Editor’s note: This column originally ran in May 2013. Jenny is busy still trying to deal with her mom’s estate, but she’d much rather be writing new stories about life.
Something happened this weekend that isn’t all that unusual. But every time it happens, I’m blown away.
We were at the pool, and I noticed a young boy crying. He was certainly old enough to hold his own, but he seemed especially sad. I asked if he was ok, and he said “No, ma’am.” I asked if I could help with anything, and he said “I don’t think you can, but thank you.”
Several other moms stood aside and let the scene unfold. These are kids, after all. They can work it out, right? Normally I’d agree. This time, Crying Kid (CK) was sitting there, minding his own business, either waiting for an apology or trying to calm down and move on, and Jerk Kid (JK) wasn’t letting it go. JK came out of the pool, screaming and gesturing at CK, saying things like “What’s your problem, you idiot? What? What?” and “C’mon! Stop crying and tell me!” He was so loud; everyone at the pool stopped to watch.
Also worth noting: although the two fighting kids are likely the same age or close to it, JK is twice the size of CK.
Not being able to take it anymore, another mom and I approached JK. I couldn’t help myself. “Um, you are too big to be speaking to him that way!” I didn’t yell, but I wasn’t exactly whispering. JK looked at me in disbelief. He turned back to face CK and started back with the yelling. I repeated my “advice.”
At this point, I expected the situation to dissipate, at least temporarily. If an adult yelled at me at that age, I’d have crumbled into a pile of tears and gone home with my tail tucked. Not this kid. He started to yell at me. While I like to pretend that a child of 10 or 11 might not think I’m old, I’m certain they do. Whatever. Old = respect. One would think. He came back at me, pointing in my face, saying (screaming) that CK needed to stop crying and explain himself.
“And you shouldn’t ever yell at an adult like that.” That ends it, right?
JK argued a little and stormed away. CK still sat a few chairs away. He was trying to be tough and quit crying, but it was going to take a minute. He was sad and mad. The rest of his friends tried to ask him what happened. He told them, and they defended him. JK had been just that. A jerk.
Kids will be kids and fight. They will disagree. They will pick. Most of the time, they can work it out on their own. This went beyond that.
Who do you blame for something like this? Here’s the deal, people. Unless your kid has a social disorder of some sort, if I see them talk to an adult in that way, I’ll blame you. And I’ll judge.
Similarly, if I say hello to your child, and they ignore me? Your fault. I can hear the whiny moms now. “But my kid is super shy. You don’t understand.” Look, lady. I didn’t ask for your child to share his potential master’s thesis topics and map out a career plan. I just said “hello, KID.” Say “hey” back. It’s called conversation, and it’s a pretty good life skill.
It’s also a little something most of us refer to as manners.
One might say I’m being archaic. Things are different now, right? Why would they be? I’m sure bad/mean/cruel/poorly mannered children have always been around. Maybe I’m hyper aware of it these days, because of The Kids’ ages.
Our kids sit at the table with us when we’re at a restaurant. They’ve been asked to shake hands when being introduced to someone they don’t yet know. They’re not perfect, by any means. They’re learning, and we plan on teaching them until they really get it.
I saw a story on the news the other day about a mom who made her daughter wear less than appealing clothes to school, after she was caught bullying another for doing the same. So many parents said it was teaching bullying with bullying. I sort of see that point, and I also don’t like the idea of teaching my daughter that so much value should be placed on the clothes people wear. However. If I choose to discipline my child in a way that I see fit, without abusing her, everyone else needs to stay out of it.
Feelings matter, but so do manners. It isn’t hard to tell your kid NO. An argument may ensue, but there’s an important lesson there. Our kids will always know they can talk to us. We are not their friends, though. We are their parents. A little bit of fear, either of disappointing us or being punished is healthy.
It’s essential in raising purposeful, courteous, kind and compassionate children who become functioning adults with the same qualities. Without any fear of adults, we’re raising kids who have zero accountability, and likely very little respect for authority. I’m glad mine will respect their bosses. They’re polite to their grandparents. They also step aside and hold the door for adults who are nearby.
I was floored when I opened the door to get lunch the other day, and a group of boys, who I know to be 11 or 12 years old, ran under my door-propping arm, pushing me aside, without even a glace in my direction. In the words of Bon Qui Qui, “Roooood.”
In some ways, it sounds so simple. I’m not sure it is, though. Maybe we all just need to toughen up a little. Our kids will still love us. As a matter of fact, they’ll respect us even more when they become parents. I’m good with that. I’m looking forward to it.