I have a hard enough time trying to control or modify the behaviour of my two kids. Any parent can relate to this daily struggle. As primary caregiver, I feel that I have had the biggest influence on the development of the little hooligans who live in my house, and that scares me… a lot! Knowing Abby and Daniel are starting off their lives as fairly decent human beings, I still worry about who my children are becoming as they race toward their tweens, then teens and finally adulthood. Do they do enough around the house? Are they spoiled? How do they treat their friends? Do they respect their elders enough? How are their manners?
I place a lot of importance on how my offspring behave in public, as I firmly believe how people represent themselves to the world at large says a lot about their character, and directly correlates to how successful they will be later in life. (This obviously doesn’t apply to the Donald Trumps of the world, but I digress.) The demeanour my kids have displayed in public has ranged from surprisingly exemplary to downright embarrassing, but I do my best to try and keep them in line.
Like I said, it’s pretty difficult to keep my own kids from behaving like animals, but what about other people’s kids? Do we have a right to discipline, or “set someone straight” if witnessing inappropriate behavior from a smaller person who does not share your DNA? There’s a bit of grey area here, but if I had to make a definitive call, I’d would say: YES, all parents have a responsibility to point out and try to correct poor choices and bad behaviour in other people’s kids.
Being a stay-at-home Dad has means that I have been exposed to children… a lot of children. Too many children! GAHHH! Get these children away from me! I’ve been to every playground in a five kilometre radius of my house, I’ve volunteered at almost every school field trip for ten years running, I’ve coached soccer and basketball teams and I’ve helped host countless birthday parties and sleepovers.
Big kids, small kids, fat kids, skinny kids, happy kids, whiny kids, smart kids, dumb kids, clean kids, dirty kids, my kids, your kids. Trust me, I’ve seen them all and the one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty… I have zero tolerance for idiots.
Is it just me, or does it seem like most kids these days are uncontrollable maniacs? Growing up in the 70’s meant that corporal punishment was still allowed in schools. I remember vividly watching classmates get “the strap”- a long, thick leather strip that was kept in the top drawer of the principal’s desk drawer. Trust me, witnessing that instrument of instant pain kept me on the straight and narrow path at school. I also remember seeing other parents discipline kids that weren’t their own… even spank them. Times certainly have changed, and while I certainly don’t advocate whipping kids with leather straps or doling out bare-bum spanks to strangers, I will step in and give a kid a piece of my mind if they are acting like an idiot.
One incident that stands out happened when Abby was barely out of toddlerhood. She was maybe four-years-old and we were at the zoo, which has a massive playground with multiple climbing structures designed for various age groups. After spending some time with the other younglings in the “ages 2-5 zone”, Abby insisted on playing with the big kids. So, off we went to the “ages 6-11 zone”, where she was promptly bowled over by some stocky eight-year-old with a head of steam and zero cares that he had just sent little Abby flying. I immediately rushed over to her to wipe away some tears and make sure she was OK, then I made a B-line straight towards the young offender. I was enraged:
“Hey! Didn’t you see that you just knocked over that little girl? She’s only four-years-old and you just ran her over and didn’t even stop to say sorry or see if she was OK!!!”
I was on my knees, eye to eye, right in his face… yelling at a young boy. His eyes widened, he didn’t say anything and he looked frightened. As he ran off, I felt a sudden pang of guilt as I realized that I just scared the bejeezus out of a little kid. I anxiously watched his path as he found his mother and tearfully relayed the story to her. They were actually close enough to me that I could hear the conversation.
“Mommy! This man was just yelling at me and he said I pushed over a girl and he was yelling and he scared me… and… and…”
The mother didn’t even bat an eye or get up off the bench as she set down her magazine and interrupted her son,
“Did you knock the little girl over?”
“Well, yes”, he sheepishly replied.
“Then you deserved to be yelled at.”
