Subtitle: Parents Behaving Badly
There’s a trend in our society that has always bothered me somewhat. We compliment parents when their children are well-behaved and we, likewise, condemn them when their children are ill behaved. Given that nobody can completely control anyone else’s behavior, why aren’t we judging the parents on their own behavior instead of on the behavior of their children?
Yes, parents absolutely do need to be teaching their children how to behave in public and how to handle themselves in various situations, but the idea that one person (even a parent) either can or should have such complete control over another person (even a child)’s behavior is just a bit troubling to me. Teaching someone is not the same thing as controlling them is and when we judge parents by their children’s behavior, there seems to be an implicit assumption that the parents should be controlling those children and keeping them under control!
Before even mentioning any practical issues regarding children and their behavior in public, I think that it’s important to recognize that children are people too. They have good days and bad days. They have days when they eat too much sugar, too little food, or miss a nap and go bonkers in the grocery store or other public place. Children, just like adults, are prone to lose their tempers, get grumpy, become frustrated, and lash out.
Children also possess far less impulse control than adults do, which is why it rather puzzles me that we, as a society, seem to expect children to behave even better in public than we expect their parents to behave.
Often, children’s inappropriate behavior is precipitated by an unwise decision on the part of the parents (like taking a young child shopping during naptime), but we should hold the parents accountable for their unfortunate decision rather than the reaction of their child to the parents’ ill conceived decision (a possible meltdown or tantrum during the aforementioned naptime shopping trip).
Truly, I think that this expectation, that parents should be “in control” or “controlling” their children’s behavior causes a lot of bad behavior on the part of parents themselves. In an effort to show their children as well as everyone around them that they are “in control” or “doing something about” their children’s bad behavior, parents will often resort to threats or even physical violence against their children.
Public threats and physical violence are not something that we tolerate from any other group of people other than parents when the threats and physical violence (spanking) are directed at their children.
Why is this? Why is it socially acceptable for parents to lose their tempers and threaten and yell at or even hit their children in public?
I think it’s because we, as a society, also believe that such threats and violence establish the parents’ appearance of “control” over their children, which is more acceptable to us than seeing children behaving like children and being taught respectfully how to behave in public or being removed from a situation when it has proven to be too much for them at this time.
I think that it would be more productive for parents to be judged by their own behavior. I’d far rather see a parent calmly handling the issue of a tantrum-ing child in public, trying to figure out the underlying issue and treating the child with respect, than to see a parent lose control themselves while dealing with an out of control child.
How can we expect children to exhibit self-control in public most or all of the time when we, as parents, cannot even exhibit perfect self-control in public all of the time?
Practically speaking, I don’t believe we can.
I think that we need to have more grace and patience for children in public situations. I think that we need to recognize that they are people and that when their basic needs aren’t met, they are going to react badly to situations, just as any adult would except more so because they don’t have the impulse control or experience to handle situations as well as adults should be able to.
I think that we need to better support parents in teaching their children with grace and patience so that they don’t feel the need to react in a heavy-handed manner to their children’s childish behavior, whether in public or private.
In somewhat related news, I rather enjoyed this article by the Onion this week. Sometimes there’s just so much truth in satire…