Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When a Child-Hater Writes a Parenting Article

It warmed my heart yesterday to see all the wonderful feedback I got on Ten Ways To Confuse a Child. I am often upset by the hypocrisy and the double standards inflicted by adults on kids. But yesterday was a good day. A lot of people agreed with me. That made me feel good about the world.

And then my sister-in-law sent me this article, republished from this month's issue of Parents magazine, called 25 Manners Every Kid Should Know By Age 9. Brace yourselves. I have picked out some of the "manners" that were confusing or otherwise bothered me. And here they are, with my responses:

Manner #3 Do not interrupt grown-ups who are speaking with each other unless there is an emergency. They will notice you and respond when they are finished talking.
What makes an emergency? How does a child know when grown-ups are "finished" talking? Will it be like listening for microwave popcorn to be done, 1-2 seconds between responses? And why don't children deserve this same courtesy? Adults have no problem interrupting children. 
Manner #5 When you have any doubt about doing something, ask permission first. It can save you from many hours of grief later.
I guess this might be good advice for the child whose parents gives him "hours of grief" about things he has done without permission. I wouldn't really call this one a manner though. Also, remember, it is usually easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Hours of grief may be a price worth paying if it means the child has already gotten to do what he wants.
Manner #6 The world is not interested in what you dislike. Keep negative opinions to yourself, or between you and your friends, and out of earshot of adults. 
This is a joke, right? Never complain to adults? How about this one: don't talk to anyone who isn't interested enough in you to care about your dislikes. If anything, adults should take their own advice here, and stop complaining about kids so much.
Manner #7 Do not comment on other people's physical characteristics unless, of course, it's to compliment them, which is always welcome.
Wow, great rule. So as long as it's a compliment, it's ok? Is it always welcome to tell a woman she has nice breasts? And I can't even count the number of times I have heard adults openly insult a child's physical appearance, laughing at the way the his hair looks, or how his ears or his belly stick out, or anything else. Adults, please check yourselves on this one first.
Manner #13 Never use foul language in front of adults. Grown-ups already know all those words, and they find them boring and unpleasant. 
Another joke, I'm assuming. If grown-ups find these words so boring and unpleasant, then why do they say them so much? Hey grown-ups, maybe don't use foul language in front of kids if you don't like it??
Manner #14 Don't call people mean names. 
Manner #15 Do not make fun of anyone for any reason. Teasing shows others you are weak, and ganging up on someone else is cruel. 

Of course I don't want my kids to be cruel to other people, but I think kindness starts with parents. Kids are people too. Don't call your kids mean names like brat, pain in the butt, or bottomless pit (all of which I have heard parents call their kids in the past few months).
Manner #16 Even if a play or an assembly is boring, sit through it quietly and pretend that you are interested. The performers and presenters are doing their best. 
Pretend you are interested? I'm all for not being rude and interrupting during a play or assembly. But maybe let's give our kids more choices about which ones to attend. They shouldn't be forced to sit through so many things that bore them.
Manner #21 When an adult asks you for a favor, do it without grumbling and with a smile.
Unless, presumably, it's a sexual favor the adult is asking for... Or some other kind of illegal thing. Or it's something the child is physically incapable of doing... I will never teach my children they should always do what an adult asks of them. Just like adults, children should always feel free to say no, whenever they feel uncomfortable or unwilling to do something. And faking a smile is another skill I won't teach my kids.

Many of the other "manners" have to do with children saying please, thank you, and excuse me, all of which come with their own sets of confusing rules from society. I know these words are things that are valued by society. I do explain to my children that people like to hear these words, because it makes people feel good. But if my child forgets to say one of these things when expected, I step in and say it for her. And I say these things to my children often.

I don't require these words from my children or anyone else for that matter, because I think forced politeness is not polite at all. And before anyone says my kids must be rude and thoughtless, let me assure you that my kids (at ages 2 and 4) express genuine gratitude and appreciation toward me, each other, and other people every day, without being forced. 

Why do we expect things from kids (by age nine) that we don't expect from adults? Why do adults think kids are not important enough to be heard? Why are people who obviously hate children writing highly visible articles about parenting?


