Thursday, September 23, 2004

Parenting Tips for Complete Boneheads

Brenda and I watched the last half of the Dr. Phil special last night... If these parents are in any way representative, there’s going to be a whole lot of people growing up in the next generation with absolutely no concept of how Real LifeTM actually works. There was one mother who literally buys her 4-year-old daughter everything she asks for. Her husband took her credit cards away from her, and actually gives her a daily allowance in little envelopes... which she said she cheats anyway by shifting money from one envelope to another. And why does she do this? Because apparently she doesn’t want the girl to be "traumatized", and because she’s afraid of what other people think of her when the girl starts throwing a tantrum in the store. "Other people in the store think I'm beating her, the way she screams" (to which I, personally, would respond, "Has anyone ever actually come up to you and accused you of beating your daughter? No? Of course they haven't, because everyone knows kids throw tantrums, and what those people are actually thinking about you is 'Why does she let her kid get away with that crap? What a lousy mother she is, not even able to win a battle of wills with a preschooler'").

Dr. Phil's advice: Take away 99% of the kid's toys and stuff, and either put it in storage or, better yet, donate it. Keep the few things the girl actually plays with regularly. And I would tend to agree with that advice, except that he didn't give her a good explanation of why she should do this, and I suspect that the result is that nothing will change—either she'll give in and give the toys back, or she'll buy the kid new toys. Because the real reason she needs to do this is not for the kid's benefit so much as for her own. She needs to see this kid throw the worst, god-awful, screaming tantrum fit she's ever had, and survive it. She needs to see that when the kid doesn't get her way by screaming, eventually she will get tired of screaming and stop. And then she'll get over it, probably a lot quicker than mom expects. And, for obvious reasons, this (being basically the first time that throwing a fit doesn't work) is going to need to happen at home rather than out at a store somewhere. But because Dr. Phil didn't tell her any of that, that the main reason for doing this is to train herself to resist the kid's tantrums, or even give her any idea of what to expect when she does it, I suspect that when the kid starts throwing her fit over mom taking her toys away, mom isn't going to be able to go through with it.

And then there was the woman whose 3-year-old son watches 9 hours of television every day, because "it's so easy to just leave him in front of the TV, so I can get work done around the house..." Twit. This is someone who didn't want an actual child; she wanted an ornamental bonsai child she could set out on display on the coffee table when they have guests over: "See my kid? Isn't he adorable?" I guess it hasn't occurred to her that she could get just as much done with the kid playing in the yard, or in his room, or wherever, as she could with him watching TV. Dr. Phil's obvious answer: Get rid of the TVs. Get them out of the house. Of course, there are a couple of problems with that. For one thing, mom's reaction was a facial expression along the lines of "Oh, well, that can't possibly be a serious suggestion, he's just exaggerating to make a point or something", so I'm skeptical she’ll actually do it. I have a feeling the idea of actually not having a television is inconceivable for her. For another thing, this teaches the child that mom is so weak-willed, she can't actually say "no" to him, and it teaches him that if temptation is available to you, at all, it's impossible to not give in to it. Only by making temptation physically unavailable to us can we resist its lure. These are not good lessons.

And I have to say, for all Dr. Phil's reputation as no-nonsense and brutally frank, Brenda and I don't think he was nearly hard enough on these airheads. We decided we probably wouldn’t make very good Dr. Phils, except maybe for people who are only motivated to change by being ridiculed and abused (at least verbally, although there were a few of them who could have used a good thwack on the head with a cricket bat).

No comments: