Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Do Your Children Own Anything?

When I wrote about gifts the other day, in You Call That a Gift?, I was really only addressing the misuse of the word "gift" as it is applied to things that are clearly not given to children as gifts. The bottom line there is, if the thing given can be taken away whenever the parent feels like it, then it is not a gift.

Then a few commenters on that post (on my Facebook page) pointed out that there is a much bigger issue here than deciding on a new word for the things given to children with all kinds of strings attached. I'll explain with a fictional but very believable story:
Mark was 15 when his parents gave him a shiny new laptop for Christmas. They were so excited to give it to him because they knew how much he loved to play games on the computer. It was a joyful moment as he tore open the wrapping and his eyes lit up. He was surprised and delighted and gratitude poured out from his mouth. It was his own. Or so he thought.
Fast forward only one month. His grades arrive in the mail. He's not doing so well in math. He hates math. He tries really hard, but doesn't understand the material, or his teacher. He has given up on ever doing well. So he's fine with getting a C, but his parents are not fine with it. They come into his room holding the report card, angry and disappointed apparently because he has not invented the kind of magic it would take for him to suddenly start excelling in math. "We're taking away your laptop until you start getting a B or better," they say. They are hoping it will motivate him to try harder. They don't understand that it's not about trying harder. He's doing his best. "But you said it was mine. You gave it to me. Please don't take it away," Mark begs. "We gave it to you, and we can take it away," his parents bluntly explain.

This logic gives Mark an idea. He has worked hard for a couple of years to save up some money, and he decides it it important enough to him to have his own laptop, that he will buy one for himself with his own money. This way, his parents can't take it away, right? Wrong. When his new laptop arrives in the mail, his laptop, his parents are furious. They chide him for wasting his money on a new computer when they have just bought him one for Christmas. "But I'm not allowed to use that one!" he reminds them. "And you're not allowed to use this one either. You are sending it back," they say. He knows he has no choice but to follow their orders.
What did Mark learn from this experience? He learned that he did not have the right to own things. His parents owned everything. He learned that money is power, until he tried to use that power by buying his own computer. Then he learned that age is power. He learned that he has no power until he gets older. He learned to look forward to the day when he could get away from his parents. When people couldn't just take away the things that were his.

When I wrote my last post, I was upset by the thought of parents giving their children "gifts" with strings attached. I was upset that these parents didn't seem to understand the concept of a gift. But the more I think about it, I understand that it's not about gifts. It's about power and control. It's about rights. Many adults seem to be fine with the idea that children do not have the right to own things. I imagine it's requires a similar justification that was used in the not-so-distant past to justify why women could not own property.

This one needed a trim anyway.
In our house, our children own their own things. They are free to use them as they please, as long as they are not hurting anyone or damaging someone else's things, of course. Our children can cut their Barbies' hair, write in their books, cut up their playing cards. They can watch their movies and use pieces from their games for purposes other than those intended. They can eat their candy and wear their clothes in whatever ways they want. They can share or not share their things. They know what it feels like to own something, and to share it willingly. They are learning about ownership, responsibility, and generosity. They are learning that our home is a safe place for them to keep their possessions, and that their father and I are trustworthy protectors of them and their possessions, and their rights.

What lessons do you want your children to learn about ownership and their rights? About you and how much to trust you?

Do your children own anything?

33 comments:

  1. My parents used to buy me things, and then take them away and give them to other people, like my siblings. Nothing was ever REALLY mine. Sometimes it's hard for me to watch Myles "alter" his toys, lol, but I l figure, they are his, and he can do whatever he wants with them. Sure I bought them, but I bought them for him and I never take his things away as a punishment or for any other reason. If we need to get rid of toys that are too young for him, I ask him first, and he's really good about giving those things away. We don't take "privileges" away either. I don't use these methods of control. I don't abuse my adult power to get him to do what I want. Vickie have you written anything about taking away so-called privileges. I'd like to hear your opinion on that.

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    1. Sorry I am the worst at responding to comments! I just noticed you had asked me for my opinion. I don't believe in "taking away privileges" at all. I think it is pretty much the same as taking away a physical item. It is a tool used for control and manipulation. I agree with you that it's not the kind of relationship I want to have with my kids either.