  1. As a big fan of breasts, I can tell you that women generally do not appreciate that compliment.

  2. Manner #6 is insane! I can only assume he talking about the constant whining that comes out of some kids but he did not phrase it well at all. The comments on this article are more absurd then the article itself. I know you would 'love' this one:

    "I am from the South so manners were beat into me from the get go & i expect the same thing from my 4 kids. At times i feel like a broken record reminding them to use their manners, but there is nothing i hate more than a rude person!! It amazes me when i talk to my northern friend & she actually gets a little upset when my kids refer to her as Mrs. such n such. We wonder why we have rude disrespectful adults when they grow up not expecting to be polite & helpful to others!!"

    I love how manners (aka not offending others) matter so much to her but she couldn't care less about how her friend feels about being called Mrs. such and such.

  3. WOW! This is kinda comical! Vickie...have you ever read "Protecting the Gift" By Gavin De Becker? I think you would like it. Relevant to your response to #21... I know we feel the same way about forced affection and "stranger danger." :)

  4. Omg I saw this lame crap yesterday and was like WTF???? I could not believe half the stuff on that list. Pretty sure whoever wrote that list was drunk.

  5. Love this! I myself am a child-hater, but this was a great response.

  6. Everyone should follow all of these rules. They're directed at children because adults are too close minded to accept criticism.

    I think to call the author of this piece a child hater is inflammatory. I think that they believe that proper manners are important to being respected as an educated individual, and while the hypocrisy is well noted, it's important to show respect towards this other writer as well.

  7. I would like to respond to all of the comments, but for now I just want to address Maggie...

    So you think that EVERYONE should not talk about their dislikes? And you think EVERYONE should do any favor asked of them with a smile? And you think that presenters are always "doing their best" and you should never walk out? Even if they are presenting something in an assembly that offends you?

    I think the man who wrote that article expresses hate towards children when he says things like "The world doesn't care about what you dislike" and that children should NEVER interrupt adults unless it's an (adult-defined) emergency, and that kids should do whatever is asked of them "without grumbling and with a smile." Those are mean things to say. There is no compassion or understanding for what it is like to be a child.

    It's articles like that one that make parents feel like they have to get their kids to jump through all of these hoops like life is some kind of circus, in order to be accepted in society. It's excessive. Especially with the arbitrary age of nine attached to it.

  8. Wow, I read this same article the other day and was APPALLED (as I normally am by this magazine!). We appear to have very similar views on children, which is relieving as apparently most of the world feels that there is an enormous distinction between child and adult that simply doesn't exist.

    I've never EVER told K to say Thank You. I've always said it for him because I was raised very southern, and I mind the 'manners' that were forced upon me by my parents. And, just as expected, K says Thank You, Please, and even Bless You (after a sneeze) simply because he WANTS to be like me. He sees the happiness other people derive from these pleasantries, and because I am a person he LIKES, he WANTS to mimic me. Why would I ever force this on him?! Do you really need my kid to say please and thank you to feel adequate about the action you have done or will do for him? Shouldn't those actions be coming from your own sense of wanting to do something nice and helpful irregardless of the WORDS he will say?

  9. @Anonymous, Exactly. That's the danger of making rules like this. There are always exceptions.

    @MelissaJ, Yes, as usual, the comments were mostly unbearable, although I did see a few people disagreeing with #6. The most upsetting thing about the comments was the number of people who said they were going to print out the list and basically rub it in their kids' faces. Ugh. That one comment was pretty sad too. The idea that her own parents "beat" manners into her, and then she still felt like it was a good idea to do to her kids...

    @Maryam, Seriously, and how about the hundreds of commenters who wholeheartedly agreed with the article... Sadly, there are a lot of adults who feel children need to be held to these unreasonable standards.

    @The Bitchy Waiter, That comment means a lot coming from someone who hates children. Wow. Thank you!

    @Lyndz, I have the same experience with my kids. They love to say all of those polite words. And (bonus!) they actually MEAN things when they say them. They are not used for manipulation, they are not forced. The words have meaning. And it's a beautiful thing.

  10. @JenO, I haven't read that one... I will put it on my list!

  11. Wow, that list is CRAZY!! Thanks for taking the time to bring attention to this ridiculous piece. Please sent a copy of this in to the magazine too - doubt they will print it in their letters to the editor but may make them think a little before they go ahead and waste ink and paper printing garbage like this again. I'm new to your blog and really enjoying it. You are definitely the kind of Mama I'd enjoy hanging out with.

