July 17, 2007

Meltdown on Aisle Five

You know the topic: Other People's Children (OPC). We've blogged about this before, but on a limited, non-rant basis. That's a hallmark of Purple WomenTM, to avoid base ranting at the possible cost of being a little boring. It serves no purpose, except for commiserating. Still, it has earned a spot in our topic list, and the topic is unavoidable. The subject of OPC is easy fodder. Here's another take.

I stumbled upon a relatively new childfree blog yesterday. (The more the better. Our topic doesn't get enough accurate exposure in the mainstream media, so we make up for it in the blogosphere.) The front page post was a typical rant complaining about OPC in public spaces. Get used to it, kids have a right to exist and parents cannot control every move an offspring makes. There's lots of advice out there to help parents manage their tots, but even if they follow all that well-meaning advice, it still may not work. As one tipster offered, "shop when kids are in school or at home eating dinner"!

I recently got to try my hand at substitute teaching. The school year is over now and I am trying to decide whether or not to go back to it in the fall. I had one special education class that I will never forget. These poor kids couldn't even sit still. All of them were medicated. Pill-popping is our society's solution to the problem.

The kids you see acting up at the mall up may not be controllable without medication. I've seen it up close and personal. Some families try hard to avoid that solution. There are examples within my own family. I think we childfree make a huge assumption that parents can control their kids. Perhaps some are just not equipped with the right skill set, but consider that the deck may be stacked against them. It scares me a little to go down this line of thinking. Is our environment so toxic that our children are sick?

The special ed class I subbed for was so tough, I was compelled to go to the library to read up on it. The diagnoses of autism have increased dramatically in the last decade or so. It is a whole continuum of degrees of illness. Some autistic people are highly functioning, but they do not relate to the world in the same way.
There is a lot of speculation about autism being linked to mercury. I hope there is a lot more research done in this area, because I believe our society needs to make some fundamental changes and reverse this trend. In the meantime, eat organic, and let's do what we can to support these challenged parents. We are not qualified to make the diagnosis, nor is it our place to discipline someone else's child. Parents do the best they can, just as our own did. All we can offer them is our patience and a little understanding.

Flickr photo by sean_alexander (cc)
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11 comments:

M said...

I agree that there's a lot going on with the issue of kids' behavior in public.

I agree that being critical and ranting, though it has its place and is a good way to vent with a friend or journal, isn't always the most productive path to take.

Having said that, I do believe there are plenty of occasions when parents can be doing much more to be considerate of others when out with their children. There is no way every parent is doing his or her best to control the child (just as at any given time numerous people are not doing their best in whatever it is they are doing, but are simply trying to get by with the least effort necessary), and there are many parents who do not believe they even should control the child for the sake of the public.

Public be damned, my child has a right to ------, many think. So it's a matter of divergent values in some cases, a matter of exhaustion or lack of effort in others, and a matter of difficult or special needs kids, or parents who lack the proper skills in disciplining and guiding their offspring in other cases.

This is in no way unique to parents. I can, and do, say the same thing about pet owners (try going to the dog park once or twice and you'll see what I mean), drivers, pedestrians, bike riders,etc. In other words, in every group, some people will be considerate and look out for themselves as well as the general public, some will be completely inconsiderate, some will be incompetent, some will not give a damn, and some will simply have trouble keeping it together.It takes all kinds, right?

I've worked with kids for many years, I have a degree in education, and I understand what it's like to get kids to behave, but I don't think that means we should accept behavior that is not generally considered acceptable (usually because it does not serve the best interests of the individual or the community). It is not good for the child, or the family, or the community.

Children needs limits and consequences and they need to learn to behave in public. Those who do not will face the consequences in the parts of life that Mommy and Daddy can't control, unless Mom and Dad make the effort to learn how to best guide their children to behave acceptably in public while they still control most of the consequences themselves.

I'm not saying we should freak out and cause a scene when we feel a child is misbehaving in an unacceptable way and the parent is not adequately addressing it. But I am saying that we should not simply write off such incidents by saying that child-rearing is hard or that many kids have special needs. Just as in teaching, children (and often adults as well) will rise to your expectations. Expect and accept such behavior as normal, tolerable, and okay, and people will meet those expectations.

