We had friends staying for a long weekend, a childless couple as well as a family with two children. It was fascinating watching the couple suddenly knee deep in four kids 24/7, one of them was clearly more at home than the other and it was really interesting to watch the other’s expectations of how he felt the children should behave unfold as the weekend progressed.
What became apparent was that the expectation was pretty much that all children should behave at all times. It was clear that the occasional wrong doing, curt reply, moan, bicker, sulk, back chat, snide look or minor display of disobedience or rudeness etc – were surprising to him.
I think I understand where he is coming from as we are both of an age to have had the mantra of ‘children should be seen and not heard’ quoted to us regularly by our parents and older adults around us as we were growing up and he has had little, if any reason to question that.
Thankfully that kind of parenting is a thing of the past and nowadays that approach is generally recognised as an outdated and somewhat ignorant attitude to child rearing – at least by those of us with children.
However, in various Memes and Social Media posts that regularly do the rounds I am conscious that it is not just my child free friend who feels the way he does, it’s apparent that certain people – possibly of a certain generation – do yearn for the days when it was so and when in their eyes all children were so much better behaved and the world a better place as a result. I would suggest that they do tend to be the same people who share posts about smacking children and the subsequent downfall of society now that it not allowed.
So it has got me wondering about the children of the past, did they all just sit around for hours on end saying nothing and not interrupting the adults around them, did they all behave so well out of the fear of being smacked?
It doesn’t take much thought to realise that the answer is in fact a huge, resounding…NO.
Of course children were heard, of course children misbehaved regardless of the threat of a smack. Of course children were children – just as they are today.
So what is different? What is it that makes certain adults feel that children today are less well behaved, less respectful, less well mannered?
In a word my conclusions is… proximity.
Nowadays children – especially (but far from exclusively) those growing up in cities or towns – tend to be around adults the entire time. In the ‘good ole days’ doors were opened and children went out to play for hours on end, they were free to run and shout and indeed to misbehave – all away from the judgement of adults. They were able to ‘let off steam’, to run and jump and skip and to ride around on bikes, on scooters etc, they played football in the streets and were involved in other sports and games – endlessly releasing all the energy today’s parents have to deal with at home.
There was not only far, far less interaction with their parents and other adults around them, but when they were indoors they were calmer after all the physicality of being outside.
Of course modern parents make sure that their children get to run around, to play and get to be involved in sports, but surely with far more limits on time and ALWAYS under adult supervision.
We know with our sons that when we have failed to get them to release all their energy we suffer the consequences and their behaviour is more troublesome. We could scream and shout at them and insist that they be seen and not heard – but that would hardly be fair considering it is our fault that they are ‘full of beans’ from being kept cooped up in doors all day.
So today’s parents learn to be more patient, more relaxed and more tolerant – because we HAVE to be.
To develop and to find themselves children need to be able to express themselves, they need to be loud and to be playful, they need to challenge and to question, they need to ‘let off steam’ and if they can not simply open the door and go outside to do all this – they need to be able to do it around the adults surrounding them and without being in constant threat of being reprimanded – just for being the children that they are.
So in conclusion, contrary to popular belief I am pretty sure that children are no worse behaved today than they have ever been. There always have been challenging, rude, disrespectful children, just as there have always been wonderful well behaved ones.
As indeed most of our children are today – if we can only allow ourselves to see it.