Poor Parenting Hurts EverybodyPoor parenting hurts everyone!

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario, and I decided to focus this week’s on people who never discipline their kids–and so raise brats. 

Back a few centuries ago, shame meant something. If you transgressed the community’s values, you were an outcast, a scarlet letter, a source of derision.

We’ve tossed shame aside because we don’t want to be cruel, but I have a brilliant idea of where shame could make a welcome comeback: I think we should make it a source of great shame to raise kids who are brats, because poor parenting hurts everyone.

Think about how many of today’s problems are caused by the fact that so many kids are holy terrors.

Teachers have difficulty teaching, no matter how small the class size, if there are even one or two kids who won’t sit still, who swear a blue streak and who terrorize other children. In response, we’ve created anti-bullying programs, and values education, and “Student of the Week”, all to try to give these bratty children an incentive to not be so bratty. It doesn’t work.

So to all parents of brats, let me be frank: your poor parenting is making life very difficult for the rest of us.

And, as one blogger recently wrote, brat is not a learning disability.

A child may have ADD, but that doesn’t mean he or she is mean, or violent, or cruel. It simply means he or she has trouble paying attention. If your child likes punching kids, or talking back to the teacher, or swearing loudly, he or she is likely not suffering from a psychological disorder. He or she is more than likely suffering from a parental disorder.

Schools cannot make up for lack of parenting.

They can institute breakfast programs and lunch programs, write new curriculum, and hire teachers’ aides to watch the out-of-control students, but in general, most children who don’t behave at school have simply never been taught to behave at home (the exception would be kids with real ADHD or similar disorders who can’t deal with school’s chaotic environment).

A century and a half ago, 18-year-old school marms managed one-room schoolhouses with many more children than your typical grade one class today, but they were able to do so partly because the kids behaved. And it wasn’t just because the school marm had the ability to rap one’s knuckles with a ruler. It was because if word of a child’s misdeeds made it back to the parents, that child would be in a whole other whackload of trouble. Parents refused to tolerate brattiness.

I’m not saying schools don’t contribute to the problem. I know one boy with ADD who acts out at school but doesn’t act out at church or at home, because he simply needs structure. His open, multi-grade classroom doesn’t give enough structure, and he can’t handle it.

Not paying attention, though, is completely different from being mean.

And when teachers have children in their classrooms who talk back, who won’t stay in their seats, and who hit and yell, then how do we expect other children to learn? It’s not fair to the kids who do want to practice their multiplication tables and read in peace.

We must have compassion for badly-behaved children who are in the care of the Children’s Aid Society, or who have grown up with truly horrific home situations. Their behaviour is a natural reaction to the horrors they have been dealt, and I hope that our schools and our children’s welfare system can at least make a stab at getting these children on healthy footing. But many of the mean, badly behaved children I know have parents who should know better. You are not supposed to be your child’s friend. You are not doing your child favours if you never discipline, never set limits, and give children everything they want. You’re creating monsters the rest of us have to deal with it. And that is truly a shame.

Overcoming Poor Parenting–and Not Raising Brats

If you want to make sure that you don’t raise kids who wreak havoc, here are some posts that can help:

10 Ways to Discipline without Spanking

The Pyramid Method of Discipline

When Teenagers Stop Listening

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