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Jewish World Review March 22, 2000 / 15 Adar II, 5760

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports



If you're a parent, act like one! -- I WAS ONE OF SEVERAL PARENTS standing along the side of the soccer field proudly watching our little 4- and 5-year-olds do drills on the first day of practice, when several of the older boys waiting in line to kick the soccer ball started vigorously kicking at a dry mound of dirt instead.

As dust swirled up into the group of children waiting patiently to drill, the coach told the boys to stop. They did -- for a moment, before they started shoveling dirt into the air again while not one of their watching parents reiterated the coach's order. Finally, the coach gave the command a second time. But neither did it have an effect as the boys made a third attempt to turn the soccer field into a mini-dustbowl, and the parents ignored the boys' misbehavior.

Well I noticed. Though my child was not involved I walked out onto the field, knelt down so I had direct eye contact with these children, and informed them clearly and authoritatively that they would stop the demolition of the dirt mound RIGHT NOW. Did they understand? Instantly three heads bobbed up and down. End of problem.

But what I really wanted to do was to walk up to the watching moms and dads and say "start acting like parents RIGHT NOW -- do you understand?"

Sadly I find myself wanting to say that a lot. In grocery stores, at the mall, in restaurants, wherever I see minor children young and old speaking so rudely to their parents, sometimes even outright yelling at them, making demands, informing their mom or dad of what they will and will not do, as their parents try to cajole, or bribe or beg them otherwise.

A likeminded friend told me of witnessing an 8 or 9-year-old girl on the playground screaming at her mother that she would not leave the park, as the mother stood there helplessly, pleading with her to do so.

Another mom recounted to me how she watched a very young child immobilize her parents and grandparents by refusing to enter the family car. For instead of picking up the little child and putting her in the backseat, the adults response was only to haplessly beg her to please, please choose to get into the car on her own.

Many times in my own home I've had to lovingly explain to my kids' friends the Hart House Code as it pertains to relations with adults. These little playmates come from committed, caring families but often I've had to gently lift a child's chin, look into his eyes and explain our rules because they were so different from those in his own home: to begin with, that here children are to speak respectfully when addressing an adult and respond respectfully when spoken to -- "answering" an adult by just ignoring him or walking away is not an option; they are cheerfully to do as they are told by the adults, and they are to obey the do's and don'ts of the house.

So I'm really not surprised that my home is a favorite destination point for many of my children's friends. I think the kids feel secure and happy here. Perhaps most of all they know they don't have the power to run the place -- a power which so many kids now seem to have in their own homes and which rightly terrifies them.

For it appears today's idea about parents is that we're not supposed to be in a unique position of -- gasp! -- authority in our children's lives. We are there at most to facilitate the child's own self-discovery. If we are really lucky, such enlightened thinking goes, we might "learn" from them. Our pop-culture often paints parents as at best loving buffoons -- if not outright bumbling impediments to their children's "growth." In any event the message is clear: Any presumption of a moral prerogative on the part of parents is somehow, well, immoral.

I'm not sure how we got here. I think it says a lot about distorted values and a culture that's lost its sense of purpose. But I do know that record levels of young children, even children as young as two and three, are being medicated for depression and other behavioral problems. And I know a lot of miserable parents of young kids, too. Now maybe these things and the epidemic of teen problems we are currently witnessing, all amid what appears to be widespread parental abdication, is nothing more than an amazing coincidence.

But why are so many parents willing to take that chance?

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2000, Scripps Howard News Service