I've seen the results of lowered expectations on kids' development, and it is not a favorable sight. Kids want to have limits and to learn how to follow them and stay within them. It is the job of adults in the society, mainly that of the parents but not solely, to help them learn how to do that. We are doing a grave disservice to our young if we neglect to teach them how to behave within the boundaries of reasonable social norms. I'm not saying to create some mindless sheep, but to lead productive, well adjusted children. Sure, sometimes they will be loud, etc., but many of the instances people complain about are much more than just regular kid behavior. Sometimes, it's not just a child being a child, but a case where the child needs some sort of structure or support that he or she is not receiving. This is my opinion of course based on years of working with children studying their development and witnessing their interactions with their families and communities.

Our society as a whole has moved toward being more self centered and less community centered, but to align our expectations to that practice only helps set it in stone rather than help perhaps change that dynamic. I'm not saying I have the answers, but only that I don't believe all such situations can be thought of similarly, and I don't believe all such situations should be viewed with blanket acceptance.

Sometimes change, not status quo, is the better outcome, and if no societal norms create the pressure for change, many people will likely slip more and more into a common default mode: looking out for themselves, all others be damed. It's simply human nature I think.

But so is working together as a community. And that does require patience and understanding. But it must stem from all factions of society, not only one side. I think working together, and everyone trying to understand other sides is closer to the answer than one group understanding the other, without that understanding going both ways (not that you were suggesting that).

In summary, this is a complex issue not unique to parents, and I think it is best addressed by working together, all sides being understanding, and all sides working toward a win-win situation by recognizing that often what's best for the individual can be and is the same as what's best for society. The two needs (of the individual and the community) need not be mutually exclusive. Finding a balance between the two and a middle ground is I think the best approach and will benefit all sides equally.

M said...

p.s. I've got to start leaving shorter comments!

Also I accidentally pressed "Publish" (instead of "preview") before I had finished revising my comment so forgive any errors or areas that are not clear, etc.

I hope my comment does not appear anti parent or anti child because that is the opposite from the stance I take.

I want the best for our society's children, which is why I devoted my career to them, and which means I want the best for their parents and families and the society they live in as well. And I believe it is possible to have the needs of all those groups met simultaneously.

We all need similar things from one another and from our society. Teaching our children to take care of themselves while taking care of the larger community as well is the right approach, in my view.

What that looks like or how it's manifested is a whole other issue and is obviously much more subjective and harder to negotiate. But it can be done, I believe if all parties are willing.

When we all stop thinking of others as "the other" and realize a win-win situation is not just possible but desirable, we can succeed in meeting the needs of ourselves and the greater community at the same time.

AlphaGirl said...

If I didn't see kids really turning around their bad behaviour in public once they get that toy or food item they were melting down over, I would be inclined to cut some slack.

That behing said, even disabled kids can be taught proper public behaviour..one of my friends has taught autistic/mentally retarded(don't crucify me...she had discarded the "Developmentally Disabled" term herself) and one of her goals for the students and their parent is to "practice" good public behaviour. Again and again. Even her most profoundly autistic students were able to behave on field trips, because the consequences of acting out were explained to them in terms they could understand. She also established a token economy to reward good behviour and to deducts points for bad behaviour. The result? shopkeepers, restaurants, etc. always welcomed her class on field trips. Melt-downs were handled quickly and discretly. In short, playing the "disabled" card isn't the way to go. Every kid wants and needs to know that expectations and consequences of their behaviour. They key is communicating early and often-in a way they can understand-what those expectations and consequences are.

I went with T and her class on a field trip to the grocery store. I had been warned about a student that had frequent outbursts; he was barely communicative, couldn't take care of himself, and was autistic. T and her aides had worked hard with him. You should have seen the look on his face when he knew he had done well on the field trip. It is possible, so the "disability/poor parents of disabled kids" excuse doesn't fly.

M had a great point in talking about lowered developmental expectations for kids. I see it all the time: 4 year-olds still in diapers. Kids old enough to walk being ferried around in jogging stroller. 5 year-olds using sippers. For some reason, these are now acceptable standards. What a shoddy message to send to kids: It's OK to still be a baby. You don't have to grow up and learn how to behave like a "big kid" Want to bring your teddy or sipper to school?...that's OK, we don't want you to throw a fit. Kids are experts at holding others hostage with over-the-top behaviour.

