"Smart, audacious and often hilarious. Takes everything you thought you knew about parenting and turns it on its ear." - Jennifer Jason Leigh

Leave Them Kids Alone

It was a gorgeous, clear Southern California morning. An easter egg hunt had just commenced. Life was good.

Except…

My son wasn’t looking for the eggs.  He was fascinated by the cat door to our friend’s house or maybe he was fascinated by the cat. From where I was standing, I couldn’t quite tell what had struck his fancy. Whatever the case, he wasn’t looking for eggs like the other kids. And our dear friend, who’d been so lovely to set the whole thing up, didn’t want him to miss out on the fun. So he said,

“Hudson! There are no eggs there…come and look over here.”

Hudson stayed where he was. And continued to do whatever it was that he was doing.

Intervening gently I said, “Are you interested in the little door, Hudson? Do you see the cat?”

I was trying to show our friend that he had found something of interest to him, it may not be on the agenda, but he was enjoying himself. Everything was okay. I was on it.

Our friend didn’t quite get what I was indirectly trying to say and told Hudson once again that there were no eggs by him and that the hunt was over yonder. He even went over to him to steer him in the right direction.

I steeled myself.

Hudson slowly turned around and crumpled. Tears streamed down his face.

He said he wanted to go home. Over and over again. I took this to mean that he wasn’t feeling welcome here as he was, that being someone who was looking at a cat door and not for eggs.

I carried him over to a quiet area and acknowledged what he was saying.

“You want to go home Hudson. You were looking at something and weren’t ready to look for eggs, is that right?”

Our friend finally understood what happened and apologized to Hudson. Which was so lovely of him to do. Usually people just explain to me how they didn’t do anything wrong. Not that it’s about right and wrong…

Anyway, Hudson continued to cry for a while. I held him and I went over what happened a couple of more times.  ”You want to go home….You loved looking at the door. You weren’t ready for the hunt…” etc.

Then the crying stopped. He felt understood and the feelings were out of his body. He saw an egg and off he went. He showed it to our friend. No hard feelings!

My point?

There is no need to replace their agenda with ours.

I totally understand that our friend didn’t want him to miss out on the experience. On the fun! That he didn’t want all of the eggs to be gone. He meant so well. And what he had told Hudson  was seemingly so helpful. And yet, it wasn’t. It was really a form of controlling him and invalidating his experience. His interests.

Hudson may have wondered why he was being told to do something other than what he was doing.

Why, he may have wondered, was looking for an egg better than looking at a cat?

Good question!

I have to say I was proud that he’s someone who knows what his interests are, that he isn’t swayed by others and doesn’t feel pressure to conform.

If you don’t accept me for who I am, I want to go home! Of course he wanted to be there, but he wanted to be accepted for who he was.

Hudson is, as Alfie Kohn might say, “intrinsically” motivated.

The eggs could wait, he’d found something that was fascinating and he was pursuing it!

And if he had missed the egg hunt, we could have hidden some more eggs.

We had the resources and the time.

We all mean so well.And yet we control kids all the time. In the most benign ways.  And most kids, I fear, have become immune to it. They’re used to being told what to do and when to do it.

I hope Hudson can hold onto himself…as painful as it may be sometimes.

It’ll be worth it.

op·pres·sion /əˈpreSHən/

 

 



Noun: Prolonged unjust treatment or control.

eat this before that.

put on a sweater.

give your grandma a kiss.

say thank you.

say please.

wave bye bye.

give dad a hug.

stop crying.

go to your room.

behave.

do your homework.

sit down.

stand up.

say you’re sorry.

time out.

just one more bite.

you can’t wear that.

wear this.

don’t do that.

don’t touch that.

do. don’t. do. don’t. do. don’t. do. don’t. do. don’t. do. don’t.

GOOD JOB!

THE NAG FACTOR

 

 

“The Stormtroopers came first in their white armor and then there was smoke and Darth Vader rose up from underneath the stage holding his light sabor and…” my Aunt recalled to a group of us about the live show she’d seen with her with her grandchildren at Disneyland. And exactly one of us was riveted.

My son Hudson. Three and a half.

Did she just say Dark Vader? Held a…a… light saver?

“Mom! tell her to talk again about the dark guy….”

“Aunt Shari, can you tell Hudson about Darth Vader’s entrance again?”

“Oh sure,” she said. “Actually I shot some of the show on my phone. I’ll show you.”

Ka’ching. Ka’ching. Ka’ching.

I don’t need to take my child to Disneyland or to the movies or to turn on the tv for them to fall prey to the all-powerful marketers that be. Thanks to Steve Jobs genius (that I “enjoy” every day) my kids, like your kids, are easier than ever to find. And me, as someone way out of the key demo, I’m merely a pawn whose job it is to do my kids’ bidding until they can do it themselves. That is, if they can amp up “the nag factor” high enough.

