The Sixty-Second Chart (Spurts)

October 26, 2012

By Ekta R. Garg

In keeping my promise from last week to continue my thoughts on the entitlement children feel these days (read that Chart here the-sixty-first-chart,) the first two items below follow that same theme.  Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

A couple of weeks ago I had the wonderful experience of meeting a new friend.  She and I met at a coffee shop and chatted, exchanging the basic information one usually offers in a first meeting.  Because she also has two daughters (who are in seventh grade and fifth grade) and is also Indian, we immediately had something in common.  As most mothers are wont to do, we began comparing parenting notes, and she told me something I found absolutely astounding and admirable.

She said neither of her children has a cell phone and she won’t give either of them one until they reach high school.

Floored.  That’s how I felt.  I’ve often battled with myself on this issue of technology—how much to allow or provide the children, at what age to do so, and what I would do when they begin asking (in earnest) for these tools that children seem to acquire at younger and younger ages every year.

But here I’d just met a mother who had examined the facts, looked at her own children, and made a decision that in hindsight seems like the simplest one: she just said no.

By her own admission her girls have complained and debated with her as to why they can’t have a cell phone.  “So-and-so has a cell phone,” my new friend mimicked her elder daughter.  “Why can’t I have one?”

And my friend told me she calmly explained to her girls that the named friend didn’t live in their house; if she did, she wouldn’t have a phone.  She didn’t try to rationalize her decision or reason with her children.  She stated the ground rules and simply expected her children to follow them.  No questions asked.

We often use a similar technique with Six and Four, because it works at this age.  They’re still young enough to be told what to do, and we don’t get much push back.  Yet.  Six has just started questioning me on some things.  But I can still just raise my eyebrows (or my voice, if the situation warrants it) and use the parenting form of bossing her into doing what she needs to do.

I know, however, that this technique becomes less effective the older the kids get.  And to a certain extent this is actually okay, I think.  Kids should have the freedom to ask about the boundaries set for them.

But my new friend also empowered me to embrace the flipside of that thought process: parents should have the freedom to set those boundaries and just leave it at that.

In our world of information overload, sometimes we get caught up in the idea that we have to explain every little thing to our kids.  But when I think back to my own childhood, I don’t ever really remember questioning my parents’ decisions or them taking the time to explain every little thing to me.  If Mom said X, we did X.  If Dad said Y, we stayed away from Y.  And that was that.

So when did we decide we had to ask our children for permission to discipline them or set those boundaries?  Has our culture swung too far in the direction of entitlement?

Even if it has, I know of at least one mother who doesn’t care about that sense of entitlement.  She’s going to do what’s best for her children, and she knows her children will obey her and follow her lead.  And they’ll probably end up better people because of it.

More than anything, I know now that I’ll do my best to emulate her example.  Because sometimes the simplest answer really is the easiest.

***

Last week Six came to me and said, “Mamma, what if you gave me a really big job to do and told me you’d pay me a lot of money for it?”

“Like what kind of job?” I asked.

“Like cleaning my whole room.  How much money would you give me for doing a big job like that?”

What is it with kids wanting to be rewarded for everything these days?  We use verbal acknowledgments and positive reinforcement in the form of compliments and moral support to make the girls feel good about their accomplishments, but we’re particularly careful with rewarding them with actual things or money.  I don’t want them to set goals based on what new toy we might buy them or a dollar amount they could earn.

I especially don’t want them making a list of chores and putting a price list on them.

“Why should I pay you for something you’re already supposed to do?” I asked Six calmly.

“No, but how much money would you give me?”

“I wouldn’t give you any money, [Six.]  It’s your job to keep your room clean.”

“But then what would I get money for?”

“I would give you money if you did something really unusual or a really big job that you don’t normally do.  But I’m not going to give you money for the jobs that you’re already supposed to do.”

She processed this as she left me and went to play with her sister, and I’m sure I haven’t heard the last of it.  In the past we’ve surprised the girls with trips to Baskin Robbins or special little gifts (a book or fun game that has some educational value,) but we never do these things on a regular basis for the main reason of teaching them that they shouldn’t expect an actual reward in their hands just for doing what’s right or what’s expected of them.  And I hope we can continue this trend.

Besides, paying the kids to clean their rooms could end up getting really expensive.

***

One of the little boys in Four’s class has yet to absorb certain societal norms.

Four has described more than once the funny scene when T. has to use the bathroom.  Because the preschoolers have bathrooms in their classrooms, they simply need to let the teacher know when the urge to go arises and then proceed to the bathroom.  T., though, goes one step further.  After letting the teacher know he has to go, he proceeds to strip the clothes of the lower portion of his body right there in front of his classmates, run to the bathroom, do his business, come out wash his hands, and calmly dress himself.

As if this weren’t bad enough, I think Four must have seen T. actually in the bathroom the other day as she passed by.  She described the scene to us one morning as we got ready for school.

“T. was standing in front of the toilet like this and doing pee-pee instead of sitting down,” she said, her face full of mirth.  She stood facing the toilet and jutted her little hips forward to demonstrate.

Six laughed and the girls exchanged giggles on a common opinion in our house: that boys are silly.

“That’s how boys do pee-pee,” I explained to Four.  And then I changed the topic of conversation to something completely unrelated.

I know the question will come eventually: why do boys have to stand up and do pee-pee when girls sit down?  Still haven’t figured out the answer to that one yet.  Maybe I’ll enlist my husband’s help, since he’s a boy himself (and usually quick on his feet with comebacks.)  Even though he’s a “silly boy,” he’ll probably be able to speak with greater authority on the subject than me, and his physician status lends him a credibility that resists questioning.

Believe me, though, I’m certainly not looking forward to any questions that come after that.

***

The subject of politics has taken center stage almost everywhere we look.

Even, we discovered last night at dinner, in the first grade.

“The boys at school have found out about Obama and Romney,” Six declared as we all sat together and ate.

“What did they find out?” we asked her.

“That they’re debating,” she declared with big eyes.  “Some of the boys like Romney, and some of them like Obama.”

Of course my husband couldn’t resist the next question.

“Who do you like?”

Six thought about it for a minute.  “I like Obama, because he’s our president.”

If only all of politics could be so uncomplicated.

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