Showing posts with label parents and kids. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parents and kids. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A solution to the bringing kids to demonstrations dilemma

I've always had mixed feelings about bringing children too young to develop an independent opinion on the issues to political demonstrations.

On one hand, bringing your kid to a demonstration is modelling political participation, just like bringing your kid with you to vote. And a demonstration is also a part of regular life, like taking your kid with you grocery shopping.

But, on the other hand, participating in a demonstration (especially if you're holding a sign, chanting the chants, etc.) implies having a certain opinion on a certain issue, and some kids are simply too young to have developed an opinion.

On top of that, children tend to make for good pictures, so there's a high likelihood that kids at demonstrations will end up with a photo of them on the internet holding a sign that may or may not reflect the opinion they develop independently once they become savvy enough to do so.

So far, the best idea I've been able to think of is that kids at demonstrations shouldn't be photographed, which helps contain the issue but doesn't completely address it. (Although I have no objection to any policy that protects kids - or people of any age, really - from having their pictures posted on the internet without their informed consent.)

But the other day, my Twitter feed gave me a much better idea:

Kids participating in demonstrations must write their own signs, without any adult input about content or messaging. 

I'll allow adults transcribing the kid's message (only at the kid's request) if the kid's printing and spelling skills haven't caught up with what they want their sign to say, but the content of the sign must be entirely the kid's idea, and the kid must be permitted to use their own sign regardless of whether it's consistent with the demonstration's messaging.

Here are two delightful examples of this phenomenon that were tweeted into my feed. They can also been seen on imgur here and here.






As you can see, the kids are clearly expressing their own ideas rather than mindlessly regurgitating what the adults around them are saying. But they still get to proudly participate in the social and cultural experience of a demonstration, even if they don't have independent understanding of the issues, without expressing any ideas that they wouldn't if they had independent understanding of the issues. And, despite the fact that they're off-message, they don't take away from the message of the demonstration, and, in fact, add to its credibility by making it look like an inclusive family event.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Girl colours and boy colours

I currently have four baby cousins: three boys and one girl. (They aren't all so much babies - the oldest one is 3 - but old nomenclature dies hard.  And it's not like they can read this blog to complain that I'm referring to them as babies.) I bought xmas gifts for all of them (I don't celebrate xmas myself, but my family does and it's an awesome excuse to look through all the adorable children's books at Mabel's Fables), and since all the gifts would be going under the same tree I put gift tags on them.

I managed to find a package of non-xmas-themed gift tags in all different colours, one of which is pink.  So I put the pink tag on the girl's gift.  Because pink is for girls.

Of course, I myself don't actually think pink is exclusively for girls and not for boys at all.  If any of my male baby cousins expressed interest in pink things or things that are culturally marked as for girls, I'd be the first to make sure he had all the girly things he wanted. 

But, because on a broader cultural level pink has connotations as "for girls", some boys might not like it.  Some boys might find it insulting to be given the pink thing. It might be problematic to give one brother pink and the other brother a colour without gender connotations. (The inverse is true too - I remember once feeling very humiliated and insecure in my femininity when my sister got a Judy Jetson toy and I was given smelly old George Jetson.)

If I had multiple pink tags, I wouldn't hesitate to give every child a pink tag. But I only had the one, and I only ever use gift tags for the baby cousins, so the one pink gift tag went to the one girl.

And so, out of consideration for connotations that these small children may or may not have yet picked up from the prevailing culture, gender stereotypes of colours are perpetuated for another generation.

***

Another similar issue is that I'm very mindful of making sure the boys get books with male protagonists (insofar as the books have protagonists and the protagonists have gender - with children this young, sometimes the books are about animals or shapes or colours, and sometimes they don't have enough of a plot to have a protagonist), but I don't put the same thought into making sure the girl gets books with female protagonists.  This is because I have the idea, absorbed from the ether, that boy are more likely to be reluctant readers, and that boys are more likely to be disinclined to read books with female protagonists. 

In real life, none of these kids are reluctant readers, simply because they're too young for anyone to make that determination.  In real life, I'm not even sure to what extent children that age do or don't perceive gender.  But, nevertheless, I've decided to pre-emptively address this Thing That People On The Internet Say Might Happen, and, as a result, might be perpetuating the stereotype that books about girls aren't for boys.