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  2. I'm also very OK with my son owning his own stuff, even if he chooses to give it away or destroy it. (His dad has a much harder time with this.) At the same time, I'm very clear when I am letting him use "family property." For instance, the cell phone he uses is the family phone. The furniture in his room is the family furniture. Those things he may not destroy or give away. Then there are some in-between things, like his bedroom. We are OK with him drawing on his walls because we can re-paint them. We have hardwood floors, so we are not OK with him leaving a wet towel on the floor. I do agree that a gift is a gift. Instead of taking our kids' things away, it seems to make more sense to have a conversation with them about what it going on in their lives and how we can support them.

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  3. Your story is the story of my life. Hence me taking a different path. Great one!

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  4. Nice post, thought-provoking. My daughter is 11 mos, but great food for thought. She has a box basket & a toy basket with which she has freedom. I love books, so her "good" books I read to her & place out of reach. But her book basket books are board books & books from Goodwill which she can crinkle & rip & I don't mind. Obviously at this point she doesn't destroy intentionally, she's just learning her skills.

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  5. @ mary elizabeth:

    does your son want to live in a room with hardwood floors? (have you asked him?)

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    1. Wow... really? If you had hardwood would you refloor a room/bathroom because your child couldn't pick up after themselves...or would you teach your child why its important to not leave wet towels in the floor? Even if it wasn't wood floor, carpet, tile etc not only could it mold/mildew so can the towels. If its his own towel no biggie, if its his own home no biggie. But I would not appreciate someone treating my towels and my floors that way, and I'd be horrified if my child treated someone else's property that way. Leaving wet mildewing towels on the hardwood isn't a matter of "did you ever think he never wanted hardwood floors", that's a matter of treating others and their property with respect.

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    2. @Crunchy Mommy, There are a few options short of re-doing the floors in a house where a child is prone to leaving a wet towel on the floor. :)

      If it were me, and I was worried about my floor and my towel, I would pick up the towel when I saw it on the floor. Maybe I'd get a special basket and put it in my child's room right where he tends to throw the towel, in hopes that it might land in there. Maybe I'd get some of those rubber mat squares and put them down in the bedroom to prevent a wet towel from damaging the floor.

      My dad spent a lot of energy trying to teach us to turn off lights when we left a room. You know when I finally learned to do that? When I moved out and started paying my own electric bill. :)

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  6. I am eighteen years old and a couple weeks before I moved out of my Mother's house, she and I had an argument and she tried to take away my Macbook, given to me by herself and my father as a graduation present. I reminded her that she could not legally take my things away from me anymore, and demanded she return it. She continued to keep it from me until the next morning, taunting me about calling the police.

    Needless to say, this argument brought out the worst in the both of us. Sickening really.

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  7. Hi, my name is Heather! Please email me when you can, I have a question about your blog!

    HeatherVonSJ[at]gmail[dot]com

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  8. I don't even like to write about my kids (18 and 17) in a detailed way -- it seems intrusive. They can write about their own ideas if they want to. But, yes, they own their own stuff and have their own rooms and do what they want with each.

    My MIL had a terrible problem with "things." She was a hoarder. Her approach to "gifts" was to give you a lamp, say, but always with the caveat that if she wanted the lamp she could have it back. It was all very odd.

    Now, her children, my husband and his four siblings, all have reactions to her strange ideas about things. My DH could care less about stuff (except for TVs -- he has way too many old ones :) ) and his brothers and sisters have various levels of obsessions about things. Very odd how these things stay with us.

    Anyway, a gift belongs to the recipient to do with as they please -- no matter the recipient's age.

    Nance

    P.S. How about some carpeting on that wood floor?

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  9. I can definitely symphatise - just a few weeks ago my parents took away my console because of bad grades. They didn't even TELL me they were taking it, they just did. But ultimately, yes, doing so will make me get *a bit* better grades, but it's out of fear of having my things taken away, not because I really want it. Is that what they're really trying to do? If they're not around to take my stuff away, what will motivate me to learn? :p (And this year I'm going to become a legal adult... since I technically already own an apartment, I'll be able to move out shortly afterwards - and to be honest, I'm looking forward to it)
    And do I really care more about school and grades now that they took something that was mine? Not really, no. I just do minimal work, so I can get by somehow (plus I'm more angry at school than I have ever been) . And to be honest, taking a console was just the tip of an iceberg, but I'm not gonna write an essay here.

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    1. If only your parents could see how damaging that kind of thing is to their relationship with you...

      I'm so sorry you had to go through that. I'm happy for you that you will soon be free from that sort of thing in your new independent living arrangement!

