30 May 2012

Kids: Can't Ridicule Them and Can't Kick Them Off Airplanes

Warning: It's highly probable that where I start and where I finish will be two totally different places.

Having a 15-year-old foreign exchange student live with us for the last ten months has been interesting, to put it blandly.  To have Instant High Schooler! in our house has sparked innumerable conversations between my husband and I on expectations, behaviors, restrictions, limits, and consequences (mostly for our own children as they approach the years ahead).

When our children were smaller, Brent and I were the United Front, mostly.  Bedtimes, naptimes, dinnertimes, playtimes...we were of like minds.  However, we've discovered that as our children grow older, our parenting philosophies begin to differ a little.  Our conversations have centered around attempting to harmonize the two... and it's easier said than done. 

I'm much more inclined to say 'no' than Brent is...for reasons I can't always pinpoint.  And as I read Bringing Up Bebe, I realize it's part of our American parenting culture.  Pregnant American women inherently know that being with child involves homework.  Reading every pregnancy and baby book and magazine...as well as joining every online baby-related cohort we can is part of being well-prepared.  Within that literature (which reflects parenting philosophies like Dr. Spock's), is the idea that children are rational people who have all kinds of rights.  But, as Druckerman says, this concept has many parents (globally) thinking if they listen to what a child says, they must also do what s/he says as well.

Allow me to illustrate this kind of parenting indoctrination I feel I've undergone.  I came across these two news stories on Yahoo! today:

Eight-year-old gets 'Catastrophe Award' for Most Homework Excuses

Three-year-old Kicked Off Alaska Airlines
(By the way, search for this story...you'll find a few different versions.  Interesting, the media is)

In both stories, my knee-jerk reaction was one of mild outrage.  How dare a teacher poke fun at a student's academic shortcoming?  How dare a toddler be not allowed to ride on a plane?

But, then...maybe because I've been reading, thinking, and talking about this type of thing, my immediate reaction was different.  While giving a second-grader a jokey award for Most Homework Excuses may be tasteless ('cruel' and 'disturbing', the kid's mom claims), what's more disturbing is the child's pattern of not doing homework.  Shouldn't the mom focus her energies towards that problem instead?  Because that one's only going to get worse, not better, as the kid gets older.  The child's "right" to not do homework supersedes everyone else's right in this case, and what's worse, the child is being exempted from experiencing any natural consequences stemming from exercising that "right".

In the second story, a toddler didn't want to wear his seatbelt (or wouldn't sit still or whatever, depending on the version you read), so his family was asked (forced?) to leave the airplane they'd been on.  While I would need to know EXACTLY the kid's behavior was like to make a totally reasonable judgment call, I am in favor of the airline's decision, because: while it's too bad the toddler is uncomfortable (or cranky or sleepy, depending on the version you read), why do his rights supersede the rules of air travel?  More importantly, why does the parent even question the airline's right to enforce it?

All of us work and live and play on this planet under various parameters.  There are limits.  Children, if they are rational beings, need to understand this concept...and parents are the ones who help them learn it.  If parents don't teach their children that there are limits, what dangers (obvious and unimaginable) do we put them into?

It's a biggie...an issue that's getting kicked around a lot at our house.  Druckerman, in her book, speaks of the French idea of cadre - a frame.  Essentially, French parents choose a few key areas in which they are very strict...and then are relaxed about most everything else.  French children experience a tremendous amount of freedom...but within limits.  The philosophy is that children flourish when they know these boundaries.

This is not new information, I admit.  American parents have heard of the ideas of limits for years.  But, to ask myself: If there were only three or four KEY areas that I could be strict about, what would they be?  Now...there's a fruitful discussion.


  1. I always thought that learning the parameters of acceptable behavior was part of the socialization of a child.

    1. I agree, but WHO or WHAT is doing socializing and in what way is what's changing.

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  3. I wonder if the parent in the airplane story also let the toddler's rights decide whether or not to use a carseat if the kid doesn't want to. Sometimes, it's about being a parent and more concerned about safety than what will make them quiet.