My daughter encountered a brat last night. He was shopping with his grandmother and demanding her constant attention. He kicked, yelled, argued, made faces, and topped off his performance by calling her a bitch. The grandmother kept shopping. Karen said she was as shocked by the grandmother’s failure to react as she was by the child’s behavior and language. My response was that the grandmother might have just been weary. I’ve met many grandparents, especially during the past six years, who are completely baffled and overwhelmed by their grandchild’s behavior. They have very little experience with such selfish, rude, demanding children. They were raised in a totally different world and they seem bewildered by this one. What I hear time and again is “I didn’t raise my child that way- why is their child such a brat?”
I have a theory. We started the ball rolling, but no one knows how to make it stop.
I grew up at the end of the “children should be seen and not heard” era. We were typical children and got into plenty of trouble at home, but were strictly admonished to be polite and well-behaved in public, thereby making a good impression for our parents. We could eat at a table in a restaurant, or shop with our parents, or attend church without being an embarrassment, because we knew the consequences of doing otherwise would be swift and harsh. I remember standing and waiting for an eternity once while Dad talked to someone in the store. I was trying to tell him that Mom was getting hot waiting for him in the car, but I was afraid to interrupt him.
Even the children on television were polite and well-behaved. Some of them were more like little adults than actual children. I measured my own behavior by what I saw on television and found it lacking!
Those of us who came from such a background were more lenient with our children. We actually talked to them and asked their opinion and gave them some choices. I remember teaching Karen to place her own order at McDonald's. She would march up to the counter, at two years of age, and proudly say, “cheesebuger, fenchfies, coke”. The woman behind the counter thought she was adorable, and she was!
McDonald’s was the beginning of the end of polite children.
Think about it.
McDonald’s developed the “Speedee service system” that created the fast food industry. At first they touted this speed and service as their claim to fame. Then other chains developed and McDonald’s began catering to children. Suddenly there was a place where children could make noise, run around, and even play on the playground in between bites of their burger and fries, and no one cared! Parents also discovered that children could eat McDonald’s food in the car on the way to other errands. A few years ago I actually encountered a four-year-old whose mom admitted had never eaten at a real table! He ate every meal in the car or at the coffee table in front of the television.
Once you give children public voices and allow them public freedom, it’s difficult to draw a line and say stop here. Our children were given just enough freedom to feel natural and comfortable in an adult world. What some of them have done now is given control of the world to their children. Life revolves around their children.
Just take a few moments to think of how many aspects of our current society are geared to the wants and needs of children. Number one complaint of parents with school-age children? They spend the majority of their time chauffeuring children to sports/dance/____. Number two complaint: they spend every evening begging, bribing, and threatening their child to do homework 3. Their child demands name-brand everything, from school folders to jeans to shoes. 4. Their child wants every phone, game, and gadget invented and expects to get most of it. 5. Their child says whatever they feel like saying, whenever they feel like saying it.
If there is one thing I’ve learned in thirty years of working with other people’s children, it is this: A child will do whatever WORKS for them. If they try something, and they are successful, they will do it again, and again, and again, until it is no longer successful. Unfortunately that applies across the board to everything, good and bad. If a child begs for candy in the checkout line and Mom gives in: “yes, just this once”, the child does NOT hear the last part of that statement. The next time those little eyes see the checkout counter you know what will pop out of that little mouth.
Even television children have changed. Dennis the Menace misbehaved and we laughed. Then more sit-com children misbehaved and we laughed. Then they started lying and cheating and cursing and we still laughed! The children on a couple of current shows are BRATS, and our grandchildren are watching them and laughing.
Look around. Children are bombarded with television shows, movies, music, games, and advertising that tells them whatever they do is okay, maybe even cute! Look at the Bounty ads! You can even make a mess, on purpose, and no one cares because it’s easy to clean it up. It’s hard not to let that kind of power go to your head!