November 18, 2007
The Perils of ParentingBy Bob Weir
Have you ever been a witness to the following scenario? You're walking along a supermarket aisle and come across a mother trying to reason with her spoiled child.
"Johnny, you have plenty of cookies and candy at home; you don't need that," she says, referring to a large bag of chocolates on a shelf.
"I don't care! I want that candy," the brat says as he stamps his feet.
"Johnny, please, it's not good for you to eat so many sweets."
"Shut up! I can have it if I want it," the 10 year-old shouts.
The mother glances furtively at the startled onlookers and timidly reaches for the candy. "Okay, Johnny, but it's not nice to talk that way to your mother," she replies as she hands over the confection and heads toward the checkout.
The mother in this little melodrama is in the process of building a monster. One day, that monster will destroy her as well as himself and many others who are unfortunate enough to be in his orbit.
You have to ask yourself what kind of parent would allow such behavior? Are they incapable of seeing the harm they're doing to themselves and the child, or are they so weak that they'd rather give in to the little tyke's demands than be faced with the duty to administer appropriate discipline.
Parenting is an awesome responsibility because it deals with the shaping of character. A child comes into this world like a hunk of clay with a heartbeat. From that blessed moment on, that little person is in need of nurturing and guidance.
The parents have the first and longest lasting opportunity to mold the child into a decent, courteous and productive member of society. Although we all have the instinct to protect our young, we also have a duty to protect society from our young.
Case in point: A father brings his son to an outdoor entertainment/retail establishment. The son wanders away from his dad and begins maliciously damaging some of the display items. One of the proprietors witnesses the behavior and walks hastily toward the unruly child.
"Why did you break that?" the woman says, trying to pick up some of the pieces.
Suddenly, the father comes running over. "What's wrong?"
When the woman tells him what she observed, he turns toward his son. "Tommy, did you do that?" The boy folds his arms stubbornly and says no.
The proprietor, turning her attention to the father, repeats that she saw what the boy did.
The father's response: "My son doesn't lie. If he says he didn't do it, I believe him." He then proceeds to take his son by the hand and walks away.
Now, either that father thought he was evincing some sort of parental protection for his boy, or he was afraid he would be required to pay for the damage. Nevertheless, in effect he showed his son that he would always take his word against any adult, regardless of the situation.
If, God forbid, that boy is brought home by the police someday, he'll expect the same amount of forbearance from his ostensibly gullible "protector." Only then will that father realize that he would have been a lot better off paying for the damage years ago because it would have been a lot less expensive in the long run.
Although it's true that very few parents fall into this category, even a small percentage can have a devastating effect on those around them. You don't want to be living next door to a family that has no control over their kids.
Childhood is a marvelous part of life and it should be viewed as a series of positive steppingstones in the advancement toward adulthood. No one expects a bunch of Little Lord Fauntleroys, marching in unison to a single drummer. Children need to develop their own personalities and learn to be independent, curious and capable.
But they also need proper supervision and instruction from parents who are wise enough and strong enough to teach them that they are not the center of the universe, but merely a part of the social contract that keeps civilization from becoming unglued. Bringing a child into the world is perhaps the most underrated miracle in history. Raising a child with a sense of values and consideration for others is perhaps second.
Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. Email Bob.