Which they have because it’s their business to make sure kids beg, plead and whine enough to convince their parents that this purchase is the key to their happiness. (I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that teams of psychologists are retained by these enormous corporations so they know just how to manipulate kids to manipulate their parents. Ethical! Fun!)

So while I’m sure thanks to a carefully-honed nag factor, many a light sabor and stormtrooper costume were purchased minutes after the exciting, smoke filled, light sabor beaming show, I never thought that their trip to Disneyland would result in me hitting “confirm order” for a Darth Vader mask on amazon.

Yes! I could have said “no”!

But my son loves himself some dress up. One day he’s a dog. Then a frog. Then Elvis. Dracula. A monkey. A knight. Spiderman. An astronaut. A lovebird. A rabbi. Even a frog dressed as Santa Claus. Some costumes he puts together with what we have around the house and some are bought on Amazon. By me.

When I started the amazon costume-purchasing thing, I didn’t quite realize I was opening a dangerously expensive and addicting door. I kind of felt the slippery slope but I didn’t focus on it.

But then Susan Linn focused me.

The day after Hudson learned who Darth Vader was and his mask was being shipped to our door via UPS, I happened to go hear Susan Linn, author of The Case For Make Believe (2012) and Consuming Kids (2004) at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena. Her talk was called (I believe!) Commercializing Childhood: The Corporate Takeover of Kids’ Lives. It’s Susan Linn, the director and founder of the national  coalition Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood that we all have to thank for getting Disney to admit that their claims that Baby Einstein made kids smarter were entirely false. That indeed they were running a highly profitable scam. And it was Susan who wouldn’t accept a plea bargain that settled for anything less than Disney offering a full refund. Thank you Susan Linn!

So Susan told us that back in 1983 (the good old days) American companies only spent 100 million dollars on what they call “the kid market.” Today they spend….

17 BILLION DOLLARS.

Why?

Because it’s well worth it. They get their profits back in spades.

Advertisers’ goal is nothing short of creating what they so endearingly call “cradle to casket” brand loyalty. Invading kids’ brains as early as possible is the key because you know, before 13 or some say 9, kids can’t contextualize what they’re seeing. They can’t be critical about it. So even if it is unethical to take advantage of their still developing brains, it’s not illegal! Here.

Yes, something so egregious is illegal in many countries. Just not in the United States of Capitalism at Any Cost.

Just fyi, the European Union has some guidelines for its member countries:

Advertising shall not cause moral or physical detriment to minors, and shall therefore comply with the following criteria for their protection:

a. it shall not directly exhort minors to buy a product or a service by exploiting their inexperience or credulity;

b. it shall not directly encourage minors to persuade their parents or others to purchase the goods or services being advertised;

c. it shall not exploit the special trust minors place in parents, teachers or other persons;

d. it shall not unreasonably show minors in dangerous situations

In addition:

e. Children’s programmes may only be interrupted if the scheduled duration is longer than 30 minutes

f. Product placement is not allowed in children’s programmes.

g. The Member States and the Commission should encourage audiovisual media service providers to develop codes of conduct regarding the advertising of certain foods in children’s programmes.

Here in the U.S. we have no  such guidelines. Regulation, schemegulation. Here, it is up to us parents to micromanage everything they see and to just simply say no when they ask for everything under the sun.

“All of my friends have it!!!”

Who are we to go up against the carefully researched “nag factor” combined with 17 billion dollars combined with smartphones and smartwatches and smartheadrests in the car and video billboards that means screens are everywhere our kids look.

No generation of parents, Susan explained, has ever had it so tough.

Are we just totally fucked?

If it was only that our pocketbooks were being raided, that would be one thing. But something far more precious is being taken from our children when they truly believe that if they don’t have a particular toy or a particular character they will NEVER BE HAPPY. When they believe that pleasure comes from things, not from within us. They’re being sold a false promise of happiness.

And not only that!

Their natural desire for make believe play is being taken from them.  When children’s play is so deeply influenced by clearly defined characters that follow a specific story line, they’re not working through their own stuff, they are enacting someone else’s.

Susan told us just why make believe play is so damned important for a  a child’s emotional, social intelligence and health. She explained that it is through make believe that children

  • Problem solve
  • Think constructively
  • Self-regulate
  • Wrestle with life
  • Make meaning of their world

So as I’m sure you can imagine I came home worked up.

And the next day, with my new resolve, I had a different response to Hudson’s “request” that I open my computer and buy him a “light saver.”

I told him I wasn’t going to buy it right now. And then I winced as he dove headfirst into begging, crying, writhing, kicking and screaming.

God help the mother up against the nag factor.

I tried so hard to  remind myself that He doesn’t neeeeed it. He can enjoy playing without it. Material objects don’t buy happiness. Relationships, time, attention, imagination do.

More Begging. Pleading. Crying. Rolling around. Kicking.

Fuck, it’s only a lightsaber. It’s not like he’s ever seen the movies, so his play is still his own. Oh God how long is this going to go on? What can I do? What should I do?

