Many of us disagree on parenting styles. Some of us are tough love parents, others of us are anything goes, and even more of us rest somewhere in the middle of the two. While in another day and age, most parents subscribed to an unspoken code of behavior for their children that included basics such as showing respect for elders, practicing good manners toward all, and basically functioning under the Golden Rule, today’s parents don’t agree on what the social norm is or should be for children’s behavior. Some don’t acknowledge a social norm even exists at all, and that kids should be allowed to “just be kids” so we don’t thwart their creativity or development into authentic human beings.
The social norms part is key, and touches right at the root of a growing problem in today’s world of parenting, the decline of social responsibility.
What does that mean? Wikipedia explains social responsibility as, among other things, “an individual, group, or entity’s obligation to act to benefit society at large.” In parenting, think of it as considering the impact your parenting has not only on you and your family, but on other kids, parents, teachers, and society at large.
Take, as an example, back talking. As a parent, maybe you actively decide it’s not one of your hot buttons and it doesn’t bother you that much. Maybe you prioritize other behavioral issues as more important than curbing your kids from answering you with a smart mouth. Could be that you’ve created a situation where it’s easier to ignore it and after repeated occurrences of your kids sassing you without ramification, you passively give them the green light to continue it. In any regard, it’s your house and your problem, right? Yet the second your child walks out your door to school, to sports practice, to church, or God forbid, to my house, your impudent child becomes someone else’s problem.
This is a lack of parental social responsibility. It creates problems for others.
When a teacher has to ask your older child to rework his statement into a question, complete with a tone adjustment and a polite ‘please’ at the end, and you tell your child that said teacher is simply a perfectionist and a pain in the you-know-what, you are not participating in your parental community obligation. When your child throws a fit in front of an entire group of kids because she wants a treat right now that no one else can have, and you give in to her, despite the negative situation it creates for everyone around you, you are actively waiving your communal accountability to parenting. When your child answers “Whatever” to another parent in response to a request, and you fail to correct it, you have not only given up on your child, but you’ve turned your back on your societal obligation as a parent.
Why are parents opting out of social responsibility? Maybe the pace of our lives has simply quickened so greatly in the past few decades that we’re missing a parenting beat. Good grades, winning sports seasons, impeccable music skills, and artistic abilities all hold their place on our parental barometer of raising a good kid. Shouldn’t common courtesy, respect for others, and the ability to hold one’s tongue not demand the same reverence on the scale? It’s possible we’re so caught up in manufacturing well-rounded, multi-dimensional children capable of great success that we’ve forgotten to teach them the art of decency.
The pot is boiling and is about to bubble over. I wish I could just say that today’s kids who didn’t learn the basics of good manners would just be left out of the job force until they learned it. Instead, if the majority of today’s crop of kids is left unchecked, they will simply turn into tomorrow’s adults creating new societal norms of behavior. I, for one, have no interest in contributing to that change.
Let’s turn the heat down and reclaim our shared interest in this world. This means taking that extra minute to talk to your child about courtesy and kindness. Tell them WHY it’s important to be considerate. Explain what it means to treat people and be treated with respect. This also means taking one for the team and having those same conversations with other kids whose parents may not have gotten the memo or simply are not present when a situation arises. Parents are so scared of offending other parents that we often don’t step in when we should, simply because when the teachable moment arises, it’s someone else’s kid standing in front of you. Every one of our children will make mistakes from time to time, same as we did as kids, same I still do now. Social responsibility calls for us all to work on the same front for the cause. Your kid, my kid, it’s all the same….we all want to live in a world of people treating each other with respect.
Set clear expectations of behavior with your child/teen and lay out specific consequences to be doled out if they’re not met. Pay attention to what they say and do at home and make corrections on the spot, because you can be sure they’re doing the same thing out in public and at school. Stick to your guns on discipline. Going through the motions of creating the standards and not adhering to the enforcement of the same does more harm than if you had never created the norm at all.
It’s hard to parent. It’s even harder to parent well. You’re not out there alone. We’re all going through the same thing. There’s not a one among us that is perfect, has all the answers, or hasn't made loads of mistakes. But if we all join together, take this one issue, social responsibility as it applies to raising our kids with civility, and do the best we can with our kids for the name of the whole instead of just ourselves, we will make a huge impact not only on society and our neighborhood community, but on our family life and our individual children as well. As Mister Rogers used to say, "Won’t you be my neighbor?"