Part of it is the fact that I can testify from my own first-hand experience that even a girly girl whose gender identity and expression is wholly feminine can totally enjoy books about a male protagonist, and therefore would feel confident in getting a girl a book with a male protagonist.  But I have heard anecdotes of boys being disinclined to read female protagonists, and I only have a self righteous "Well, it shouldn't make any difference!" to counter that.  (I don't actually know whether my male baby cousins as individuals care about the genders of their protagonists - I'm never able to have as comprehensive a conversation with their parents as I'd like because we keep getting interrupted by the presence of babies and toddlers.)

But ultimately, I think it's more important (in terms of both gift-giving and child development) to maximize the likelihood that the kidlets will enjoy the books put in front of them. And so I resort to gender stereotypes unless I have further specific information.

I kind of wish I could switch off that portion of my knowledge of self and culture, and choose books cheerfully unaware of what gender (and other) stereotypes might exist and need to be addressed.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The age when you stop being intrinsically interesting

I was looking at this 30-second YouTube video of a toddler ring bearer who was reluctant to walk all the way to the altar and his innovative way of solving that problem:



Some of the comments were to the effect of "What do you expect choosing such a little kid to be your ring bearer?" as though the wedding couple is disappointed that they didn't get flawless textbook ring bearing.

My extended family is currently full of weddings and toddlers, and extrapolating from this I realize that they didn't choose that kid to be their ring bearer because they wanted flawless textbook ring bearing.  The chose the kid to be their ring bearer because they wanted to see what would happen if they put him in a little suit and gave him a ring pillow and told him to walk down the aisle.  Maybe he'd do something cute or interesting - and he did!

When children are very small, they are intrinsically interesting that way, at least to people who care about them.  It's interesting to see what they'll do in a new situation, how they'll react to new input, etc. That's why friends and family members and co-workers will hand their new baby to my childfree self - to see how we react to each other. That's why adults like to show small children animals and toys and mirrors and bubbles - to see what they do.

And then there must be some age, I'm not sure exactly how old, when a kid's reactions stop being intrinsically interesting, and the adults want them to sit down and be quiet, and they'd get in trouble for throwing the ring pillow.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Paternity and participation

Just a few of the many thing that exist in the world:

1. People who think that a good sense of humour means not holding back when it occurs to you to make a joke, and that uttering every potentially-humorous thing that occurs to you, no matter how worthy or advisable, is laudable.
2. People who think that being present in your children's lives is sufficient to constitute good parenting.
3. People who think it's disgraceful that Kids Today allegedly get trophies for participation.

I've noticed that Category 1 seems to correlate with fatherhood, to the extent that really pathetic jokes that aren't even worth the breath it takes to utter them are called "dad jokes"

I've noticed that Category 2 seems to correlate with fatherhood, to the extent that people think the character of Cliff Huxtable is an exemplar of fatherhood solely on the grounds that he's seen on screen interacting with his children.

And, in my own experience, the majority of people (or, at least, the loudest segment) in Category 3 are men. I don't know how many of them are fathers, but most fathers are men.

So I find myself wondering how many people fall into all three categories, wanting kudos for mere participation in humour and/or fatherhood, but complaining when the same thing is offered to their children.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Parental influence is terrifyingly persistent

Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, I asked my mother why the word "university" has the word "universe" in it.  She told me that it's related to the word "universal", meaning "for everyone".  (Which is fairly accurate, according to the OED entry. There are more nuances, but it's a perfectly reasonable explanation if your audience is a small child.)

So I thought about this, and about what I knew about universities.  I'd been on a university campus before, and I knew there were a wide range of people there.  There were old people with beards and white hair, people like my father who worked there, grownups who were younger than my parents walking around in crowds and sometimes doing silly things, and kids like me who took swimming lessons and gymnastics classes on campus. When my parents talked about their time as university students, they mentioned having classmates and professors from all kinds of different places all around the world. And my parents themselves sometimes took continuing education classes at the university.

In short, all kinds of different people from all kinds of different places of all kinds of different ages doing all kinds of different things.  My mother's explanation seemed accurate: universities are for everyone.

What's interesting is the lifelong impact that this little conversation had on my thinking.

Once upon a time, a friend of mine had to kill some time between appointments and was trying to figure out what to do. She was near a university campus, so I suggested that she go on campus and find a coffee shop or a library or a quiet corner with a seat and some wifi.  She was reluctant to do that because she was older than the typical university student and felt like she'd be out of place. But I was completely baffled that anyone could ever feel this way - universities are for everyone!

In my own university classes, we had our fair share of mature students.  I didn't think to question it, because universities are for everyone. I later heard some classmates talk about being weirded out by the presence of older students, and I was shocked into speechlessness that anyone would feel that way. How is it not glaringly obvious that universities are for everyone?

