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March 20, 2006

Other People's Children

Cathy Arnst

I got a comment to my recent post, End Soda Now, that I think could apply to many, many situations: out of control children and the parents who do nothing about them. As EM says:

I completely agree with your point that parents are supposed to be in charge. When I was a child (and this was only the 80s, so it's not very long ago!), my parents simply said 'no' and that was that. Sure, I whined, probably even cried on occasion, but there was the understanding that they were the final arbiters. When I see parents today who profess themselves unable to change their child's poor behavior, I wonder where the responsibility to discipline got written out of the parental contract. I fervently wish that there was some sort of neighborhood watch for bad behavior that would give me the right to go over and scold the kid myself.

Hear Hear!

I'd venture we've all been in situations where a child behaves abominably on a regular basis and the parents seem either helpless, oblivious, or a combination of both. I've been at events twice in the past few weeks where children that my daughter plays with frequently, and whose parents I socialize with, refused to share, were mean to other children, and threw terrible temper tantrums if they didn't get what they wanted (one is 6, the other 7). One of these children is particuarly out-of-control with her parents, who do little to correct her that I can see, but is mostly fine when they are not around (so I know she knows how to behave).

Both of these kids are only children, and both have working parents, but I don't think that signifies much--my daughter is the only child of a single working parent, and believe me, if she displayed even half of these behaviors I'd come down on her like a ton of bricks. Not that she's perfect by any means, but I'm a big believer in saying no and sticking to it. For one thing, I imagine we all have colleagues who clearly didn't hear that word enough growing up, and are now impossible to work with. I hope to spare my child the same fate.

So, what do you do in these situations? It's getting to the point where I'm tempted to end playdates with these children, but I hate to punish my own daughter, and for that matter the other children, because their parents won't step up. I love E.M.'s neighborhood watch idea, but I'm too much a coward to start one. Any suggestions?

In the meantime, if you're having disclipinary issues of your own, I thought this post, 10 discipline mistakes and their alternatives, was very helpful. It's from a medical blog called healthvoices.com that has lots of interesting entries by doctors and others on various health issues.

04:15 PM

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Cathy,

Thank you for the mention. Great to see BusinessWeek so commited to blogging as well !

I would encourage readers interested in healthcare issues to join our community.

Posted by: The Medical Blog Network at March 21, 2006 05:02 AM

I get the same feeling whenever I see (which I do when I am bored - for blog fodder) "Super Nanny", the reality show. Parents complain how their kids act and how they cannot control them. However, when you observe how these parents react to their kids' antics, you immediately see where most of the blame lies... the parents. Some seem too lazy to discipline their kids. Others seem like they do not really care.

Posted by: Melissa Petri at March 21, 2006 10:30 AM

I tend to suspect that they're lazy parents who don't care. Or, perhaps, they've been so taken in by the "experts" who tell parents that any negative feedback will horribly damage their children, resulting in years of therapy. Sure, abuse is bad, but it's gone too far. True story: my fianc? is a grad student at a well-known, well-respected university. He was recently told not to use red pen in correcting homework, as it might make the students feel bad about themselves. Which brings to mind another pet peeve: You know what, if you fail, you should feel bad about yourself! But don't get me started...

Posted by: Emily Mason (EM) at March 28, 2006 03:03 PM

Another thought: There's a hopeful trend, at least in Chicago. Some restaurants are - politely - refusing to admit poorly behaved children, defined as those who cannot sit still and keep to their "indoor voices". Though it has really angered some parents, I think that this kind of limit-setting on the part of society at large will gradually create a climate in which it's unacceptable to let your kids be completely undisciplined.

And, as you so rightly point out, undisciplined children grow into less-than respectable adults. Last year (or two years ago, I don't remember) there was a survey published showing that Americans don't consider one an adult until the age of 26. I keep wondering: can we, as individuals and as a society, afford to let ourselves be children for so long? Many people my age (I'm 22) are already married or have children by now. What does it say that we're making these incredibly important decisions while we are - according to a statistically important sampling of Americans - still children? Sure, we can't blame lazy, ineffective discipline for all of this. Even so, it seems that in wanting to protect their children from all possible physical and psychological harms, many parents forget that a certain complement of fear, failure and insecurity actually help us mature.

But now I'm rambling...

Posted by: Emily Mason (EM) at March 28, 2006 03:24 PM

I have had a hell of a time trying to find any articles on this! I can't imagine I am the only one who has this problem. My sister and brother-in-law have 2 boys, one is 4 and the other just over a year. They are not completely out of control but both have temper tantrums and are constantly testing their parents to see what they can get away with, climbing on furniture, swinging big sticks around in the house, whining and whining endlessly. While I understand temper tantrums for a one-year-old are pretty much par for the course my sister simply pretends it's not happening and that it shouldn't bother any of us as opposed to taking him elsewhere until the tantrum subsides thereby sparing the rest of the family the unpleasantness of hearing a screaming kid all day. She also changes his diaper right in the middle of the living room floor each and every time even though she knows he will scream the entire way through...not to mention sharing his poopy diaper smell with everyone present. Her 4-year-old cannot be taken to a restaurant because he crawls underneath tables, shoves things in his father's face and says bad words, last example being, "penis in the mouth". This resulted in nothing more than "Daniel, don't say that," which he repeated many, many times afterwards. He talks very loudly all the time even when my 1-year-old is napping right inside the door nearby. My sister knows this but just stands by apparently oblivious. I shoosh himself but then she gets mad at me for doing so. It is very unpleasant to be around them and while there is not a single other person in my family who disagrees with me no one but me says anything. This has caused a riff between my sister and I which has resulted in us deciding, for example, to separate our time at the beach house so we are not together. While I think this is sad I am also relieved because hearing her kids all day on my vacation is more than I can stand most of the time. What do 'you' think about this?

Posted by: Kimberly at April 4, 2006 03:53 PM

I hear you Kimberly. And I think you did the right thing by choosing separate vacations. I did the same thing--after two years of vacationing with close friends with an out-of-control child, I said "no more." I found I was constantly disciplining my child for aping the other kid's behavior, and feeling furious because the other parents were doing nothing about their own progeny.Did not make for a relaxing vacation. I sympathize with you however--it must be a lot harder to your distance yourself when the offending parent (because ultimately, it's the parent who is at fault) is a family member.

Posted by: Cathy at April 5, 2006 05:46 AM


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