Just Say No to Your Kids
Have you ever gone to a concert or theater performance and found yourself growing increasingly agitated as some kid seated near you was permitted to prattle on endlessly whilst their parents, clearly habituated to the mindless ramblings, blithely ignored them? Have you ever just about lost your everlasting mind as you had your seat on an airplane persistently kicked by a youngster behind you, only to politely ask them to stop and then be given the stink-eye by their over-indulging parents who seem to think that it is you who are overreacting? Have you had your fairly pricey night out at a local restaurant ruined by a toddler’s tantrum that was allowed to go on interminably without any intercession by a parent whatsoever? Of course you have. Why? Because parents these days, to put it rather bluntly, suck. They pop out kids like Santa doles out Christmas presents only to fail at recognizing the real responsibility that is supposed to go along with the joy of having children: parenting them.
And yes, this is coming from someone who qualifies as what my gay friends like to describe a “breeder”. I do indeed have two biological children of my own making, if impregnating my ex years ago can in fact be labeled “making”. Let’s face it, she did all the work at the time, but in the intervening years subsequent to my children’s respective births, the duties of actually raising them have been more evenly divided. That’s because both of us made a pact to not only having our kids, but parenting them, a fact lost on a generation of parents unintentionally raising an era of overly-entitled, preposterously-incapable brats.
Years ago, a good friend of mine who is hardly what anyone would term “religious” told me that he was glad that he had been raised Catholic. Shocked by this casual revelation, I could not help but ask him why.
“Because through my parents dragging me to church each and every Sunday, I learned a very important lesson. It was because I was Catholic that I learned that every once in awhile there is a time to sit still and shut the fuck up.” Yeah, I’m not so sure about the whole Catholic part of that equation, but there sure are a whole lot of kids out there who could stand to learn that same lesson.
This past Sunday, my girlfriend and I took her daughter to the Venardos Circus. It’s a quaint little affair, set up under a relatively small Big Top propped amidst the sprawling asphalt of a local shopping mall. All in all, it was quite a remarkable show with some impressively daring and visually stunning performances. But as the show proceeded into the second act, my attention was redirected to the two young girls from two separate families who had somehow wandered beyond the rope clearly delineating the off-limits area for patrons and were encroaching dangerously closely to the support wire holding aloft the apparatus that bridged the gap between life and death for the two performers, all while their parents unheedingly filmed the performance on their cell phones. Suffice it to say that the latter part of the equation will be the topic for next week’s TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less, but all I kept thinking to myself was that these parents seemed to somehow believe that their jobs as parents ended at birthing the children and enjoying their company and that the more difficult task of actually raising them, of telling them “No” every once in awhile, well, that was on all the rest of us.
In the end, parenting, if you decide to to do it right, or for that matter, at all, is hard. It means sometimes depriving your child of what they want and setting a firm line of expectation and acceptable behavior. It means forcing them to do things they may not want to do, but should do nonetheless (you know, like homework or eating vegetables). It means sometimes telling them “No” and thus making them mad at you. But that’s exactly it- this generation of parents doesn’t want to make their kids upset with them. Afraid that their own children will sometimes feel the same anger and resentment we felt towards our parents when they told us “No”, they shy away from the more difficult aspects of parenting. They want their kids to like them, to be their friends. Well, folks, your kids will have plenty of friends in this lifetime. They have two parents, maybe a couple more if they have step-parents that actually give a damn. They need you to be their parent, not their friend.
Studies consistently show that young people need to have boundaries and expectations in order to be successful in navigating the often complex world around them. By failing to provide the basic structure they need to flourish and thrive, we are depriving them of the ability to reach their full growth potential. This doesn’t mean that we have to stifle their creative impulses or inhibit their freedom to be who they are. It just means that you as a parent have to set up the guardrails so that they don’t send their bowling balls of life careening into the gutter or, for that matter, the adjacent lane.
Failing to do just that, we are unwittingly creating a generation of entitled, self-indulgent monsters who are woefully unprepared for the harsh realities of life that await them. Police officers, judges, bosses, friends, and significant others will all tell them “No” plenty, but they aren’t equipped to handle those refusals and rejections. They have been unconditionally groomed to get whatever they want, all with the luxury of not having to do a damn thing in return. But I’ve tried that with my previous romantic partners- trust me, it doesn’t work. The thing is, as much as I disapprove of these obnoxious Gen Z’ers, or whatever the hell we are supposed to call these pernicious, little jackanapes, the fact is that the fault does not lie with them. We have made them this way. We are the ones who have indulged them, who have catered to their every minor whim and thus fostered their false sense of entitlement. And it is we who will pay the price as we turn the world over to them and realize that we didn’t do them the favor of occasionally telling them “No”.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com