And even now, as an adult who is older than the "older" students whose presence weirded out my undergrad classmates, even knowing that there are undergrad students who feel that way, I wouldn't hesitate to go back to school if I should ever find myself in a situation where it's the correct decision for me.  Because I know, intrinsically and instinctively, that university is for everyone.

I'm quite certain my mother wasn't intentionally trying to instill in me a sense of comfort and belonging at institutions of higher education.  I wouldn't even be surprised if she didn't actually know that the word "university" was in fact derived from the word "universal", and was just saying something that sounded plausible to get me to shut up because that was the 4738th question I'd asked her that day.

But, nevertheless, I internalized this passing remark to the extent that my brain doesn't even question it, even though I know full well that it's just a passing remark that I unduly internalized and that many people in the world believe it to be untrue.

Isn't that terrifying?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Another reason why early sex ed will lead to less early sex

This post was inspired by, but is not directly related to, this quiz testing how much you know about the new Ontario sex ed curriculum. (I got 9/10.)

Some critics of sex ed criticize teaching students about various sex acts at an age that is generally perceived to be too young to be engaging in those sex acts.

But it occurs to me that if your goal is to prevent young people from having sex, introducing the concepts early would probably help achieve that goal.

I was informed, via age-appropriate educational books, about the existence of various sex acts years before I was ready for them (which was a good thing, since I reached menarche years before I had the slightest even theoretical interest in sex), and every single time my visceral reaction was "Ewww, gross!!!!"  As I evolved in the direction of developing interest in sex, I had to overcome the "Ewww, gross!!!!" before I could develop positive interest.

I also learned of various other sex acts, via the internet, when I was older and ready to have sex.  In these situations, my reaction was either "Hmm, interesting..." or "Meh, not for me."  Even for the sex acts I find more distasteful (which are objectively more distasteful than any of the sex acts I learned about before I was ready for sex) I never reached the same level of visceral revulsion as I did before I was ready to have sex.

So if you want young people to not have sex, telling them about sex when they're young enough to think that it's gross will introduce an additional emotional barrier that will stand between them and their desire to have sex for a certain period of time.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Legally-mandated helicopter parenting vs. children's literature

When I was a kid, I always felt vaguely humiliated that my life didn't work like the lives of the protagonists of my books.  They got to have their own independent adventures.  They got to go to the park or walk in the woods or go to a friend's house or be home alone, all without adult supervision.  Sometimes they even bought things at stores or went to the library or went to the doctor without an adult.  And I wasn't allowed to do anything!  What was wrong with me?  Why wasn't I worthy of this basic human independence that all my protagonists got to enjoy??

Reading a recent article where "free range" children got picked up by the police, I find myself wondering how 21st-century kids feel about this.

I was feeling humiliated because my parents wouldn't allow me the freedom of the protagonists in my books, but today it's even worse - it's not just that your parents say no, it's that the police will come and arrest you!  (Yes, the police didn't technically arrest the kids, but I'm sure it feels to the kids like they did.)

But then it occurred to me that maybe this very serious sense of "You can't go to the park alone or the police will come and arrest you" might actually make it feel less bad for the kids.  It's not that you aren't allowed because you aren't good enough, it's that no one is allowed because it's against the law.  But, on the other hand, that might just cause confusion.  Peter and Jane did it, so why can't I?  If it's against the law, why didn't the policeman arrest Peter and Jane when he was talking to them?

Another possibility that I hadn't considered is that children's books may have caught up with reality.  Perhaps the protagonists of today's children's books are supervised at all times?  That would certainly make it more difficult to come up with a workable story, but so do cellphones and they appear in fiction.  (Or maybe that's why so many of my early children's books were populated by anthropomorphic animals living in the quaint, non-specific past?)


This all made me realize that children's books are in fact the original media that influences impressionable children!  People always talk about TV and movies and video games, but far, far more of my idea of How The World Is or Should Be were formed by the books I read at a very young age.  I think I was far more influenced by the idea that I should be able to ride a zebra because that's what a character in a book was doing than by anything I saw on TV.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"But I made it just for you!"

I'm sure by now you've seen Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess's post called "Consent: Not Actually That Complicated".
If you’re still struggling, just imagine instead of initiating sex, you’re making them a cup of tea.

You say “hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they go “omg fuck yes, I would fucking LOVE a cup of tea! Thank you!*” then you know they want a cup of tea.