  12. Manners were beaten into you? And you expect the same for your kids? Stuff was beaten into me too - my parents should have been done for child abuse - but - I was raised to follow number 6 - which makes abuse very easy to hide.

    I expect the opposite for my impeccably mannered) kids.

    "Look well O wolves"

  13. ugh, i read that article a while ago and found it sickening. if this is "manners",I'd take my noisy, opinionated, upfront, honest kids over "manners" any day. great post, thank you!

  14. I appreciate good manners, probably like most of the posters do - saying excuse me to a fart - hey it's a good warning to plug your nose! Saying please and thank you in all sincerity. Asking permission when permission was never given or implied before, the standard stuff. This kind of list is so OLD! What really cockamamy ideas LOL I just practice the polite behavior with my bub and know he'll learn and practice it because it's the norm. Forcing it will only bite me in the behind :P

  15. Maybe it was suppose to be a joke? A lame and terribly written joke.

    Dr. Gordon Neufeld talks about attachment theory and Lindz & Vickie are doing exactly what he proposes. If a parent/caregiver models expected behaviour and they have attached to each other, the child/ren will WANT to behave like the parent/caregiver.
    I reminded my kids to say the "magic words", but didn't force them and did let them know the reality is that by saying them doesn't mean you'll get what you want! ("but Mommy I SAID please! Why can't I have matches"?--I had 3 boys/1 girl who liked to experiment a little too much which is why I'd support #5 wholeheartedly until they leave home...which the last child will be doing in September when he marries).
    For those with pre-schoolers, keep teaching by example and when necessary, be blatantly obvious about what you expect out of them...not everything is learnt by osmosis or example. Be aware that not all they have been taught will be evidenced by their behaviour in the coming years--I always say that they were taught that but it didn't stick.
    But very importantly, have a healthy attachment relationship with your child and you will set them free to be the kind of person you'd like to see them be. Love them enough to let go when it is time. And wait for the thank-yous (I got mine and it felt really good and kinda a relief ;o)).

  16. @Terri, Thank you! Maybe I will send a copy to the magazine, although I doubt they would read it. It is so annoying that these kinds of articles get published and so widely read. They really take kids down a few notches. :(

    @Anonymous, I never will understand the hypocrisy that is "beating your kids into submission." No child should live in fear of telling his own parents about things that are bothering him.

    @Imogen, I completely agree!

    @Hollie, Yes, I also appreciate when people are polite and kind, but also don't force my kids. It's not that I think manners are unimportant. It's just that I think genuine "manners" come from kids who are treated with respect. Phony, forced manners mean nothing.

    @Libby, Thanks for the comment. Always good to hear from people who have grown children. :)

  17. I always think it is so obviously rude the way parents correct their kids in front of others in the name of teaching them "manners". Since when is it ok to be rude in order to teach manners? I hate it when I hear parents say "what's the magic word?" Or say 'thank you'. How polite would it be to correct an adult and tell them when to say certain words in order to be 'polite?"

  18. Adults often hold children to a higher standard than they themselves adhere to. The hypocrisy nauseates me.

  19. @Becky, Exactly. How do we expect our children to learn politeness and respect if we talk to them rudely and disrespectfully? It makes no sense at all.

    @OmegaWolf747, The worst part is, we were all children once! Why can't we remember how bad it felt to be treated this way??

  20. Yeah, folks don't have respect for kids as people. It's like they don't count. I think some folks are politer to their pets. Not that it's nice to be rude to pets, but, children are people.

  21. I hate Parents magazine. I somehow got on their mailing list and they won't stop sending me their magazine. I can't stop reading it though. It's like a car wreck. I get angry at their stupid articles every month!

  22. Laura - for an alternative I recommend Life Learning, an online magazine.
    What is most interesting for me is that my daughter now 11 is not necessarily terribly polite to me and her dad around the house (more like authentic in her feelings) but she has very nice manners out and about with other families.
    We constantly, cheerfully break #13 at home, I have to say. She refrains when she is out with her church going friends though.

  23. Wow. That is quit a list of rules. Does the person who wrote these actually have children?! I almost completely agree with you. My only small issue with your response is that I'm not sure what is wrong with calling one's child a bottomless pit. While I would never call my kids a "brat" or a "pain in the butt", I am the proud mother of a fit, healthy 6 year old who can sometimes down an elephant's sized portion of dinner. He is affectionately dubbed my bottomless pit. :)

  24. and this is why i don't read parents magazine. hard to believe that this was even published. as parents, we feel it's so important to teach by example for our live out the behaviors we expect from our children in our own lives instead of the whole "do what i say and not what i do" approach.

