Thursday, August 20, 2009

Poor Parenting

written 8/18

So far my complaint about excessive use of cell phones has centered on the Instant Gratification Generation. (Even though I admitted later to being dependent myself.) Today, it occurred to me, as I sat by the pool (of course) while a mom was talking a mile a minute on her cell—on her second call since arriving at the pool—and her six year old son stood neglected and seeking attention in the shallow end chanting, “sh*t, sh*t, sh*t,” that grown-ups use them too much too. That cell phones have contributed to the downfall of parenting.

Earlier this summer I started (but never finished) a post about how parents shouldn’t take it personally when a kid screws up. Rather than get defensive and take it as a personal affront when a teacher calls to recount an unacceptable event, they should take it for what it is: a reprimand for something the kid did that was wrong. We’re not necessarily calling to say your kid is spawn of the devil, ergo you are Satan. Rather, we’re calling to say your kid screwed up. But you know what? That’s what kids do. They screw up. They‘re trying to find their way and they’re looking for boundaries and I’m doing my part. So often the reaction of a parent says to me, Oh no you don’t! My kid is not a bad person and I am not a bad parent or a bad person. But now I wonder if maybe parents speak in defense of their children who were truly at fault and caught in the act because they failed them to begin with. Maybe it’s the least they can do to keep them out of trouble. Or consequences.

I’m thinking out loud here, not speaking in absolutes, but I wonder if maybe years of being ignored by parents (when, say, they were taking their first strokes across a pool and their moms or dads couldn’t be bothered to put on swim suits and put down their cell phones) led these kids to raising their voices, to misbehaving to have some attention paid to them. Today at least it was so clear to me that this poor boy wanted his mom to pay attention to him, and it took everything for me not to scream, "Get off your cell and in the water!"

I am sorry to say I have seen more poor parenting this summer than Hallmark moments, more parents walking the length of the pool deck rather than splashing along with their kids in swimmies, more empty threats of “one more time and we’re going home!,” than fair but stern discipline and interested involvement.

I know. Who am I? How dare I? I don’t know what it’s like because I’m not a parent. Right? Well I am an intelligent adult and a teacher and aunt and an observer of people who has collected a cache of What Not to Dos/How Not to Parent anecdotes.

Letting my six year old chant SH*T, which draws the attention of the lady with the nice tan reading her book and makes her head spin like Linda Blair in The Exorcist while I’m on the cell phone is one of them.

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