If you say “hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they um and ahh and say, “I’m not really sure…” then you can make them a cup of tea or not, but be aware that they might not drink it, and if they don’t drink it then – this is the important bit –  don’t make them drink it. You can’t blame them for you going to the effort of making the tea on the off-chance they wanted it; you just have to deal with them not drinking it. Just because you made it doesn’t mean you are entitled to watch them drink it.

If they say “No thank you” then don’t make them tea. At all. Don’t make them tea, don’t make them drink tea, don’t get annoyed at them for not wanting tea. They just don’t want tea, ok?

They might say “Yes please, that’s kind of you” and then when the tea arrives they actually don’t want the tea at all. Sure, that’s kind of annoying as you’ve gone to the effort of making the tea, but they remain under no obligation to drink the tea. They did want tea, now they don’t. Sometimes people change their mind in the time it takes to boil that kettle, brew the tea and add the milk. And it’s ok for people to change their mind, and you are still not entitled to watch them drink it even though you went to the trouble of making it.

[...]

If someone said “yes” to tea around your  house last saturday, that doesn’t mean that they want you to make them tea all the time. They don’t want you to come around unexpectedly to their place and make them tea and force them to drink it going “BUT YOU WANTED TEA LAST WEEK”, or to wake up to find you pouring tea down their throat going “BUT YOU WANTED TEA LAST NIGHT”.
The blogger is clearly setting up the mundane analogy with a cup of tea to quite effectively demonstrate how ridiculous it is not to respect someone's "no".

But what struck me when I first read this is that I've seen people actually, in real life, take similar offence to similar mundane everyday things.  This often (but not always) happens with parents and their kids, and often (but not always) involves food.  The offerer (often the parent) does something (often making food) that the offeree (often the kid) doesn't want and/or didn't ask for, then complains that the offeree doesn't want/take/eat/love it. Especially in a parent-kid scenario, the offerer has been known to scold the offeree for not wanting/taking/eating/loving it, or force/coerce the offeree into going through the motions of taking/eating/using the thing. And, especially in a food-related scenario, there seems to be a rather loud school of thought that etiquette requires putting on a show of taking/eating/using the thing, and that quietly abstaining is actively rude.

Now of course as adults, dealing with peers, sometimes we may find it's strategic to make the deliberate choice of putting on a show of appreciation in service of fostering the interpersonal relationship in the long term, and then just quietly go home and make our own damn cup of tea just the way we like it. (Just like, as adults, sometimes we may choose to consent to an act of intimacy that we aren't quite dripping with enthusiasm about in the service of fostering the interpersonal relationship in the long term.)

But, as adults, we understand that this is an option that one may choose to exercise, not a broadly-applicable expectation or a baseline requirement of social behaviour.  Kids are still working out, mostly from example, what constitutes broadly-applicable expectations and baseline requirements of social behaviour.

And when you're dealing with kids who are still developing their framework for what constitutes normal human behaviour and what constitutes reasonable expectations for people to have of each other, it could be detrimental to normalize the idea that you're Being Bad if you say no to something you didn't want in the first place.  And it could also be detrimental to normalize the idea that you're entitled to a positive response to your unwanted and unsolicited solely on the grounds that you presumptuously took the initiative.

If parents want to raise kids who respect other people's "no", and if parents want to raise who understand that if someone disrespects their "no" it isn't an act of love, maybe they should start by keeping an eye on the tone with which they offer their kids a cup of tea.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Extended public celebration of Christmas is unkind to children

My fairy goddaughter, who just turned 3, is getting impatient about waiting for Christmas.  Some days, the fact that Santa isn't coming tonight reduces her to tears!  Yes, it's just a couple of weeks away, but think about that in terms of proportions: she's 3 and I'm 33, so 2 weeks for her is like 22 weeks for me. That's nearly half a year!

Stores and TV channels and media in general have been in xmas mode since the beginning of November, for a total of nearly 2 months of christmassing.  But, for my fairy goddaughter, that's like 22 months, or nearly 2 years!  Imagine hearing "Santa is coming soon!" for 2 years!  And imagine this in a context where Santa coming is The Most Exciting Thing You Can Imagine, and where you haven't yet developed the cynicism to say "Meh, that's what they always say"! 

I think it's extremely unkind to get my fairy goddaughter's hopes up for such a painfully long time.  If Christmas is supposed to be for the children, it should be scaled down to something the poor kids can manage!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Things They Should Invent: MoralOfTheStory.com

My fairy goddaughter has an uncommon name.  I decided I'd try to find a book with a protagonist who shares her name and, after much searching, was able to find one.  Unfortunately, it wasn't currently in print in Canada and the library didn't have it, so I had to order it from the UK.  Because of this, I didn't know how the protagonist was portrayed or what the moral of the story was.

