Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Other Parents

“But Joey’s parents let him play Call of Duty!”


We’ve hit the age at which our biggest parenting obstacle is other parents.

TB is almost ten, and we’re discovering that different parents have very different ideas of what that means. The catch is that ten-year-olds talk to each other and compare notes.

Bedtimes, acceptable tv shows, violent video games, trips to Hooters -- we’ve had to deal with variations on “but my friend...” for all of these.

It’s a terribly difficult balance. I don’t want TB to be entirely illiterate in peer culture. Learning to navigate the social world matters, and when conversations turn in these directions, they turn in these directions. And it’s certainly true that as he gets older, the range of things he could handle grows. That’s a good thing.

But I also can’t help but think that some things just aren’t appropriate for his age. It’s just hard to explain that to him.

He called me on it the other night. He was upset that we had said “no” a few times in a row -- no Family Guy, no Call of Duty, etc. He wanted to know why.

It would have been great if I had done some research and come up with the perfect thing to say, but that’s not how it played. It was bedtime, he was upset, and I needed an answer on the spot.

I told him that although he doesn’t know it yet, he’s really only with us for a short time before he goes out into the world as an adult. He’s an amazing kid, and he’ll be an amazing adult, one I will be proud to call a friend. When he’s grown, he’ll be able to make all these decisions for himself, and I’ll know he’ll make them well.

But until then, my job is to make sure he doesn’t get messed up. Letting a great kid get lost would be a crime. I need to protect him from things he isn’t ready for, and things that teach bad habits.

I told him that he will be tall, handsome, smart, and successful as an adult, and that I want to make sure that he’s not a jerk about it. That means avoiding games that teach that shooting people is fun, or restaurants that teach that women are decorations. It means staying away from certain things until he’s old enough not to get lost in them.

I told him about a time when he was about three. He was helping TW pull weeds from a flowerbed. It was a hot day, and we told him he could go inside if he wanted. He refused, and, looking directly at me, said “I want you to be proud of me.” That was a guilt-bomb, of course, but I was also impressed that a three-year-old would put that together. I told him that I’ve never known another kid capable of that, and that the thoughtfulness and maturity he showed then has only grown. It’s my job to give him enough room to grow into himself, and not to get distracted by the dumber aspects of life.

He asked why other parents let their kids do those things. I shrugged, and said that parents have to make choices for their kids, and those parents made those choices. I disagreed with those choices, but couldn’t do anything about it. But I knew he was special, and I had to do what I thought was right to help him grow into himself. I knew he was frustrated sometimes, and that was okay. Over time, he’ll get more room to move. Eventually -- sooner than he really appreciates -- he’ll be able to do whatever he wants. For now, though, he just needs to focus on all the good stuff he can do.

He seemed to accept it. I don’t know how much was comprehension and how much was humoring, but I’ll take it. It won’t be a whole lot longer before I won’t even get that. By then, he won’t ask to do objectionable things; he’ll just do whatever appeals to him. The choices other families have made will be facts on the ground to him.

But until then, it’s my job to shape his sense of what feels right as best I can. No, TB, you can’t play Call of Duty or go out to Hooters. Someday you’ll laugh at me for that. But someday later, I hope, you’ll get the point. And I’ll be proud every step of the way.

My son is 5, so I'm way behind on that journey. With respect to Call of Duty though, I read about a great compromise a while back - for an older kid, I think about 13. His parents said he could play Call of Duty - IF he followed the Geneva Convention, in his play. He had to read up on it and then make decisions accordingly. I don't know that they monitored it too closely but it seemed like quite an interesting approach to me.

I think I would be more likely to say no. :)
Pretty good answer for coming up with it out of the blue.
The important thing is to be sure that he has the experiences and values that will suitably constrain "whatever he wants to do" in the future. Something similar, and perhaps more threatening in the long run, concerns handling money and credit responsibly when "I want" turns into "charge it".

That said, I'm tempted to suggest that you take TB and Joey to a shooting range and blast a few coffee cans, melons, and apples if they are good enough shots. Those games imply that guns are toys and the targets aren't real, a dangerous lesson to learn.

And when the time comes to learn to drive !!! you should locate an SCCA event in your area and have him run some cones with you in the passenger seat. If nothing else, he will see that real drivers always wear a seatbelt and know where the road ends and a closed course begins.
Great answer, DD!

