Friday, November 5, 2010

Our Future Depends on Parents

Election Day has come and gone; the voters have spoken, the political ads are over, and it's finally safe to watch TV again. As usual, I'm glad it's all over: no more negative ads, no more talking heads gearing up for the big fight; no more celebrities thinking their opinion is somehow more valid simply because they are celebrities. Regardless of one's political beliefs, now that the election is over, we can focus on working together as Americans to improve our nation. Like many voters, I'm worried about our country. I'm worried about the future of our country.

But unlike most voters, I'm not so worried about our economic or political future. I believe this country can and will recover from our current problems. I believe that Americans will work hard and the recession will end. I believe that most of our leaders truly have the best interests of our nation at heart. No, right now I'm more worried about our kids' future. In an era where 8-year-olds watch R-rated movies like "Zombieland", 6-year-olds know (and use) more cuss words than I do, and fourth graders not only understand the term "frenemy" but actually HAVE some, what is wrong with our society?

We may be used to hearing horror stories from the inner city, or from developing nations, or from families with substance abuse or domestic violence issues. But there are some shocking things going on among all of our children. Over coffee today, my friend Michelle told me about a birthday party her first- and third-grade daughters attended last weekend. A little boy at the party, a 6-year-old from a "normal" home, told her daughters, "I'm going to wipe my penis juice all over you." In return, I told her about a boy in my daughter's Kindergarten class last year who rubbed his hands up and down her back and said, "Do you like it when I touch you here? How does it make you feel?"

Where are these kids hearing this? What is going on in their lives that they not only know these words, but actually think it's OK to talk like that to other children? And what is wrong with parents these days? Michelle's daughters thought the boy was going to pee on them, and ran away to tell their mom. My daughter told me she got a "yucky feeling" in her tummy, but was too scared to tell the teacher. She waited until she got home to tell me what had happened. (And yes, I called the school immediately, and yes, it was handled to my complete and total satisfaction.)

Less disturbing, but still unfortunate, is the current favorite pastime among many fourth and fifth grade girls on the school playground. Most of their recess time seems to be spent gossiping about other girls. Yes, some of them play soccer, some of them actually hang on the monkey bars, and some of them chase boys, and perhaps chasing the boys is better than when I was young and the boys chased the girls (women's liberation, baby!). But from what I've seen during lunch duty, the majority of the girls stand around trash talking. When did this become an acceptable activity for nine and ten year olds? Why aren't they running around, being kids, sliding and climbing and enjoying the break from class? Who has taught them that bashing other girls is OK? (I'm pretty sure I have an answer to that, but that's another topic of conversation for another time.) When she refused to get involved in a gossip fest, my older daughter had a close friend tell her, "If you don't do what I tell you, I'm not going to be your friend, invite you over, or come over to your house anymore." Emotional blackmail at age 9?

And don't try to tell parents their kids are doing anything wrong. That rarely works; it usually backfires. A friend of mine called a neighbor to ask her to talk to her son about his threatening behavior on the school bus. The two women had been meeting to walk their dogs every day when their kids left for school, but now? My friend says her neighbor not only refuses to speak to her, but lets her dog poop in her front yard, without picking it up. When the grown ups act like toddlers, what are the kids supposed to do? Even the schools can't tell parents their kids are misbehaving; teachers and administrators are often blamed for behaviors that were learned (and accepted) at home.

Kids today are allowed, even encouraged, to grow up far too fast for my taste. I remember hearing a mother of a preschooler tell her child, "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is for babies. You should be watching Zack and Cody." Really? At 4, she's too old for Mickey Mouse? Another mom I know told me, "I hate fighting with my kids, and I really want them to like me. Sometimes, it's just easier to give in." Ohhhh-kaaaaay. A former co-worker of mine told her daughter, who's 9, "You're way too old for Barbies. You need to give them away." Too old for Barbies? Shoot, most little girls want to BE Barbie - cool Dream House (with an elevator!), pink convertible, more clothes than she can wear, and she can be anything she wants - vet, teacher, dolphin trainer. Sounds good to me!