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    2. i am reading the posts and am looking at myself right now. sneaking my computer and thinking i will find something on the internet that says that will say that parents cant take things from their 18 year old.(yes i am 18) It seams that either 2/3 or 3/4 of my life so far(excluding summers. i go to my dads house for the summer. my parents are divorced) is me being grounded. i have thought of was to talk to my parents. nicely or mean. i tried nicely first and then they started to yell. then i went to mean. I think it is wrong for a parent to say that you cant go to a party or a friends house because your room is not clean. or that you cant watch tv because your grades are to low. or you that you cant spend your money (that i rightfully earned doing hard labor at a job) how you want.

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  10. I agree with this post entirely, I am a parent desperately trying to improve my relationship with my children. I'm curious, what if the child s grades were bad because he chose to socialize instead of listen to the teacher and learn the material. How should that be handled? My mother took my privileges away my whole childhood so I'm genuinely curious of how that could be handled differently

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    1. In my opinion, that sounds like a child bored out of his/her brain at school! I was one of those, got mostly survival/average grades in many subjects, and excelled at another couple, with all teachers writing in reports "she could do better if only she applied herself more". Teacher was good, I did well; teacher presented their subject like it was stale bread, I did poorly. I did well having extra tutoring done by a different teachers, that actually loved their subject.

      If that was to happen with my own kids (they're still little)(and I'm planing on alternative education anyway), I'd probably get them to do out of school activities that can enrich their knowledge and make that specific subject more interesting.

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    2. I think kids in school have a lot of pressure to perform and not all of them care about (or are capable of) getting good grades. I know I had lot of times in school when I didn't want to listen to the teacher because it was really boring. I'm not sure any kind of punishment would have helped that :)

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  11. One must wonder... when children are treated as if they own nothing, and conditioned to know they are entirely dominated by the power of their parents, does this cause some to grow up into adults obsessed with owning things, with power, and control? Is this one way that parents who do this to their children get created in turn?

    "I know the world is brutal and all that matters is your ability to control others. Only by controlling others can you feel secure."

    To such adults, children must be confusing and terrifying. Their natural desire to express independence a threat. Another problem with taking things away from a child to punish them, is that it only teaches children they'll be inflicted with more suffering in response to a trouble they're already suffering rather than receive an offer of help with understanding what is causing them problems.

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    1. Thanks so much for this comment. I think it is absolutely true and it is no surprise that the cycle continues. I hope more and more parents will start to be able to recognize this in themselves and not pass it on.

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    2. @Space Dinosaur Blue: That sounds a lot like my mother. It took 17 years of emotionally and psychologically abusive 'parenting' before I was able to realise that it wasn't me, that she was just incapable of any sort of relationship without power, control, and obligation.

      Two years out from that revelation (and after cutting contact with her for over a year) I'm starting to have the confidence to call her on the unreasonable and unhealthy aspects of her 'parenting'.

      I think a lot of adults need to remember that 'parent' is a *verb*, not a noun. It's something you do, not something you are.

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  12. As parents our job is to make informed choices until our children can make their own informed decisions. To stand up for them when they cannot stand up for themselves, and support them in their goals, desires and concerns.

    I find this post thought-provoking. I agree to an extent, but I'm not sure to what level my thought that children have ownership battles my understanding of a parent's role. To correct misbehavior we shouldn't spank, we shouldn't time-out, we shouldn't revoke privileges, we shouldn't remove toys or possessions from our children. Alright then, what can we do? How do we teach our children responsibility, that actions have consequences, or that certain expectations need to be met?

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    1. "To correct misbehavior we shouldn't spank, we shouldn't time-out, we shouldn't revoke privileges, we shouldn't remove toys or possessions from our children. Alright then, what can we do? How do we teach our children responsibility, that actions have consequences, or that certain expectations need to be met?"

      That's a good question, and it doesn't have a simple answer. It's something I worked on answering in many, many blog posts, so I don't think I could possibly sum it up well enough here in a comment box. However, to begin, I think it requires challenging assumptions. I question the idea that behavior needs to be corrected by any sort of punishment. I think a child's behaviors are reactions to his environment, and "misbehavior" is usually a sign that I child needs something (food, rest, attention, activity, etc..).

      I also think that responsibility cannot be *taught* but can only be *learned.* I think children learn responsibility by being loved and cared for by a responsible adult. Children who are respected learn that it feels good to be respected, and they want to respect other people.

      If we think of our children this way, then all parenting "tools" that involve punishment and manipulation and control become unnecessary.