And then, I had an idea.

“Would you like to go make a light sabor right now?”

On a dime the writhing stopped.

“Huh?”

My heart raced. Was this gonna work?

“Let’s go downstairs and get some foil. We’ll also need some toilet paper holders. And some tape”

Minutes later he was telling me where to cut the foil because lightsabers aren’t as long as I think they are.

And then he was gone.

In the backyard. Happy. Doing stuff with his lightsaber that George Lucas never could have dreamed of.

And really who needs the money more, me, Matel or George?

Meeeeeee!

And yes, I’ll still buy him stuff. But we can make stuff. And he can make stuff. And he can see his joy isn’t dependent on the shape of some plastic that is covering his head.

I hope.

WHEN YOUR KID SPITS AT YOU

Given the almost universal meaning of spitting at someone as a sign of disrespect, I can see how some parents take it personally and respond indignantly with some variation on “Don’t you dare spit at me…I’m your mother and no child of mine is going to …”

But do you really think your child is thinking “I spit on you! You low class…blah blah blah?”

Because they’re not. Their spitting is  NOT pre-meditated disrespect.

But it is a sign of anger.

Overwhelmed young people literally can’t self-regulate and don’t have the wear-with-all to say, “Excuse me Mom, I’m really angry right now. I feel like no one is caring about what’s going on for me. I don’t want to go to that party. I feel like I haven’t had enough time with you. You’ve been with the baby forever and now I’m supposed to just get in the car and I’m hungry and I want to play with you and I don’t give a shit about some friend turning four.”

Or whatever.

So they spit.

But they don’t consciously CHOOSE to spit.

They’re not thinking, Hmm, should I spit at Mom, or should I hit her?

Unfortunately, it seems that spitting is so offensive to some parents that they don’t focus on the cause (anger, confusion, hurt, panic, fear…)  and instead focus on the symptom (spitting). This, I believe, leads to more rage. And, ultimately, down the road will likely result in a kid having ZERO interest in sharing their true feelings with their adult loved ones because if they don’t do it “right” then they know they’ll just get in more trouble. Who needs that?

My thoughts about a spitting child would be, Wow, she’s spitting. She must really be in pain. How can I help?

My actual response to them might be something like, “You’re sooo angry. So angry you’re spitting at me. I don’t like to be spit on but you can you push my hands or hit the sofa or scream. We’ll work through this together. But yes…get the anger out first.” Likely I’d say it in fewer words!

What I wouldn’t say is, “Don’t you spit at me! No child of mine will be allowed to be a disrespectful…..” because…

Admonishing the spitter for spitting leads to more anger which leads to more spitting.

Understanding the pain beneath the spitting leads to more understanding and trust and closeness which ultimately eradicates the spitting.

(And is threatening, shaming or punishing really how one wants to earn respect? And while certainly your can scare or threaten your child into not spitting it doesn’t mean they are truly respecting you, they are just conforming to the way you want them to act so you can feel respected even if you aren’t. I mean, you can’t really teach respect by being disrespectful. Can you?)

Here’s a short, relevant selection from a book I HIGHLY recommend called Becoming the Parent You Want to Be by Laura Davis:

“Behind every behavior is an impulse or an attempt to communicate that can be supported. Even “hostile” gestures can come from a basic desire to communicate.

People hurt others only as much as they themselves are hurting. When they hurt others it is because they are often feeling hurt, mad or scared themselves. A child who pushes another child out of the toy car may be feeling crowded and scared.

When a child is hurting other children it may be hard to remember that he’s feeling vulnerable or scared himself. But if you merely punish him you load more hurt onto the existing hurt. If instead you take into account his circumstances and motivation, you can approach conflict resolution from a less punitive perspective than “let’s punish the wrongdoer.”

• People in conflict are best served by mutual solution. When conflicts are resolved in a way where somebody ‘wins’ and somebody ‘loses’ there are always scores to be settled later on. Mutual solutions are far more satisfying to everyone in the long run.

• Everyone deserves to be listened to. really being able to listen to another person’s point of view while being able to clearly state your own, is at the core of effective problem solving. Listening helps people grow. Even when people’s opposing desires and needs and wants make it impossible to come up with a mutual solution, people who feel their ideas have been heard and valued experience a lot less disappointment and anger when they don’t get what they want.

•Conflicts are resolved only when each person in the conflict is finished with the interaction.

If you think about it, spitting, if you delete the sign of disrespect adults have attached to it that young children would have no way of knowing,  is far less hurtful than hitting—physically speaking. It’s only saliva. Saliva may feel wet and unexpected but come on, there are plenty of times people welcome it on their bodies….like when they french kiss.

And really I’d say, “If you want to spit, let’s do it outside. Or over here where I can easily wipe it up.” If a child time and again is patiently offered helpful language like “I need space” or “Please listen to me” or I’m frustrated” they won’t need to be told not to spit, they’ll just go to something more effective.

And all will be well with the world!