Do kids have too much to say?
Frequently I hear parents complain—“My kids are always arguing with me about something!” “I don’t want chicken for dinner!” “I don’t want to go shopping!”, “I don’t want to go to bed!”, “PLEASE—five more minutes on my X-box!”-- The list is endless. Adults reflect back on their own childhood and can’t remember expressing their own opinions so strongly. Their chorus—“We did what our parents told us to do without any backtalk!” Why are our youngsters so argumentative?
I can’t remember ever telling my Mom that I didn’t want a particular meal for dinner. Even if I didn’t like what was on the menu, I happily ate it. I knew that she wasn’t going to prepare anything else. It never occurred to my brothers and I to say “no” to any request. We knew who was in charge and it wasn’t us.
When I was growing up, children were seen, but rarely heard.
Subsequent generations are raising their children differently. Parents value expression. We want to know what our kids think and feel. We want our children to be seen and heard. The problem—We don’t always like what they have to say!
Increased affluence and wider consumer choice plays a large part in this new equation. When I was a kid, there were few fast food restaurants. It was a rare day indeed that my parents took us out to dinner. When they did, they ordered for us. We didn’t care. We were just happy to eat out!
But today, fast food restaurants market their fare directly to children. Parents are “crazy busy” with work, ferrying kids to activities, helping with homework, and piles of laundry. They have less time to make home cooked meals. How frequently do you ask your kids where they want to eat? Don’t worry, if you don’t, they will be sure to tell you! There is much greater choice in the market place—restaurants, clothing, toys, and now, electronic devices. Children and parents are flooded with non-stop advertising. It’s hard to resist. Even young children have become sophisticated consumers!
How many Moms and Dads prepare more than one main dish for dinner? Joey is a vegetarian, Sarah is gluten free, Billy hates fish, John will only eat pizza, and Henry can’t stand broccoli. Meals at home are looking more buffet like every day.
Our culture is changing too. When I was growing up, I watched TV shows like “Father knows best” or the “Donna Reed” show. The most rebellious television character was “Dennis the Menace” (Now I am really dating myself!). But my kids watched Will Smith in the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. Running for six years in the early 90’s, Will Smith fought with his Aunt and Uncle about everything. My kids loved that show!
In the movies today, kids having starring roles as spy’s, action heroes, wizards, and villains. No wonder they feel empowered!
So what’s the problem with all of this newfound expression? It makes many children anxious to have so much power. Children need their parents to be in charge in order to feel safe and secure.
What can parents do?
Remember, you’re the boss. There is a time to give children limited choices, but don’t open up the gate too far. Young children can handle—Do you want to pick up your toys now or in five minutes? Do you want to wear the blue pajama top or the red one? But don’t be too open ended. It will make your kids nervous. And NO should always be NO, even if your youngster pitches a fit.
Responsibility and freedom go hand in hand. Kids need age appropriate responsibilities to pair with their freedom of expression. Little kids can set the table. Older kids can put the dishes away. Making your bed everyday is not child abuse. Putting your toys away before bed is not a violation of their human rights.
Draw some lines in the sand. Decide what limits and expectations are important to you, then be clear that these lines are not open for discussion. Listening and learning from your children’s experience is a worthwhile occupation. But that doesn’t mean that everything is up for negotiation.
What do you think?