(I prefer to curate the books I give to children as gifts.  While I don't object to people - including children - reading junk or fluff (as I'm sure you've noticed from this year's experiment of posting the books I read), I like to give them things that are quality.)

Fortunately, my fairy goddaughter can't read yet, so her parents could screen the book for appropriate message and characterization.  If it's not appropriate, they can just not read it to her.

But by this time next year, she'll probably be able to read. So if I decide to send her a book that I can't preview first for whatever reason, she will be able to read it right away without the story being screened for appropriateness first (or, at least, end up in the awkward situation of her parents wanting to take away a book she's enthusiastic about reading.)

And, just a couple of years later, she'll be reading chapter books.  It's one thing to plop down in Mabel's Fables and read a pile of picture books that are a dozen pages each with only a couple of sentences on each page, to make sure that the characterization and moral of each book is something I want to put in front of a child I love.  But it would be quite another thing to have to read several hundred pages (even in the large, easy font of children's chapter books) in order to make an informed choice.  Especially since the pool of children I buy books for is rapidly expanding (Baby Cousin 3.0 just made his debut a few days ago!) and I try not to duplicate purchases among children who are acquainted with each other and might plausibly visit each other's homes and paw through each other's bookshelves. 

 My proposed solution: a single comprehensive website (MoralOfTheStory.com) that describes the ending and moral of children's books.  (Example: "Ending: he tries green eggs and ham and likes it. Moral of the story: try new foods, you might like them.")  It could also give a brief description of the characterization of the named characters  (or, if that's too much, just the title character), so before you buy Amelia Bedelia for a little girl named Amelia, you know that Amelia Bedelia is a bit of a ditz but an excellent baker.

There are websites to tell you whether various children's media is too scary or too "adult" - the exact reasons why they're rated PG, for example.  But, at least for books that are so young they're definitely rated G, I haven't been able to find any single reliable source of the moral of the story or the characterization of the protagonist.

It would be especially useful to integrate this into Amazon, since children's books bought sight unseen would most likely be bought on the internet.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Faking it

Dear Carolyn
In the mid-1990s, when I was 22 and my brother was 18, our family took a Caribbean cruise. It was fun, but not so much fun that I cared to go back again.
Now that my parents are in their late 60s and retired, my mom has gotten it in her mind that all four of us should take another cruise together as a family. They have even offered to pay. 
 
Aside from not having an interest in the cruise, I am also not interested in taking a family vacation. I am single and in my late 30s, and a family vacation smacks of desperation, a way of saying, “Oh, how sad, he didn’t want to go by himself, so he went with Mommy and Daddy.” Also, traveling anywhere with my parents is never a simple process (I suppose that can be said of a lot of people, though). In short, a cruise might be a vacation for my parents, but it would be anything but one for me.
I have repeatedly explained that neither a cruise nor a family vacation (wherever the destination) interests me. Nevertheless, the badgering continues. 
For the record, I take my own vacations, usually by myself. I also see my parents about once a month, so it is not as if I ignore them and am being “guilted” into a vacation. Any thoughts?
 I was surprised to see not only Carolyn, but also a huge number of people in the comments, suggest that LW would regret not going on the cruise after their parents die, because they'd feel bad about missing an opportunity to spend time with their parents.

This surprises me because if you asked me in a vacuum "What if they die and you don't get to spend any more time with them?" my immediate visceral answer would be "Then it's even more important not to spend what time we have left together doing something that makes me resent spending the time with them."

This also makes me wonder if there are people who actually enjoy spending time with their loved ones doing something that their loved ones don't actually have interest in doing.  Because I hate it!  It makes me feel so awkward and just want to run away and go home.   When I was a kid, my parents would sometimes on their own initiative try to take me to something that I was interested in but I knew they had no interest in, and it just felt awful and cringey and dreadful, and generally not worth doing at all.  Even when I invite my friends to do something that I'm not completely sure if they're into, and they accept my invitation of their own free will,I still find myself worrying in the back of my mind that they might not actually be into it. So, in this context, I just can't fathom how someone can enjoy an activity if their loved ones don't actually want to be there and are going along just to humour them.