Regardless of our disabilities/abilities, we all have codes of public behaviour. Allowing kids to fall out, to make excuses for the kids/parents, only absolves them of the responsibility they have to themselves, each other, to the community and to society at large.
If kids of all abilities don't learn consequences and boundaries early, schools and eventually the workplace will suffer.

I roll my eyes when the "he/she" is disabled/had ADD/ADHD card is played. I think of T's students and how even the most severely disabled kids in her class could go on a field trip and behave much better than many "able-bodied/non ADD/ADHD/Autistic" kids can.

Time to stop making excuses.

LauraS said...

I was watching SuperNanny, one of my favorite reality shows recently when they aired a repeat episode about a family with three children, one of which had been diagnosed ADD.

SuperNanny observed that the ADD diagnosed child, thefirst-born son, was getting all of the attention, mostly negative, from his mother, while the other kids were left on the sidelines.

Nanny Jo's recommendation was for the mother to raise the expectations and performance of her son by providing more positive encouragement, visualization, and acknowledgement of good behavior.

It worked. The child was able to focus and complete five pages of homework in one sitting. Something that had never happened before.

Having two close relatives with Ausberger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism, I see the potential and the limitations of behavior modification. Parents, teachers, relatives, and care-givers can do things to improve the behavior of these kids. However, there is only so much we can do.

We haven't yet found a way to solve the fact that most people with ausberger's syndrome don't read faces. They can't gauge your facial reactions, sarcasism is lost on them, and they have a hard time managing change in their routines.

I've made adjustments to my behavior to accomodate my relatives and they are proving they can be functional teens and adults.

SuperNanny Jo put some earphones (piping load music) on the mother with the ADD child and encouraged the kids to jump up and down screaming to try to disrupt the mother from reading an article that Nanny Jo ask that she try to read over all the noise and distraction. The mother finally began to understand that this is what her son was experiencing as he tried to do homework.

This show and my experience with ausberger's syndrome relatives, taught me that what is often needed most is some empathy and some behavior modification on the care-givers part, and an acknowledgement that the world doesn't have to revolve around these kids and they can be responsible and functional in different and equally valid ways.

AlphaGirl said...

Hi LauraS-
Great comment. I remember watching T's students; even the most profoundly impacted kid had expectations for behvaviour. They also had a role in the classroom that was within their abilities, be it just putting away class materials, or the higher-functioning kids would assist the others. Everyone had a "job" and a role, and it helped them to feel a part of the bigger picture. ONe of her self-professed "Aspie" kids told me at length how much he loved organizing the classroom supplies. One of her Down's students was the "class mayor" because she was so sociable.

Allowances were made for their limitations, but not too many. T raised the bar and the kids delivered 90% of the time =)

Britgirl said...

If parents haven't got the ability to control then who has? Who should? The state? But parents object to any interference in their lives when it comes to their kids.

ADD and "cannot control child" seem to be the new excuse parents give to anyone who dares to criticise their child. Often the child is craving attention - and I don't mean the attention of a TV or a Wii.

I posted on my blog yesterday about the MNSBC story toddler and mommy who was chucked of a plane.

Almost to a voice on the linked blog the muffia completely supported the mother and toddler - without even knowing the whole story! And the one childfree voice that provided a balanced comment was predicably insulted and told she had no "compassion." And that "bringing up 4 siblings and having a child care qualification didn't qualify her to criticize a parent!!"

If I see a parent is truly struggling I do feel for them. But I know mothers who are down the line on good behaviour with their kids and boy, are those kids a pleasure to be around.

The many instances of kids behaving badly that I have seen are greeted by the parent (equally badly behaved) giving them (or me) an indulgent smile (oh-they are just kids),or a weak, half assed attempt at telling them to stop the behaviour. Or being annoyed that I am irritated and show it. Unbelievable.

My parents both worked when I was growing up, they weren't rich and we were pretty normal kids, yet they never had brats. We weren't allowed to get away with crap that kids today do either.We were six kids. And I salute my parents.

Many parents today appear to simply think they don't have to bother. Maybe it's guilt. If they did make some real effort with their kids they might be surprised. I once told a child off for swearing at her mother. I just couldn't stand there and let her insult her mother like that. The girl (about 10) was so startled (probably at being told to stop anything) that she shut up immediately. All I said to her was "don't talk to you mother like that..." As for her mother, she had the grace to look shamefaced, but only for a few seconds after which she herself began berating the child. I shook my head.

