Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pro Tip: Just Say No

I'm not a parent and don't have plans on being one for at least another five years, if not more. But I've been working in some capacity with children my whole life. From babysitting, to summer camps, to teaching, to the museum educational programming I'm invested in now. Childcare has always come naturally to me, for whatever reason. As a result, I've had the opportunity to observe a lot of parents in the act, as it were. And I'm beginning to think Gen X-ers are raising a bunch of assholes.

I was blessed to have great parents. Very involved, they had high expectations of me without being overbearing, and I maintain a really close relationship with both of them. In fact, when I talk about the level of closeness my mom and I have, I think it wigs people out sometimes. For example: in college I called my mom the first time I got crazy hung over to brag. She is also usually aware of who I'm having sex with. This is just how we are. She's the single most nonjudgmental, supportive person in my life and I adore her. My dad doesn't know these things, because both my mom and I know he would probably die of shock, but we are still close. He's an old world Southern gentleman, no joke, and I get my sense of humor from him. Sarcasm was a form of affection in our house. He also openly and unconditionally loves his family. They are great parents and even better models for the kind of parent I would like to be. Which is NOT AT ALL like the kinds of parents I deal with on a daily basis.

Currently, the bulk of Gen X are in their mid thirties to forties. Prime parenting ages. As I cannot relate to what it was like developing your identity in the seventies and eighties, I don't know what happened to them as a generation to decide when they became parents that their children would rule the house. Were they all just really repressed? I have no clue. I lived through a certain amount of helicopter parenting as a child and even a bit into high school, but I have never at any point in my professional dealings with children thought that it was wrong to use the word "No."

This trend started years ago, but it has really taken a hold of modern parenting. "No" apparently stifles children, creates barriers, and makes them have sad feelings. When I was teaching preschool we had whole seminars on replacement words for "No." The kinds of examples they would give were as follows:

If you observe a child engaging in an inappropriate or dangerous activity stop them and ask, "Are you making a good choice?"


A "good choice." Seriously? Of course they aren't and of course they know that. Asking them to pause and reflect doesn't actually accomplish anything. In the 13 years of my life that I have been working in some form of childcare I have learned that most kids don't have the capacity to sustain self awareness until they are well and truly removed from whatever stimulus has caused their reaction. So using your best neutral tone and politely asking a child if their "choices" are "good" will rarely cause them to stop running frantically around a room slapping people for attention.

And yet, day after day, I witness parents who refuse to tell their children no. Currently my weekends are booked up with the infotainment business of hosting birthday parties in a museum. I can't tell you the number of times I have witnessed children blow up at their parents just to watch them kowtow to unnecessary demands. I have lost count of how often I've watched a kid scream, I WANT MY PRESENTS NOW!

There are like...a ton of gifs from The Orphan on tumblr.

And they are then given the presents as a reward for this behavior. Maybe to their parents they don't see this as a cause and effect relationship, that they are continually teaching their children to freak out and throw a vase every time they want something. But they are. In a thousand little ways these children are learning that the only way to get what you want is to frighten everyone around you. Manipulate the situation through fear and aggression to achieve your goal.

Sometimes fear and aggression aren't even necessary. Those are for the kids with less skill. Being quietly manipulative will still get you whatever you want. Cry. Whisper that you hate your parents for being so mean. That works too, apparently.

My mother tells a story from when I was four years old, I came into the kitchen to ask for some kind of treat. I was told no. I continually asked, pouted, and wheedled until she told me to leave the room because the answer was still no. I left with a cry of, "I hate you!" My aunt had been present for this and she got emotional on my mother's behalf, asking her how she could resist giving in. My mom shrugged it off and said, "She's four. She's going to forget she said that in an hour and come ask me again."

Whether I forgot or not, the fact remains, kids don't actually dissolve under the word no. Their worlds don't unravel and they don't actually hate you. Kids need structure. They need to understand what is expected of them and what isn't. Its a part of socialization. Otherwise you've got a band of sociopaths that you're raising who believe their relationships with other humans are based off a series of manipulations. They quantify a person's usefulness by whether or not they can be controlled. Maybe I'm overstating things, but I do also have a 22 year old cousin now who goes around my aunt's house punching holes in walls and threatening her whenever she tries to deny him things, which is incredibly rare as it is.

Say "No" to your kids. They deserve an active parent.

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