Actually, I wonder if there's a correlation between this group and the people who want others to go through the motions of being religious?  As someone who takes religion seriously (which is why I left the church and started living as an atheist in the first place), I've always felt it's terribly insulting to the deity to go through the motions and not mean it.  But if there are people who genuinely enjoy having their loved ones go through the motions of things they actually hate doing, maybe they'd think their deity would feel the same way?

Monday, July 08, 2013

Things They Should Invent: car alarm that goes off if a child is left in a car seat

Recently in the news, there have been a number of cases of babies and toddlers dying after being forgotten in a car on a hot day.  This makes me think they should invent something to alert parents if they walk away from the car with the kid still in the baby seat.

Some of the media coverage (can't seem to google up the exact article) mentioned that there are some alerts that work with smartphones, but those depend on the parent having a smartphone and having the app installed and the smartphone being on and charged.  If your battery's dead, or you've turned off your phone for a meeting, or it's just at the bottom of your purse and you're in a noisy environment, you might fail to notice the alert.

I propose something simpler and more immediate:  if the car is turned off, there is weight in the carseat, there is no weight in the driver's seat, and all the doors are closed, the annoying horn-honking car alarm goes off.  (Proposed added bonus feature: rather than the usual horn honky car alarm sound it produces the sound of a baby crying.)

The advantage of this model is it draws attention to the car, even if it for some reason it fails to attract the parent's attention.  I know people generally disregard and curse out the source of car alarms, but someone walking past might take a peek in, and if the car is parked somewhere staffed, the staff might notice.  This increases the chances that someone will notice the baby's presence and intervene.

Ideas for how this could be engineered: cars could have a built in attacher thingy for baby seats (baby seats have to be physically attached to the car by more than just a seatbelt. The ones I've seen are attached by a bolt-like thing behind the back seat.)  The attacher thing recognizes when a car seat is attached (the same way the seatbelt detector detects when the seatbelt is fastened) and then there could be a weight detector in the seat of the car (maybe there could be a button to press to "zero" it to an empty baby seat).  The car would therefore know when there's a baby seat present and when the baby seat is occupied.

The other advantage of this model is it wouldn't require any proactiveness or diligence on the part of the parents.  If it doesn't occur to the parents to take precautions against accidentally leaving the baby in the car, the car will do so anyway, much like how some cars already warn you if your seatbelt isn't done up or if you've left the lights on.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

"What do you think you can do about it?"

From Carolyn Hax:

Dear Carolyn:
My second-grade son was upset yesterday because his best friend at school told him to toughen up (my son was crying over something) and also told him he was not one of his best friends anymore. What do I say to my son?
 Carolyn's answer starts with:

Next time — since they’re both probably over this already — it’s hard to go wrong with a 1-2 plan of acknowledging his feelings — “I can see you’re really upset, I’m sorry,” plus hug — and directing him to come to his own way of dealing with it: “What do you think you can do about it?” 

I've heard this parenting advice before - that you should ask kids "What do you think you can do about it?" - and it seems unhelpful to say the least.  My own mother has tried it on me (one of those times when you can tell your parent totally read something in an article), and I just found it infuriating.  If I had any remotely productive ideas what to do about it that I hadn't tried already, I'd be trying them!

I think this is even worse to say to a child, because when parents ask children leading questions like that, it quite often implies that the parent thinks the child is supposed to know what to do.  I'm old enough to be his mother, and I don't even have any idea what he should do.  Sitting here in adulthood, we have the luxury of saying "Okay, you're welcome to leave then," but that doesn't work when you're a kid and it's more difficult to function in the classroom and the playground when you don't have someone present whom you can claim as your best friend.  Actual friendship aside, the social logistics of school require having people you can call friends. (This is something I keep meaning to blog about but haven't gotten around to yet.)

I've seen Carolyn Hax give this advice to parents before, and I think it's even worse coming from an advice columnist.  The kid doesn't know what to do, so he goes to his parent.  The parent doesn't know what to do, so they write to an advice columnist.  And the advice columnist tells the parent to ask the kid?  How is that useful?

At this point, people usually ask me "Well, what advice do you expect her to give?  Do you have any better ideas?"  First of all, advice columnists (for whom this is their whole job) should be able to give better, more effective advice that gets better results than anything I could ever think of.  The fact that I don't know the solution doesn't mean an advice columnist wouldn't be able to come up with one, just like the fact that I can't make my hair stay curled doesn't mean that a hairdresser wouldn't be able to.

