May 7, 2013
I am one of those people most parents about my age (give or take a decade on either side) hate. I’m an armchair quarterback when it comes to other people’s parenting. I have no children (on purpose), but I often assume I know exactly how to raise them.
For example, I was once so fed up with a misbehaved kid at the grocery store who was screeching his hatred for his mother because he had put Oreos in the shopping cart and she had taken them out, I gave her my unsolicited parenting advice right there in aisle six.
I heard her tell her child if he stopped his wailing and flailing about, she would put the cookies back in the cart.
"That’s your negotiation tactic?" I asked, appalled. "You’ve just agreed to reward him for his bad behavior. What you should do is tell him that, if he quits screaming, you won’t spank him with a wooden spoon when you get home."
The lady looked at me horrified and huffed off to the dairy section.
Though I was annoyed with this kid’s temper tantrum (I just wanted to select my cookies in peace), and even more annoyed that the mom was seemingly incentivizing him for it, my comment was intended to be more practical than rude.
Yes as I often sarcastically remind myself people without kids make the best parents.
When I was a kid, a wooden-spoon spanking from Dad was an always-looming threat. My sisters and I only got the wooden spoon once or twice as kids. That was enough. We knew the price for being disobedient, and therefore we didn’t disobey.
My mom’s weapon of choice was her fingers. She could find that tiny, sensitive spot on the back of our arms, between armpit and elbow, quicker than we could blink. One pinch and we were as compliant as a puppet.
If my sisters or I had thrown a fit about Oreos in the grocery store, my mom would have put her thumb and forefinger in the air, made a pinching motion, and we would have shut the hell up. Pronto.
Of course, this was more than 30 years ago. Back then parents could actually spank (or pinch) their kids. There was no such thing as a time-out. The time-out you took was when your backside was red and you needed time for that handprint to fade before you could sit again.
At the risk of sounding like my dad who still insists he had to walk five miles to and from school, uphill both ways, shoeless even in the winter kids today have it too easy.
I don’t by any means condone beating your children (nor would I ever suggest my parents abused me), but somehow we’ve gone so absurdly, hyper-sensitively in the other direction, that kids today don’t know how to cope with discipline.
Parents have been so busy building their children’s self-esteem and making sure everyone gets a ribbon that, when children are told they are doing something wrong, they have no idea how to react. And sometimes they react very badly.
Take, for example, a local story now making national news. A soccer referee died in Salt Lake last weekend after being punched in the head by a 17-year-old player. The player had just received a yellow card, which is simply a warning. He was disciplined for breaking a rule something he found so shocking that his reaction was violence and the ref, Ricardo Portillo, died as a result.
The story is on several major media websites and has garnered thousands and thousands of comments from readers. And they’re terribly predictable, depending on if the commenter is a parent (at least one under age 60 or so).
With little exception, they go something like this:
"This was a freak accident. This child’s life is ruined. I will pray for him. He made a terrible mistake that he will regret for the rest of his life."
"Try this kid as an adult for murder and throw the book at him. Seek the death penalty and hold him accountable for his actions."
While I am not a prosecutor or a parent, neither of these responses seems realistic.
First, this was not a freak accident. A freak accident is getting hit by a train while you are on a riverboat cruise.
I have no doubt this kid never thought his actions would result in a death. But I also have little doubt he was probably never taught that there are always unintended consequences for our actions.
I can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, if this child had grown up in a generation where a simple swat was not grounds for Child Protective Services to launch an investigation, perhaps being disciplined by a referee would not have come as such a shock and he would have been able to handle it with dignity instead of hostility.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.