Consequences: Then And Now
I rarely catch the news, but when I do there is usually a segment featuring a poor-quality cell phone video with evidence that kids these days are rude, off-task, and foolish. The commentators tsk-tsk and act like this is new. It’s not.
Growing up, I was considered a good kid. My report card was brought to you by the letter A, my afterschool activities were primarily team sport or church related, and I dependably completed my weekly chores. But, I still did bad things. Naughty things. Dumb things.
I skipped school. I snuck out of the house late at night. I kissed boys I shouldn’t have. I skipped school and snuck out of the house late at night for the sole purpose of kissing boys I shouldn’t have.
I vandalized homes, cars and public signage (with toilet paper, plastic wrap, and frosting respectively). I picked on other kids.
When I was caught, I faced the consequences—consequences in scale with the crimes. I wasn’t featured on the news for everyone to judge by a single act or moment.
I was judged by my parents, teachers or neighbors—people who knew me and could put my acts of stupidity, cruelty, and mischievousness in perspective. They could weigh the evidence of my wrongs against what they knew of my character. They could dole out punishment for a moronic moment or make me right a wrong without labeling me a moron or a bully.
Now days, when a kid does something stupid or wrong and is caught, it’s usually on video. Then, the video is viewed by strangers with no context. Strangers are quick to judge, quick to label and quick to blame the parents.
When I was a kid, if you misbehaved, you were reprimanded and punished by the nearest adults. If you were at someone’s house, you were punished according to house rules. I learned quickly that our house rules were more lenient than the neighbors and adjusted my behavior accordingly. When my mom caught my friend Becky and me TPing one night, she required us to reimburse her for the toilet paper we had used (roughly $3 worth). When Becky’s mom caught us egging the neighbor boys (Not the neighbor boys’ property…the boys themselves), she grounded us. It was the first and only time I was grounded. It’s funny to think about now. I didn’t question her authority to ground me for a moment. She said, “No playing after school for a week” and I complied. I didn’t consider it an option to do otherwise.
I don’t think my mom ever told Becky’s mom about the TPing and I don’t think Becky’s mom ever told mine about the eggs. I think each woman realized that we recognized her authority and that nothing else needed to be done.
It’s the flip side of the modern behavior coin. So many adults are ready and willing to judge but too few are ready and willing to reprimand.
I see it at my child’s school. I see it at the park. I see it on the city bus. Kids and teenagers behave inappropriately while adults remain silent. There are plenty of glares but nobody says, “That language is not appropriate here,” or “That belongs in the garbage,” or “Your music is disruptive.”
I worry that we’ve allowed ourselves to believe that the cell phone videos featured on the news capture the essence of today’s youth. As a result, we treat the kids around us who are behaving badly as lost causes—not worth our time to reprimand or redirect.
My kids are only six and four, but they know the difference between right and wrong and the difference between truth and lies. Nevertheless, they sometimes push the limits. They do something wrong just to see how it feels or try something mischievous because they are bored.
They are good kids who will continue to do bad things. They are smart kids who will continue to do dumb things. They are kind kids who will continue to do cruel things. They are kids who will continue to be a lot like their mother.
So, I’m asking you—friend, neighbor, teacher, stranger—to reprimand my kids if you see them doing something they shouldn’t.
I’ll do the same for yours.
Our children are not lost causes.
Kristina Cerise is a Seattle mom trying to find a little meaning in the madness. She blogs at www.definingmotherhood.wordpress.com, tweets as @DefineMother, and talks to anyone who will listen at the local coffee shop.
Illustration by Christine Juneau
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