But, more importantly, advice columnists get a lot of letters.  If the columnist can't come up with a solution to one of the problems, they should run another letter where they can come up with a solution to the LW's problem rather than taking up valuable column inches being one of these people and telling the person who asked for help in the first place to think of the answer themselves.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Talking to children

Introducing myself to babies

The first time I met my new baby cousin (technically my first cousin once removed - his mother is my cousin) I formally introduced myself.  I told him my name, explained how we're related, and told him that I'm very pleased to meet him and hope we can become friends.  My parents laughed at me for doing this, but I do it anyway because it only seems polite.  I see part of my role as a non- parental adult as modeling normal and healthy interpersonal interactions for kids, and the normal adult world, people don't just walk up to you and start touching you apropos of nothing.  I figure I should do my bit to normalize this standard of behaviour.

I'm cheering for my baby cousin.  I want him to grow up to be strong and smart and happy, and have an easier and more pleasant life than I have.  It's possible that I might not always like Baby Cousin.  He's going to grow up to be a little boy, and little boys aren't my very favourite demographic.  At various points in his life, he might think farts are funny or think an appropriate response to the presence of a spider is to keep it in a jar as a pet, all of which is the kind of behaviour I prefer to avoid.  But even if I do end up not liking him for a period of time, I will still be cheering for him.

My baby cousin has many many adult cousins (his mother and I have 12 mutual cousins, and she also has cousins that aren't related to me, plus his father has his fair share of cousins as well), and I'm absolutely certain that all of us are cheering for him, as are his grandparents and great-grandparents and great-aunts and great-uncles and the other random people in this new family's orbit. If he finds himself in the same room as an adult by virtue of that adult's relationship with his parents, that adult will be cheering for him.

My parents also have many many cousins.  I met quite a few of them at various family events when I was a kid, but I didn't understand who they were.  I don't know if it wasn't explained to me or I just didn't retain it, but I didn't understand that they were my parents' cousins the same way my cousins are my cousins.  I didn't understand who they were or why they were talking to me - they just felt like strange grownups, so I was wary of them the way I'm normally wary of strange grownups.  The thought never once crossed my mind that they might be cheering for me.  Why would they be?  They're just strange grownups.

But maybe if some of them had taken a moment to speak to me directly and tell me their name and how we're related,  to shake my hand and tell me they're happy to see me, maybe I would have felt that I was in the safe presence of loving adults rather than surrounded by strangers.

Elevator buttons

One thing I've learned from living in highrises is that small children love to push elevator buttons! You can push them and they light up and they make the whole elevator move!  So I play along.  If I find myself in an elevator with a small child, I ask them if they can do me an enormous favour and push the button I need for me.  Then I thank them for being helpful.

I don't claim any child development knowledge beyond having been a child and basically I'm doing this because it entertains me.  But I'm wondering whether or not it's actually a good idea.

On the positive side, I'm engaging them as human beings in their own right rather than talking over their heads to their parents, I'm modelling "please" and "thank you" and general polite discourse, and, of course, I'm giving them an opportunity to press more buttons!

On the negative side, perhaps it's a bit condescending to gratuitously give someone a job to do that I can just as easily do myself on the assumption that they'll enjoy doing my menial tasks. (I've been in situations where I suspect people were doing that to me during my adult life, and I didn't appreciate it.) And, on top of that, I am a stranger. I know children do have to learn to interact with strangers and I am a harmless stranger so perhaps I'm a good person to for them to practise on (although I shouldn't go barging into interactions on the assumption that I'm harmless - I must continue to recognize that I'm a stranger), but I'm not sure if I should be setting the precedent that they should be doing unnecessary favours for strangers just because it amuses the stranger.

I've encountered kids who were absolutely delighted when I asked them to press a button for me, but that doesn't mean it's right.  My child-self would have wanted to curl up in a ball and hide, but that doesn't mean it's wrong.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Are children really unfamiliar with pregnancy?

I was very surprised to see that some people thought the word "pregnant" shouldn't be used in an elementary school yearbook for fear that the kids might ask what it means.  My experience was that children were familiar with pregnancy essentially because they were children.

When you are born, your parents are, by definition, part of the cohort that's getting pregnant and having babies.  It's therefore very likely that many of the adults around you - your parents' friends and siblings and cousins - are also at this stage of life.  This means that there's a good chance that within the first few years of your life, one or more babies will be born to the people around you.  It might even be your own younger sibling!

And it's most likely that your parents will explain the concept of the new baby to you.  They won't just one day go "Hey, look, a baby!"  They'll probably tell you that Mommy or Auntie Em is pregnant, which means she's going to have a baby.  And they'll probably even tell you the baby is growing in her belly so that's why her belly is getting fat.

