As a general rule, I try to avoid judging other people's parenting choices, as I'm sure my own style is open to much judgment. But one issue I've been increasingly taking note of, and most definitely judging, is what I view as a failure to teach children basic manners or social niceties. While there is some truth to the "kids will be kids" mantra, I see too many parents taking this motto to justify their children's Lord of the Flies behavior while they sit on the sidelines drinking a latte.
This was highlighted for me recently when I was at the park with Q (age 5) and a friend and her two children. There was a particularly ill-behaved child at the park that day. He was consistently throwing snowballs at kids' faces and the kids were all quite clear in telling him that it wasn't okay and they didn't want him doing that. From a bench nearby his parents (or I assumed them to be) half-heartedly yelled that it wasn't okay to throw snowballs. Needless to say their pronouncements yielded no change in behavior. But they continued to sit and chat amongst themselves and do nothing. Were their pronouncements mere suggestions? Guidelines perhaps that they then allowed the child to choose to follow or not? Why bother at all with these lame efforts? Essentially you're telling him that what he's doing is wrong, but there is no consequence to his ill behavior, so go crazy and do just what you want. Not exactly a philosophy that's going to help him go far in this world or one that's going to make the world a better place.
Ultimately I felt compelled to intervene and try to mediate a conflict that developed between this child and Q. While I don't have any desire to parent other people's children (my hands are quite full with my own), I also think there are limits to what any adult should witness under the "let them sort it out for themselves" theory, and I do subscribe to the notion that it takes a village. As much as I was troubled by this kid's behavior, just as troubling to me was having the parents just sitting back and chatting together and not laying some claim of responsibility for correcting their child's behavior. Particularly jarring to me was when one of them complimented me on how well I mediated the situation between their child and mine. It would have been nice to have them at least step forward to be engaged in the situation, rather than sitting back and letting someone else (me) handle the situation. At that moment, the village wasn't really what was needed, just their own active parenting.
So much media attention is focused on the pressure kids are under to succeed - helicopter parents managing their kids' lives, charting out their schools, their friends, their activities. But one thing I don't see enough of is people truly trying to guide their kids' behavior. Call me a Pollyanna if you will, but I wish as much parental energy went into helping kids become good people as went into helping them become masters of the universe. My parenting abilities and my son's behavior are far from perfect, but I will take credit for at least making an effort to correct what is fundamentally socially unacceptable behavior and enforcing consequences. So, to borrow from Willie Nelson, I'd just like to suggest a new parenting philosophy - Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be assholes.