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  13. All children need discipline, and some respond more to losing privileges than getting a spanking or time out. You could say that you are taking away their time and so you shouldn't put them in time out. I've used various forms of discipline, including taking away something for a short time or limiting their use of it, depending on what consequences fit the offense. If a child has total control of how they spend their time they will not always make the right choice, and it's our responsibility as parents to train our kids. If we truly love them we will make those tough decisions when they fail to make the right decision for themselves. :o)

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    1. I don't think kids need to be trained. I don't think anyone will "always" make the right choice, even kids who are punished. Sometimes the "right choice" for a parent may not be the right one for a child. Sometimes people (including children) make mistakes. It is possible to love your children (truly) and not feel the need to punish them.

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  14. Does your child's school never have consequences for breaking rules? Do they give all A's even when the child did not follow directions or get the right answers? When your kids grow up and get a job, their employer will not care about what they think is the right decision; he or she will only care if they follow directions and obey the rules of the company. And if they don't, the boss won't hesitate to terminate their job. When they choose to disobey the speed limit, they will get punished with a ticket. If they break more serious laws they will go to jail. I know that my children would rather lose their video game privileges for a while and learn the importance of obedience and responsibility now while they are young rather than learn the hard way when they are older.

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    1. Also, the law won't hesitate to punish them by TAKING AWAY their driver's license if they drive recklessly or break the rules of the road too many times. If they cheat on their spouse and the spouse gets a divorce, the judge won't hesitate to take their house, car, money, etc. and give it to the offended spouse. If they don't pay taxes on the land, house, or car that they OWN, the government will TAKE their PERSONAL PROPERTY AWAY from them. I know too many people who did not train their kids to obey the rules and respect authority, and as soon as they got old enough to drive, or get a job, and later when they got out on their own, they learned these things the hard way. It seems some people never learn - there are smart, talented people who can't keep a job because they are in the HABIT of doing things THEIR OWN WAY. Frank Sinatra's song "I did it my way " is rather misleading.

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    2. I'm not trying to convince you of anything here. It's clear that you are pretty sure of your way. I completely disagree that training in following rules makes children grow into adults who are better at following rules.

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    3. Also, I don't find "follows rules blindly" to be a desirable quality. It's not one I'm looking to drill into my kids.

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    4. Who said anything about following rules blindly? Just because I teach my kids the importance of obedience doesn't mean I don't explain things along the way (sometimes before-hand, sometimes after, depending on circumstances) or that they never question things. I'm not stupid, and I am not raising my kids to be thoughtless robots. They want to know why about everything. However, most people think that "respects authority" is a desirable quality.

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    5. I dont , Athority basicly means to think one person is better than anouther . I , myself beleave all people wher created equale .

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  15. The only things I ever take away from my children are privileges that directly relate to the "infraction" for lack of a better term.

    Example: We have one computer in ourhouse that everyone uses. Our house rule, no exceptions, is that chatting with strangers is absolutely not allowed at any time for any reason. (My oldest child is ten.)

    They can chat with people they know in real life, but not strangers. We are teaching internet safety but I am not comfortable with their level of understanding yet.

    So... my ten year old initiated a chat with a stranger on a website. It's a kid friendly website, but it could be anyone behind that screen name. Safety aside - she directly violated our cardinal internet rule.

    I took away her privilege of using the computer. She has shown me that she is not able to follow the safety rules, so for the next week, she can't use it.

    While I strongly dislike this type of discipline, I don't know what else to do to keep my child safe. Some rules are important to follow whether we agree with them or not.

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  16. My parents used to take all of my stuff away and it would always just make me mad, and then I would just take their stuff. Well, by the time I turned 14 they decided they had had enough of my "stealing" so they sent me to jail and I was placed out of my home for two months. The worst part of this was that I had all A's in all of my classes, and when I got back, I was so overwhelmed that I almost failed the class with a C. Eventually the judge decided that she would dismiss the case, so I went home. They then constantly threatened me with going back to jail, and they took my laptop away for three years, as well as all my money. This was very annoying because even when they had money, they took mine to pay for gas. I finally moved out when I was 18. That was three years ago. I havent talked to them for two years, and I hope not to for a while. I feel like they should not have had kids if they were so irritable. The made my childhood, and my sisters a living hell, and it effects me still today. A parent should never send their kid to jail, unless they are putting others at risk.
    I think that a kid should be able to own objects no matter how irresponsible. They will never learn responsibility if they don't practice it.

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    1. What an awful thing for you to have to live through. I'm sorry that your parents treated you like that, and I am happy for you that you are now in a position where they cannot hurt you anymore. Not sure if you already saw it or not, but I have a blog where people share stories of breaking free of their parents... http://parentfreebychoice.blogspot.com

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