And really good idea, CCPhysicist, about the shooting range! I grew up in a rather rural area and had a gun to shoot vermin and do target practice. I think that experience has made me appreciate the power (and danger) of guns. Also, I think it kind of "got it out of my system" - the urge to play with firearms or whatever you want to call it. Anyways, those first-person-shooter games never appealed to me.
I think this is a great answer, but I also try not to criticize other parents' choices too much. (I don't think you were doing this.)

Sometimes I point out to my kids stuff they do have (two parents living together in one house, for example, or nice dog) that other kids might want and don't have.
As if the harm lies in the game itself.

Whether it be taking him out to the range, sitting in the passenger seat at an SCCA event, or playing the game with him...there is one common denominator. Your presence as an interpretor of that experience, not a shield from it.
It could be that other kids who get to play are younger siblings who have tagged along with their older sibs' games and interests. And as other commenters have noted, context and your interpretation are more important shapers of TB and TG's views and values than the activities themselves.
You did good, DD. You and your wife are your children's moral compasses- north star- protection from harmful experiences or temptations.

My sons are grown. Your kids need to rely on you for excuses not to do things they know are wrong or they don't feel read for. Even if they fight you to do them.

Example: My son was invited to a party of "cool kids". 6th grade. I call the parents of the party giver to find out if parents will be home during the party and if I can bring something.

Niceness on my part, but the message it sent was I want adults present, and I'm an interested parent. No matter how "cool" the party is.

Sent message to any of his classmates that he won't be able to take part in unsupervised parties for now. All through highschool the same behavior on my part. And of course lines of communication were open between us.

A youngster WONT disobey your NO if you and he/she have a relationship where the youngster knows you are only caring for him/her. Sometimes that NO has to be based on "because I said so".

There might come a time when the youngster disobeys anyway and says I'm doing it anyway and means it. At that point the youngster is old enough to be told the facts of life as to how easy getting into big trouble with others is.

Don't waffle. Let your kids have a chance to say "My Dad would kill me" if I do that.

Also, Moms can work wonders with 11+ year old boys by simply sweetly asking them to not do something because it worries her or will make her sad. Boys learn how to treat girls by how they treat their moms and how moms react like the boys are their moms heroes. Sweet stuff the first time it happens.

Have his back. Let him depend on that -that you will guide him and stand firm.
Anon @ 10:57 - the gender stereotyping about how "Moms" should act vs. how "Dads" should act makes me grind my teeth. Figure that stuff out please.

My hat is off to you.
In the same boat, DD, with a son who is roughly TB's age. I really, really like the explanation you came up with for TB. We've had different versions of that same conversation ourselves (both my spouse and me on essentially the same page with our son).

I think the very act of talking to a child as though he's a rational, reasonable person is a big part of being an effective parent. I do agree with the previous poster who said it's a good idea to give a kid permission to tell friends, "Yeah, I can't afford to do that because I would lose WAY too many privilleges." Other kids probably more or less get that explanation, and it allows the kid who wants to respect family rules a decent out without seeming completely uncool, a goody two-shoes. Still, the larger goal of establishing respect on both sides (parent to child, child to parent) seems to me the best foundation to help a young person build his or her identity.

Anyway, nice work, DD. (And it's nice to hear that we're not the only family whose kid complains occasionally!)
Very nice response, DD. My almost-ten daughter asks similar questions. Sometimes I'm more thoughtful in my answer, but honestly a lot of times it's "Because it's my job to grow you into a decent human being, I have 34 years on you, and I just know some stuff you don't." I've been right about things in the past enough that she usually accepts it--for now! (And usually with some whining attached.)
9 is a little young for Call of Duty. I really enjoy the "Geneva Convention" approach -- very much within the spirit of enjoying the game -- but yeah, a little challenging for 9.

I think half of your success, DD, is that he could tell you were trying to do what was right, instead of what was convenient for you.
Whew, I think that was a really good and powerful answer--and that it made an impression too. A kid who wasn't listening and thinking about what you were saying, a kid who was not at the top of his game and as grown-up as a ten-year old could be, would have been long gone from the conversation, screaming and pouting.
You might also point him to this study: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_112649.html

which shows a correlation between violent video games and aggressive behavior.

While he may/may not have been humoring you, it was a valuable conversation and gave him your point of view. You didn't just say no without giving him some context. That will stick with him even if the exacts of the conversation fade.
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