I believe many parents are not doing enough to control their children. And worse, they seem to think that everybody else should "understand."

What I understand when I am sitting in an airplane with a brat kicking the back of my seat on a 7 hour flight, with his mother doing nothing to stop him, is that they need to be told that it is not acceptable to not control your child, particularly in public. In their home I could not care less. Neither is it acceptable to inflict your badly behaved kid (the result of your handiwork) on the rest of society.

Britgirl said...

If parents haven't got the ability to control then who has? Who should? The state? But parents object to any interference in their lives when it comes to their kids.

ADD and "cannot control child" seem to be the new excuse parents give to anyone who dares to criticise their child. Often the child is craving attention - and I don't mean the attention of a TV or a Wii.

I posted on my blog yesterday about the MNSBC story toddler and mommy who was chucked of a plane.

Almost to a voice on the linked blog the muffia completely supported the mother and toddler - without even knowing the whole story! And the one childfree voice that provided a balanced comment was predicably insulted and told she had no "compassion." And that "bringing up 4 siblings and having a child care qualification didn't qualify her to criticize a parent!!"

If I see a parent is truly struggling I do feel for them. But I know mothers who are down the line on good behaviour with their kids and boy, are those kids a pleasure to be around.

The many instances of kids behaving badly that I have seen are greeted by the parent (equally badly behaved) giving them (or me) an indulgent smile (oh-they are just kids),or a weak, half assed attempt at telling them to stop the behaviour. Or being annoyed that I am irritated and show it. Unbelievable.

My parents both worked when I was growing up, they weren't rich and we were pretty normal kids, yet they never had brats. We weren't allowed to get away with crap that kids today do either.We were six kids. And I salute my parents.

Many parents today appear to simply think they don't have to bother. Maybe it's guilt. If they did make some real effort with their kids they might be surprised. I once told a child off for swearing at her mother. I just couldn't stand there and let her insult her mother like that. The girl (about 10) was so startled (probably at being told to stop anything) that she shut up immediately. All I said to her was "don't talk to you mother like that..." As for her mother, she had the grace to look shamefaced, but only for a few seconds after which she herself began berating the child. I shook my head.

I believe many parents are not doing enough to control their children. And worse, they seem to think that everybody else should "understand."

What I understand when I am sitting in an airplane with a brat kicking the back of my seat on a 7 hour flight, with his mother doing nothing to stop him, is that they need to be told that it is not acceptable to not control your child, particularly in public. In their home I could not care less. Neither is it acceptable to inflict your badly behaved kid (the result of your handiwork) on the rest of society.

AlphaGirl said...

My mom had a talent for giving The Look. If we were starting to act up, The Look served as a warning. If we failed to heed that warning, we were told, "That's it. You know the deal. We're outta here." and she meant it. No mealy-mouthed "Now, honey, don't do that".
It's funny how the treacly "It Takes a Village" logic is trotted out conviniently, but it's considered politically/socially incorrect to apply that same logic to correcting others' kids when their parents fail to do so. Fuuny how that works....

emeraldwednesday said...

m- just wanted to say, Bravo!

Anonymous said...

What is the address of this new blog you stumbled onto yesterday? I tried looking in the links, but there are so many 'new' blogs, I have no idea which one you're talking about. Please post this info. Thanks!

Tiara Lynn said...

As the auntie of a child with a child like this (he has a sensory deprivation disorder), I try really hard to be understanding in meltdown situations. The problem with my sister-in-law, though, is she doesn't just want understanding with her difficult child; she feels it gives her a sense of entitlement, which is what I resent.

I understand that her kid is difficult, but that doesn't mean she should be allowed to cut in lines at the store (she believes it does), or that her son shouldn't have to follow rules that everyone else follows just because he has a hard time following them. After many conversations with her, I honestly believe she thinks the world owes her an apology for giving her a son with mental issues.

Knowing them, as well as having a friend who works with special ed kids, has given me an extra layer of understanding and I'm now less apt to rush to judgment, but at the same time there are places where I do believe she just shouldn't be taking her sons when the middle child is in "one of his moods".

And if you really want to cut in line when the kid's being impossible, just ask me nicely and I'll probably let you do it; don't be bitchy when I call you on jumping to the newly opened line when they call for the "next customer" when you're nowhere near the next in line.