Societal Ills: Lack of Parenting

At the bus stop today as I was leaving the Metro after my daily jaunt I shared the waiting area with a young woman and her son. She could not have been any older than 20 or 21 years-old. Her son was around 5 or 6 years-old.

This young fellow could have been a poster child for ADHD (or ADD in the US) he could not stand still. Moving jerkily and quickly, he would zoom from one spot to the next and then return to Mum to address her rudely and aggressively. At one point he picked up some shards of glass and put them in his pocket. Mum reacted (very slowly) and after telling him repeatedly (at least six times, I counted) she finally approached him and forced him to empty his pockets. Which he initially refused to do; Mum then started a new game of wills by repeatedly telling him to empty his pockets.

All during this four-minute wait for the bus, the young woman threatened “We’ll go back home, if I have to tell you off one more time.” She continually raised her voice to just below a shout. The only time her son actually appeared to listen to her was when she dropped the F-bomb. The emergence of this word caused him to return to Mum, sit down and be still; for roughly half a second.

I kept my distance and did my best to ignore this display and kept fervently hoping that the bus would arrive early.

I was a juvenile prison officer for about ten years. I have seen older children at their absolute worst. I have seen parents that apparently share the same parenting skills as the young lady at the bus stop. Whenever I see a situation like this, I used to think the same thing every time; I’ll be seeing you in about ten years little man. Juvenile prisons are full of young men who have “suffered” from poor parenting skills by their guardians. I hasten to add that not all of the older children suffer this fate, but a large amount of them do.

I have had training in Child Protection which includes the psychology of children. I am also a parent.

The episode at the bus stop was not unusual. More and more you see ever younger parents not dealing with their children’s behaviour. It is not a “one-off” it is becoming a trend; a trait of our society that got its start in the 1970’s when younger parents did not want to discipline their children because “if I punish them they won’t like me anymore.”

It has obviously trickled down through the generations until it has become the commonplace rule of parenting. I’ve got news for you folks, your children don’t have to like you, respect and love you yes, but not like you. Not during the “learning years” at any rate, that will come later if it comes at all.

Children need boundaries. They need rules and they need direction; and in that dichotomous nature of parenting, they also need the freedom to develop personality, imagination and opinion. Sure it’s confusing, parenting is. There is no “See Spot Run” type book on parenting, usually we learn from our parents. And as I’ve already stated, this trend of passive parenting began in the 1970’s. So one of the types of modern parents can be classed as the “passive” parent; someone who will not directly influence their child.

Now I will go on record here and say that I am not a firm believer in “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” I do not advocate beating your children. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there, you’re so angry that you are one step away from exploding; but that is not the time to strike your child. The act of hitting a child whilst in the throes of adrenaline will cause bruises that are far deeper than the bruises on their skin.

There is another type parent out there, the “oblivious” parent. Unlike the passive parent who at least goes through the motions of controlling their offspring, the oblivious parent ignores them. These are the kids that run riot in the restaurant, grocery store, shop, high street, mall, et al. These are also the children who get hurt or, more sadly, wind up getting snatched or killed. Unlike the “passive” parent, I have no idea how to get it through their self-centred heads that they need to pay attention to their children; not talk to their neighbour, friend, co-worker et al.

Oblivious parents also seem to expect everyone else to look out for their children’s well-being. Neighbours, retail staff and even strangers are considered to be responsible for their little ones.

What is your major malfunction Private?

For the passive parent, you just need to be in charge. You don’t need to be a Drill Sergeant rushing up to your small child screaming, “What is your major malfunction?” In fact you shouldn’t yell or scream at all. When you do that you’ve just lowered your maturity level to the rough equivalent of your child. You’ve lost the battle of who’s in charge already.

You just need to let your kids know what is and is not permissible. If they screw up – and they will, they are human and screwing up is something we are all very good at – don’t lose your rag. Let them know what they’ve done wrong and if they do it again they will be punished. And I do mean punish, not beat. But the most important thing about punishment is to be consistent. If your punishment for your offspring’s infractions means “time out on the naughty step” then make it happen. Don’t threaten and not follow through. Children learn incredibly fast, they will soon figure out that mummy and daddy don’t really mean it. They learn all too quickly that there are no real boundaries.

Shouting at your kids will accomplish nothing apart from possibly making you feel better. Part of our training in the prison officer college was that when two prisoners start to fight you should bellow, “Pack it in or stop it.” I can tell you that out of the many times I’ve bellowed, “Pack it in,” only one pair of lad did (quite possibly because I am very loud). Yelling doesn’t work, trust me.

In a nutshell? Punish bad behaviour and reward good behaviour; and I don’t mean buy your kid a Porsche or its kiddie equivalent, a hug or a well done will suffice. Again consistency is the key. If you don’t differentiate between good and bad behaviour how do you think your children are going to learn the difference.

The one common factor in dealing with the end result of poor parenting is that children respond to boundaries and rules. They don’t like it at first; oh no; no one’s going to tell them what to do. But after a while they grow used to it and then come to expect it and then miss it when it’s no longer there; when they leave. In this country there is a huge  rate. Roughly 70 to 75 % re-offend and wind up back in prison. Why? What are we doing wrong?

The answer is, we are not doing anything wrong. We are offering, though, the first structure that these young people have probably ever encountered. If I had a penny for every kid who came back to prison and told me or other staff that the reason they’ve come back is because, “I couldn’t make it on the out, Guv,” I wouldn’t be rich, but I be a lot better off financially than I am at present. If you question them further, they’ll explain that they could not manage themselves because they had no rules; no boundaries. If there were rules, they failed to obey them because they had no help from their families.

Now I am not saying that all poorly parented children will wind up in a juvenile prison, but they definitely have a head start on their peers.

After I got on the bus with the ADHD lad and his mum, I could hear a load of kids yelling and running on the top level of the bus. When the bus pulled up two stops down, these same kids all haphazardly came down the stairs and then (like they were the ephemeral twins of the other ADHD lad) they began exhibiting the exact same behaviour as the other lad at the bus stop. The main difference was that this mother was an “oblivious” parent and said or did nothing to control her brood.

Twice in one day on the same bus route I was privy to both types of modern-day parents and the image was not comforting. And despite the fact that I am now a retired prison officer I thought the same thing about both sets of children, “I’ll be seeing you in about ten years time.” I’d like to think that things will change, but it has taken a few generations for parenting to reach where it is at right now. Obviously it is going to take a few more to straighten this problem out.

I hope I get to see the difference while I’m still aware enough to care.

Children can be happy behaving, they really can.
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