If you’re like me, you probably wonder how, in an era of overwhelming prosperity for numerous people, when technology and medicine have advanced more in the last ten years than in the previous fifty, we continue to be unable to solve the basic moral problem of how to get along with each other.
Then I take a trip to the park with my son, and suddenly this all makes perfect sense. Despite our advances, many of us have failed to learn one of life’s most basic lessons.
Bad kids make even worse adults, and parental validation in childhood is a huge part of this equation.
My wife and I take my son to a lot of public places where parents and children congregate in mass. The parents, in spite of their many differences, can usually be pretty easily sorted into two groups: the attentive and the inattentive. Mind you, some of the attentive parents are way over the top, while some of the inattentive border on verbally abusive, so this is a spectrum that contains good and bad manifestations on both ends. Still, the general distinction holds pretty nicely.
What’s more, this distinction more or less directly tracks the behavior of the children to whom these parents belong. The attentive parents mostly have kids who are behaving well, not pushing and shoving or tormenting other children, and generally aware that mom or dad are nearby to either help them or prevent them from harming others.
They act like kids who are being watched, because they are kids who are being watched.
The story is completely different for the children of inattentive parents. Frequently, these children are engaged in reckless and dangerous behavior, well outside the scope of what is acceptable for young children. They target the children of the attentive parents, pushing the boundaries of acceptable treatment even with children who are clearly much younger than them.
Their behavior is that of the budding sociopath, either unable or uninterested in conforming to the standards of interpersonal conduct that apply even to young children. You can hardly blame them for this; there’s no one around to tell them that they’re doing it wrong.
Here’s the crazy part. What these kids really want is the very thing their parents don’t give them–attention.
Since their own parents aren’t doing the job, they are effectively appealing to the rest of us to show them some basic regard. And since it’s tough to get positive adult attention from a complete stranger, the best way for them to accomplish this is to target the children of the attentive parent.
Negative attention from a stranger is apparently better than no attention from the people that are supposed to love you the most.
So I’d like to make an appeal to the inattentive parents, to put down your book or your iPhone, and just pay attention to your kids. Not because you owe it to them (although you do). But because you owe it to the rest of us.
We’re not here to validate your kid. We’ve got our own child’s well-being to worry about. And while we’re happy to protect our children from yours, we’d really rather the kids just all got along. But that means you have to stop screwing around with stupid crap and act like you care about somersaults, sandboxes, boogers, or whatever else your kid thinks is interesting.
Remember, bad kids make even worse adults, and the rest of us have our hands full with our own. We can’t be expected to raise yours too.
About the Author
Elijah Weber is a graduate student at Bowling Green State University. He holds a Master's degree in philosophy from Colorado State University, and Bachelor’s degrees in sociology and philosophy from Chapman University. He currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife Laura, his son Brandon, and two cats.