Saturday, May 30, 2009

To Be Or Not To Be ...

After a difficult trip with a friend to the Wild Animal Park I started thinking about the way we raise our children and what we're really teaching them and how much of our parenting is not about our child(ren) but about ourselves. And what I ultimately realized is that, as parents, most of the time we're not being honest with our children and maybe that's the reason they're not learning what we're teaching.

When other children are "too loud" we tell our child to say to that child, "You're hurting my ears, please stop screaming" or when they are playing in a way our child doesn't like (chasing, too physical, etc) we teach our child to "use his words" to tell the other child, "stop, I don't like that." But, in truth, as adults, we would never say that to someone who was offending us. When people are laughing and loud in a restaurant we don't go up to them and ask in our most polite tone of voice, "Excuse me, I don't like how loudly you are talking, could you please speak more quietly?"

So why are we teaching our children to "use their words" in this way if we know that, as adults, we don't practice this? Is this really the way we as adults should be acting? Do we think that this is actually the "right" way to interact with people. Should we, as grown ups, walk around using our words to politely correct everyone's behavior because we don't like it? Would we feel better if we did that?

Somehow I don't think so. If you're a "touchy feely" person that likes to hug and kiss people when greeting them how would you feel when the reaction to your affectionate greeting was, "I don't like it when you touch me that way"? What if you like to sing along with the radio and your passenger admonishes you, "You're hurting my ears. Could you please stop?"

As adults we would never do this. We know that would hurt the other person's feelings. But as parents this is exactly what we are teaching our children to do. We're not teaching them about accepting other people's differences or being kind to other people, we're teaching them that to assert their thoughts is supreme. Shouldn't we be teaching our children how to cope with the real world? And I don't mean that we shouldn't teach our children to keep their hands to themselves, or use inside voices - that's not what I'm wondering about at all - teaching children self control is a big part of what parenting is about. What I'm wondering about is what we are teaching our kids with respect to how they react to those situations when others do things that they don't like. Should we be teaching our kids to speak out or grin and bear it as we, their parents, do?

Shakespeare dealt with this very question in Hamlet's best known speech:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them.

When we teach our children to ask (however politely) for other people to change their behavior just to please their own sensibilities aren't we really teaching them that they are more important than anyone else? And then we wonder why they challenge US?

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