Parents’ bully phobia might build better victims

In the winter, many people find themselves unwillingly stuck in the house with a pack of sugar-jacked kids unless they get out and go to the one of the hell holes known as a “children’s museum.”

Or better yet, a “science” museum, where kids jockey for position gaping at naked mole rats and narrowly avoiding stepping on butterflies.

It’s also a great place to go if you want to watch people from all walks of life demonstrate the latest techniques in helicopter parenting, also known as raising the passive child.

My five-year-old was playing with discs at a bizarro station that looks like a conveyor-belt sushi place. He was taking a bunch off the belt and stacking them up.

And then I heard a parent angrily chewing him out for taking too many and not leaving enough for her precious offspring, who was also 5.

(One might ask why she was so close to a contraption that provides hours of entertainment to kids who clearly do have a knack for stuff like factory work. If you want to know why those mean adults in Lowell, Mass., hired 19th-century children for endless menial tasks in factories, just take one look at a kids’ museum. They love it. Forget the basement foosball table and just put a sweatshop down there. But I digress.)

Why was she not — at the very least — advising her five-year-old to tell my five-year-old that he was being over the line?  Did she really think she was the only capable person in the pair? Are we training kids to be so conflict-averse and non-bullying that they can’t even stand up to a nonthreatening peer? Why?

I’m wondering if I’m living in some kind of twilight zone where I expect my kids to talk to other kids about how to share and play, and everyone else is intent on training their children to roll over and whimper. Meanwhile, the parent takes out any faintly aggressive child in his or her path. I’ve seen this happen many times at many kids’ play areas over many years.

Kids know the rules, and usually can be counted on to hash out a deal. And if it gets too volatile, well, then an adult or police officer or EMT can be called in. Since about three people left in the country send their kids outdoors to play alone together, where else can kids practice these skills but at a simulated factory?

I suspect that the main reason The Other Mom was intervening was that she felt her child was a victim, and that she was standing up to the more assertive child. I’m here to tell everyone today: just because bullying exists in society does not mean that children who look out for their own interests and don’t hand everything away are bullies. These types were once known as showing leadership potential, before society got bogged down with wanting all children to compete in a passivity/sweetness contest.

That day, this child learned that only his mommy can stand up to pushy kids. He needs her there to wade through the morass of scary, assertive kindergartners. And where does that leave his development? When will he get a chance to do this on his own if not at age 5? Will he magically be left alone by all slightly more aggressive children because he has been shielded from all conflict? Or does he perhaps need to develop a few social skills to tell other kids when to back off?

But on another note, since when do adults tell off kids in front of their parents? Was she unaware that I was about to metaphorically drop-kick her? She’s taking a big risk in the first place that her kid will not grow up to know how to get a job or make a friend, but also that other parents are going to go nuts on her.

Or merely blog about her.

Have you encountered a parent telling off your kid? Have you told off kids? What do you think about this issue? Share your story in the Comments box below.

First posted in December 2014

Comments: What do you think?

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