HOW FREE-RANGE CHILDREN REVEAL FLIP FLOPPING SENSIBILITIES

Parenting is hard enough, now this.

In case you missed it (ICYMI) click here for the link to the story making the news rounds today.  Here is the summary:  The ten year old and six year old children of Alexander and Danielle Meitiv were playing the park, alone, near their Maryland home when agents of Child Protective Services picked them up.  When the kids didn’t come home on time, the parents became worried and searched all evening for their children.  Eventually they found out their children were at CPS, and around 10:30 that evening were allowed to leave with their children, but only after they agreed to sing a “safety-plan” in which the promised to not leave their children unattended at all.

Neglected?
Neglected?

The juicy bit is that this happened back in January too, and it has sparked a big debate about the issue of child safety and unsupervised play.

I have some opinions about all of this, but that is not what is on my mind this morning.  What I am thinking about is how the nature of the debate on such issues has changed dramatically during my life time.  Here is what I am talking about:  If we had told this story back in the glorious 70s or 80s, it would have been assumed that it was Republican conservatives forcing values down the throat of culture by making those children go home because children loose on the roads and in the parks was dangerous, they might learn something to liberate their minds or something.  It would have been Democratic liberals who would have triumphed the cause of letting these children play–the kids are alright–they can have their own adventures to self-discovery and knowledge without the constant shadow of mom and dad and the totalitarian state breathing down their neck.

Today that those views have flipped completely.  It is the liberal agenda to let the government control families, education, and distill what is and is not acceptable knowledge, what is proper language, and how a person should think.  To the contrary, it is the conservative agenda to rail against the nanny state, the intrusion of big government, and to espouse the reliability of the family and the primacy of the individual even if there are obvious dangers in such a course of action.

If this news story had happened back in the 70s or 80s, liberals would have been up-in-arms over this kind of governmental abuse, while conservatives would have probably accused the family of being communist or something.

The change in perspective of this is probably a reflection of the change of direction that civil discourse has taken in the United States.  It is no longer about liberal or conservative, but about progressive and (little L) libertarian.  These are the cultural ideals that will shape the future.  Progressives generally believe that government should regulate every aspect of life to make certain that everyone gets the same.  Libertarians generally believe that people should govern themselves with as little intrusion from the government as possible.

Currently, progressives have landed in the Democratic party, while libertarians have settled into the Republican party.  Yet neither one is completely at home in either.  I think the next few years of elections could prove interesting, especially as technology makes libertarians more prevalent and the growth of government colors the imagination of new voters who don’t remember anything other than the officially sanctioned thought police.

image from http://www.wusa9.com

NATIONWIDE MIGHT NOT BE ON MY SIDE

"Anger issues?"
“Anger issues?”

Or, maybe I’m not on Nationwide’s side.

There is a commercial running on television of late that bothers me.  Mrs. Greenbean tells me that I over analyze these things too much, but hey, its what I do, right?

It is a Nationwide insurance commercial–no, not the depressing one about the boy who never lived because he died–but a different one that I find even more disturbing.

The ad features children in frustrating situations where the customer service is poor.  It starts off with a little girl at what looks like the DMV, there is also a couple in a restaurant being ignored by their server, and it finishes with a little girl having her car examined by an insurance adjuster and he says, “we’ll take care of it” and then suddenly the little girl is a grown woman who says, “Thank you.”

The point of the commercial is that whenever we have poor customer service, we often want to throw tantrums like children do when things don’t go their way.  I get that.  The problem I have with the commercial is the only scene where a boy is venting his frustration has him violently slamming his phone onto the ground.  I have provided the commercial below, in case you missed it (ICYMI).

This depiction of male frustration bothers me in four ways.

1.  It seems to reinforce the stereotype that the masculine way to “vent” or to “be angry” is to destroy something.

2.  Why are the little girls allowed to be civil in their frustration while the boy literally ends the conversation?

3.  The commercial ends by showing us that these are really adults in these situations, so, that means it was  a grown man who threw his phone against the ground.  What else does he throw when he is angry?  Punches?  Plates?  People?

4.  Throwing phones is a sign of anger issues and may be an indicator of a possible tendency for domestic violence.

Again, I might be guilty of thinking about it too much, but these kinds of stereotypes are not healthy, and they reinforce a worldview that teaches us women are civil and polite while men are just jerks who can’t control themselves.

image of little boy from uproxx.com, who, loved the commercial and thought the angry little boy was the best part.

BOB DYLAN IS NOT DEAD YET

This morning I’m in the study working, and listening to Bob Dylan.  Specifically his song “The Levee’s Gonna Break” and the oldest sprout comes in to work on the other computer.

Bob Dyan still has a pulse.
Bob Dyan still has a pulse.

Sprout:  “What are you listening to?”

Me:  “Bob Dylan.”

Sprout:  “When did he die?”

Me:  “He is not dead.”