She then crossed her legs, picked up her magazine and turned away from her son. That was it. That was how she handled it. I let out a huge sigh, relieved the incident was over and thought to myself: “I’m glad she gets it”. I was fully prepared to engage in what could have been a heated debate about disciplining other people’s kids, but there was no need for confrontation. She was a parent who understood that her son had acted like an idiot and was called out for it.
Another playground incident comes to mind, but this one didn’t end with the same feeling that juvenile justice had been served. I was at Daniel’s school when he was about five or six-years-old, and I was volunteering as a playground monitor. Well, one day I was getting all manner of complaints about a certain idiot boy who was at the top of the slide and not moving. He was simply blocking it at the top causing a massive traffic jam behind him. The complaints from the throng of kids piled up at his rear end was having zero effect on his obstructionist stance. I politely asked him to move along, but all he did was glare at me with angry eyes. And then he yelled back at me,
“You’re not my Dad! I don’t have to listen to you!”
I was momentarily stunned. This kid was maybe five-years-old and he basically just told an adult to go f#@k himself. I found this lack of respect staggering, but I calmly responded that he could either slide down or I would find a teacher. I was reduced to my only option… “move it or I’m gonna tell on you!”. But it worked.
The incident made me think about how this kid, this idiot, came to the conclusion that treating adults with utter disdain was OK. Did his parents instill this unfortunate value system? Did his parents even care? I’m pretty sure if this was the kid who bowled over Abby a few years earlier, I would have had a very different situation on my hands.
Another issue up for debate is how you can treat kids that you are charged with supervising. Must you always be pleasant and respectful of their delicate feelings at all times? Not on my watch! I recall a field trip to an agricultural exhibition where I was “gifted” five first grade boys to watch for the day. Trying to wrangle this band of idiots, (my son being one of them), was one of the most trying days of my life. They didn’t listen, they ran away from me, they ran into people, they all discovered the rope-braiding station and proceeded to whip each other as hard as they could with 4-foot ropes. At the start of the day, I was lecturing them in relatively dulcet tones about appropriate behaviour in public. By the end of the day, I was contantly screaming at these hooligans to stop acting like animals! I felt no remorse for yelling at kids who weren’t my own, as I stuck to my personal policy of calling out idiots.
I would like to think that as kids get older, they would mature… even just a little bit. Think again. A couple of weeks ago, we invited six of Daniel’s friends for a sleepover. My son had assured me that he had invited some of the “calmer” boys in his fifth grade class. If these guys were the more sedate crew, I would hate to see the crazy ones. We tried to confine the carnage in the basement, but the entire house was shaking. The noise… oh dear God, the noise! We’ve hosted a few girl sleepovers, but nothing compares to boys and the havoc they can create.
As the night wore on, us grown-ups locked up the house, turned on the alarm system and tried to go to sleep. The noise didn’t stop. In fact, it got so loud that the boys triggered the alarm system, which is designed to go off when it hears the sound of glass shattering. No glass was shattered, but eardrums may have been. The bedside clock glowed at 2:13 A.M. Finally, enough was enough. Once again, the time had come for me to set some idiots straight. I went down into the basement, the heart of the beast, and laid down the law. There was a bit of yelling, but mostly pleading at this point. Once again, there were different reactions to my bold proclamation. Most of the boys looked at me with sheepish, wide eyes but a couple of them gave me at look that could only be translated as “whatever”. At that point of the evening, I was too tired to be offended, and I certainly didn’t have the energy to lecture anyone about respecting their elders… I just wanted them to be quiet. And thankfully, the earthquakes stopped and our suffering ended.
I found out the next day that my son took charge of the situation after I retreated upstairs. He managed to keep the boys in check and proved that being an idiot is something that you can potencially grow out of! He actually listened to what a grown-up had to say and behaved accordingly. Imagine that. What’s even more impressive is that his friends followed suit.
Is there hope that my days of patrolling and controlling idiotic behaviour is finally coming to an end? Or will my children simply graduate to some kind of next-level idiocy that comes with a completely different set of problems? Time will tell. For now, I must remain vigilant and keep hoping that model behavior from my kids, and all kids… all over the world, is just around the corner.
A man can dream.