Ten-year-olds with Facebook accounts. Seven-year-olds with more expensive cell phones than I have. Preschoolers having sleepovers. Teenagers who spend more time online than with their families. Children watching so-called "celebrities" on reality shows behaving very, very badly - and not only getting paid for it, but being praised for it. Sports fans who berate referees - at preschool soccer games. Families who freely admit - almost with pride - that they haven't sat down to dinner together in months because their kids are sooooo busy and sooooo involved in after-school activities that they just don't have time to spend together.

It seems terribly old-fashioned and hopelessly uncool to parent like our parents and grandparents did. To insist on obedience, respect for others and oneself, and discipline - both at home and in the community. What's happened to good manners? What's happened to showing consideration and concern for others? What's happened to "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all?" And, the big question, posed on The Today Show this week: Is civility dead in America? Is it too late? Can we get back to some level of respect in our country?

Slacker Mom Says... I believe we can. I hope and pray that we can. I think civility is not dead, just dormant, or maybe taking a nap. But, like so much else, it starts with us, with parents. More specifically, it starts with good parenting. So many of us seem to be afraid to actually parent, to lead by example and teach kids what's right, even when it's hard. So much of parenting is just that: doing what is right, what is necessary, even when it's hard, even when it's unpopular, even when our kids may well hate us for years (or maybe, really, just hours) for doing it. Parenting means thinking about the long-term, not the short-term, not what is easy and what everyone else is doing, but what will serve our kids well in the years (and years and years) to come. No, it's not fun to have to wait until my kids are asleep to watch "Desperate Housewives." Yes, I'd love to end all arguments with my pre-teen about friends, clothes, allowance, and chores. However, I am the mom. I took the job, I signed up for a life sentence. So no, she can't roam the neighborhood unsupervised or have a cell phone or eat candy for breakfast. And no, she can't have a TV in her room, even though "all my friends have one" (and they don't; I checked) and even though it makes me the "meanest mom in the entire world." Really? Good. If you like me all the time and want to be my friend, I'm certainly not doing my job. Maybe one day she'll understand; maybe one day she'll even appreciate the reason behind the rules. Maybe she won't. But that's the job. Do what's right and what's best, even when it's hard and unpopular. If you're not up for it, don't apply.


  1. Fantastic post! I feel like there will be a shift toward good manners again with the new generation of children. Too many of us have seen the parents-act-as-friends thing fail, and I'm hoping we'll pick up the slack and see that being a parent is much more important than being liked.

  2. Hoooly Cow, woman, get out of my HEAD!!!!

    I'm going to link this on my blog...

    My daughter, at 9, just recently started attending sleepovers...not many either, and only if I know the child AND parent WELL.

    We're so uncool that my kids don't have a television in their rooms. They have an mp3 player only because grandpa thought it would be great for them. Yes, they each have a DS (at 6 & 9), but are VERY limited to play time - only on weekends, and that can be lost easily. They play outside, and with their toys.

    My kids have to ask permission to use the computer, and even then, they can only go to school sanctioned sites (ticket to read, 1st in math, etc) or webkins. I don't even usually let them go to pbskids!

    I was SAD when my daughter stopped watching some shows. I get angry when she teases her younger brother for still liking Dora and most of the shows on Nick Jr.

    My kids don't have a cell phone, and we've already told my daughter that she's welcome to have one...when she's 16 and can pay for it herself.

    I'm SOOOOO not my kids' best friend. They hate that...but they'll love me for it when they're grown up!

  3. That's what I hope - that when they're grown, my daughters will not only understand but appreciate my parenting philosophy. I just wish that kids could be kids for a bit longer - they have so much time ahead of them to be all grown up! thanks for your words of support, ladies!

  4. Excellent, excellent points all! It makes me so sad (angry and frustrated) to see parents NOT being parents. They think what they are doing is good for their kids. Sadly they are just raising kids who will continue to turn their backs on their parents and everyone else around them & think they are the only ones that matter. Okay, I'm beginning to ramble and vent. ;-) Excellent post!