Sprout:  “Oh.  Are you sure?”

Me:  “He is alive.  He is not dead, yet.”

Sprout:  “He must be really old then.”

Now I feel old.  Poor Bob Dylan has reached Abe Vigoda status.  Of course, you have to be old enough to know who Abe Vigoda is.

 

 

image from theguardian.com

ADVICE ON RAISING CHILDREN

The happiest day of my life was when I bought my last diaper.  Wow, that was a long time ago, but my children are such an important part of my life that I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.  Being a parent is the hardest work on the planet–it is only for the brave of heart and those with strong stomachs.  When we became parents we felt woefully unequipped.  We read lots of books and talked to lots of people, and over the years here are some of the things we have learned.  Take what you like, disregard what you don’t, and feel free to leave comments on some of your parenting strategies.

What Is The Goal?

To my mind, this is where the greatest confusion occurs, and by definition, the greatest damage is done in most parent/child relationships.  By damage I mean things go askew.  Let’s start by stating what the goal is not.  The goal is not for a parent to a be a child’s friend or buddy.  Adults should have their own friends and children should likewise learn to make friends in the real world.  The goal is not to keep a child safe and always out of pain.  Overprotective parents (I know, because I am one) often do more psychological harm than good.  Learning how to cope with hurt and pain is an important part of growing up.

Then what is the goal?  The goal is to produce a thriving member of society who is equipped to face the challenges of life in a dangerous world.  That’s the job you are given.  When the nurse puts that baby in your arms, the clock begins to tick.  You have somewhere between fifteen and sixteen years to accomplish this goal.

Will She/He Ever Go to Sleep?

Some parents like to let their children sleep in the bed with them.  I do not.  My bed is for me and my wife and the children just kind of muck it all up.

We found it helpful to never use bedtime as a punishment.  For that reason, our children have never thought of sleep as a negative event.

When they are little, resist the urge to comfort their crying and give into their audible assault.  Shut the door and let them cry it out and he/she will fall asleep.

Food

Lighten up about what the kid eats.  She will eat when she gets hungry, and don’t make her eat when she is not.  We tend to always put food in front of our children and if they wanted it that was great, if they didn’t, they didn’t have to eat it.  We did make them try it, but always let them know that if she didn’t like it, she didn’t have to eat it.

How Much Should an Allowance Be?

Nothing!  Never give your child an allowance.  Allowances were developed by script writers for television shows in the 1950s so as to create artificial tension in fake households.  Allowances are evil because they teach children that they should be paid for contributing to the household work and it establishes a tit for tat relationship based on bargaining instead of responsibility.  The usual reason for giving allowances is that it teaches responsibility with money.  It does not.  It teaches children how to manipulate minimum work for maximum payoff.

Instead of an allowance, we have always given the sprouts money whenever they need it, and usually tell them to keep the change if any is left over.  In turn, though, they are expected to wash dishes, do their laundry, vacuum the floors, take care of the trash, clean their bathrooms, keep their bedrooms respectable, and just about anything else we ask them to do.  They should do their work because it needs to be done and they are apart of the family, not because we pay them.  Capitalism does not breed good family dynamics.

We began giving them age appropriate responsibilities as soon as they could walk and talk.

What About Punishment?

Early and often.  Here is what I mean.  It has been a very, very, very long time since I have had to punish either one of my sprouts.  With both of them, after about the age of 7, punishment was rare.  The reason for this is that when they were very young, toddlers and in diapers, we punished them and taught them to respect authority.  If you discipline a 2 or 3 year old and keep at it until they are 5 and 6, then as they begin to piece things together you will never really have to do it much.

Punishment needs three attributes to be successful.

  1. It must be swift.   Instant time out or removal of a toy works nicely.
  2. It must be known.  A child should know what the consequences are for certain actions.
  3. Consistent.  That child must know that 100% of the time punishment will come.  If a parent is inconsistent then the whole point is lost.

Be creative with your punishment, and try to make the punishment fit the crime.  (Oh, you wrote on the wall with a crayon?  Now you’re going to clean it up AND I’m taking away the crayons until tomorrow.)

Two key things to remember about punishment.  Never punish a child when you are angry.  As a parent you must work to remove your personal feelings from the endeavor.  The child is not attacking you, the child is simply pushing against boundaries.  Anger doesn’t help anything at all.  We always found tag teaming it helped.  If one of us was angry, then the other parent did the punishing.  Second, never hurt your children.  I know that spanking is a big debate, but whether you spank or not there is no excuse for a big strong adult to hurt a child.

 

The key to happy children is for your family to find its own mojo.  This doesn’t happen quickly, but your children will help you discover the ebb and flow of life.  We found that certain television shows we all enjoyed and foods that made us happy and planning vacation helped us grow stronger.  Church, school, books and our friends all provided the dialogue of our lives and it was in sharing these aspects that helped us bond with our children in ways that I think a lot of parents miss.