make the best students. It's good to explain the reasons behind rules and pronouncements, but I'm skeptical of people who turn every difference of opinion into a full-scale negotiation. And I'm perplexed by those who can't muster the gumption to tell - not ask - their kids what to do when a situation begs the imperative tense. Life isn't a democracy. Serial indulgers of bratty behavior aren't doing their kids any favors.

I was one of those exhausting children who wanted to know the whys and wherefores of absolutely everything. From a young age, I tried to negotiate my way out of various things, such as Sunday school, math homework and playing with my younger brother. I remember being given logical reasons why I had to do something, but sometimes the maternal answer to "why?" was a simple and direct, "because I said so."

And I'm pleased to report absolutely zero psychological scarring as a result. So I can't figure out why so many seemingly reasonable people become parents and lose their backbones.

Put another way: Fostering curiosity, good. Fostering arguments, bad. As a parent, I think it's my job to offer creative responses to inquiries ranging from the basic "Why is the sky blue?" to the more demanding "Why is that lady fat?" or "Why can't I swim in the Charles River?"

Toddlers should get to negotiate many routine things: which bedtime story to read, which fruit to snack on, which treasure to bring to show and tell. It seems natural and healthy to encourage opinions and decision making.

Except when it's not. I've witnessed three recent examples so egregious they're worth sharing.

The first happened in the cereal aisle at the supermarket. A child who looked about four hurled herself on the floor, two-year-old style, kicked and screamed and refused to go any further unless her mother relented and bought some cereal that may as well have been called Nutritionally Bankrupt Sugar Nuggets. Instead of hoisting the child onto her feet and telling her that they were buying whatever the mother planned to buy, the mom spent a FULL FOURTEEN MINUTES explaining to the child that "Mommy doesn't like it when you do that," and alternately pleading with her to stop. I was so fascinated that the Grape and I kept returning to the aisle to peek on their progress. Somehow I was still shocked when the little wretch won. I watched in near-disbelief as the mom made a big show of placing the Nutritionally Bankrupt Sugar Nuggets in the cart and got down to the kid's level and actually thanked her for stopping the tantrum.

The second happened on an airplane. Flying long haul with kids is challenging. Everyone is over tired, uncomfortable and plain bored. Across the aisle from us, a toddler was entertaining himself by kicking the seat of the woman in front of him. Hard. And over and over again. The parents pretended not to notice until the woman politely but firmly asked the kid to stop. The kid kicked harder. The woman glared at the parents. The parents, instead of telling Junior to knock it off now, went through this whole question and answer dance, wherein they tried to explain to the kid why it's not nice to disturb the lady in front of him. This accomplished nothing. Well, that's not entirely true. It illustrated to the kid that his behavior was producing attention, and he seemed to like that. The lady suffering this assault finally ran out of patience and pressed the attendant call button. A snippy steward who must have seemed like enough of an authority figure told the little boy to stop kicking because it's not allowed. Plain and simple. It worked.

The third incident involved a four-year-old sticking his hands in a younger child's birthday cake, before the birthday boy even got close enough to blow out his candles. Did his mother scold him or tell him to knock it off? Nope. She just said, in a saccharin laden voice, "I don't think that's very nice." The little brat rolled his eyes at his mom, said he didn't care and informed her that he wanted the first piece of cake. He proceeded to hover/slobber over the dessert table. His mom shrugged at the other parents, basically saying, what can you do?

Here's how that should have gone:
"Junior. Don't touch the cake."
"Because it's not yours."
"Why can't I have it?"
"Because I said so."

If necessary, she should have physically restrained him from contaminating the refreshments with his playground paws.

All of these parents are raising brats, albeit probably in varying degrees. (The plane parents might have been so exhausted themselves, if they were, for example, connecting from another long haul flight, to think clearly.) I'm not sure when the desirable trend of listening to one's offspring morphed into the fashion of treating them like full-fledged reasonable adults. Because little kids ultimately aren't responsible for their own decisions and behavior; their parents are.

And I think it's time parents started pulling rank on their kids again.

No comments:

Post a Comment