  25. @polygonia, Yes, I agree with you. Expectations for children are crazy. They are people! They will not be perfect, just like the rest of us fully grown people.

    @Laura, I was on Parents magazine mailing list for a while too. Conveniently, I moved and didn't give a forwarding address. :)

    @Robyn, Thanks for the suggestion and the rest of your comment. That's what I'm going for with my kids too. I hope they will always feel free to be authentic around me.

    @Anonymous, haha, it sounds like the term is lovingly applied in your house. The mother I heard say this about her kid (in front of him) was talking about all the money she "has to" spend on him. It was very negative. I would have been hurt if I heard someone talking about me that way.

    @Prasti, I really don't understand how these articles get published... until I read the comments. So many people agree that this is what we should expect from our kids. It's depressing. :(

  26. I appreciate this post because I had read this article awhile back and felt shame about my parenting. Thanks for dissecting what the author wrote and making me feel okay again about focusing on relationship and respect instead of producing model children.

  27. @Anon, I am really happy you shared that with me. That is why I hate articles like the "25 Manners" because they really make parents feel bad, and the expectations are absolutely unattainable (and who would even try?). Kids are not robots waiting to be programmed!

  28. Whenever I told my parents I didn't like something, they NEVER listened to me. So I was therefore driven to a weekly abusive situation and expected to like it. ALWAYS listen. It saves children from bad situations.

  29. @Anonymous, Thanks for sharing here. I am sorry you had to go through all that. When we don't listen to our children, we teach them that they don't deserve to be heard. EVERYONE deserves to be heard.

  30. Ugh, I find this list both infuriating and really, really depressing.

    I am feeling uncomfortable with Anonymous affectionately referring to her child as a "bottomless pit." One of the reasons I developed an eating disorder is because my parents would respond extremely positively when I gorged. I began gorging to please them, to the point of throwing up and/or rolling on the floor in agony due to stomach cramps. This will probably not occur if one consistently provides positivity to her child; in my case, I seldom received approval. Many years later, I am still not in touch with my body. I cannot tell if I am hungry or full.

  31. @luna, It can be so hard to delete those old messages from our memories. Many parents don't have any clue how much their words will affect their children. It's awesome that you are able to recognize something from your childhood that you don't want to repeat in your own parenting journey. Thanks for sharing.

  32. You have a lot of good points about this rather tasteless article, but I have to disagree about your take on Manner #5. I think it's a good thing for kids to check if they have a doubt about if they do something, because it could help the parent teach the kid how to think logically about something. For instance, say my son is thinking about throwing rocks. Now, he's gotten in trouble for throwing rocks at people and at cars, but in this case he's at a lake. There are no people, cars, or even boats around, but since he's gotten in trouble before he's unsure if he can throw rocks into the lake. It would be great if he came to us and asked because he had doubts because that shows he's learning to think about things in a logical way. Plus we would get the chance to explain to him the difference between throwing rocks into the lake and throwing at people and cars. I'm a firm believer that kids should be talked to with detail and in explaining things to them, even if it's over their head for awhile and I have to repeat it many times through the years. And I try my best to do that with my son (though of course I'm imperfect and have said, "Because I said so!" at certain points! Lol!)

    Anyway, that's my take on Manner #5!

  33. @Alicia, You do have a point, I guess I was more upset by the "hours of grief" part. Also, I think #5 might be good advice, but to put it under the heading of "Manners Every Kid Should Know" also bugged me. I totally agree though, that I like it when my kids ask me about things like your rock-throwing example, but I wouldn't call it a "manner" that I have trained them to know. Does that makes sense? Thanks for chiming in. I appreciate it :)

  34. Many of these rules are just fine.

    #6 is awful, though. Children need to be able to express both their positive and negative feelings. Of course it's good to learn to look on the bright side, but in general I think our society is too focused on repressing negativity.

  35. These rules teach children to be cute little automatons who do whatever society tells them is right. I think it's creepy. And the fact that I bought into it for so long is even more creepy to me.

  36. These rules would be just fine if they applied to both adults and kids but of course this article chooses to single out children and suggest that it would be fine to embarrass them by correcting them in public.