And if this doesn't happen to you, it will probably happen to one of your friends, who will then announce to you "I'm going to have a baby brother and he's growing in my mommy's tummy!"

Myself, I don't remember a time when I didn't know what the word "pregnant" meant.  My first cousin was born when I was 1.5, and my sister was born when I was a few months short of 3. I have memories of the cousin being a baby and I have memories where I knew that my mother was going to have a baby, but I don't ever remember actually learning what "pregnant" means.  For as long as I've known, it's just meant that a baby is growing in a mommy's belly.  It didn't seem sexual or adult (because I didn't know what sex was), it was just a point of fact.

So I'm very surprised that parents would think that elementary school children need to be protected from the concept of pregnancy.  In my corner of the world, children were familiar with pregnancy by virtue of the demographic realities of being children.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Thoughts from advice columns: the lady who walks her girlfriend on a leash


We live in a family-oriented neighbourhood in the heart of our city. Dozens of kids ride bikes, play soccer and so on while adults chat and watch. Last summer, one of my neighbours (with three sons) told me he saw a woman walking her girlfriend on a leash. I told him he must have been fantasizing. Sure enough, a woman with long dreads and multiple piercings (I’d seen her before; she rents a basement apartment on the street) came around the corner walking her girlfriend on a leash. We’ve seen it many times since then, in the middle of the day. My four-year old daughter asked me why the lady was wearing a leash. I told her that she was pretending to be a dog and that the other lady was playing the owner. My daughter loves inventing her own play scenarios and easily accepted my explanation. This has been going on since last summer, so it’s obviously a happy, long-term relationship. But I don’t love having to explain S&M role-play to my four-year old and would appreciate if the dog-walking happened after, say 9 p.m. What would you do?

I think LW's response to her daughter is perfect and nothing more needs to be said.

However, I was surprised when David Eddie said, in his reply:

I mean, I think you’ve handled your daughter’s questions in a very elegant and clever fashion, so far. But as time goes by, she may come to doubt what you’ve told her – or some older kid will tip her off. And she may resent you for that [...]

I can't imagine the daughter resenting the mother for her answer, because her answer is perfectly true.  Yes, it's simplified and unnuanced, that doesn't make it wrong.  When I was a kid, before I learned where babies come from, my mother would mention in passing that the male of the species has to fertilize the female of the species to produce young.  (I'm pretty sure this first came up in the context of chickens and eggs, but for as long as I can remember I've known it to apply to all animals.)  When I got a bit older and my mother read Where Did I Come From? to me, I didn't feel resentful or betrayed to learn that the fertilization is done with the penis.  I just thought "Oh, so that's how it's done.  Kinda gross." and moved on.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Why Kim from Between Friends shouldn't speak to her son's class: the parental ego approach

I blogged previously about a storyline in the comic strip Between Friends, where the character of Kim had been asked by her son's teacher to go speak to her class. (If you click through in the old post, you can see the whole week's worth of strips.  The storyline also continues the week of November 26.)  I proposed that she shouldn't because it would be disrespectful of her son's expressed feelings, and parents should want to set the example for their children that you respect feelings and that you can expect your feelings to be respected.

However, some people (some of whom are parents) aren't very receptive to this argument.

So here's another one from a parental ego perspective:

We know that Kim's speaking to the class must be of some educational benefit to the students, or the teacher wouldn't have brought up the idea.

We know that any good parent wants to give their kid every advantage possible.

So if Kim doesn't speak to her son's class, she's retaining that educational benefit for her son, giving him an advantage over his classmates.

All of which sounds rather mercenary, doesn't it?

BUT, Kim can remove any perception that she's being mercenary by simply telling the teacher that she isn't going to do it this year out of respect for her son's feelings, but she'll revisit the idea in a couple of years when it isn't relevant to her son any more.  This would make her look like a good, thoughtful, considerate mother who's setting an example for her child so he grows up to be respectful, while also making her look like she's an engaged member of the community who wants to help students and be involved in her school.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Praising children's accomplishments

My Favourite Little Person recently turned 1!  I'm so proud of her!

Yes, even though it isn't actually an accomplishment, my immediate emotional response is to be proud of her. The same holds for any milestone.  She can crawl!  She can walk!  If you ask her "Where's the apple?" she'll point at the apple!  (Aside: that blows my mind - I didn't even know pre-verbal children could do that!)  I'm so proud of her!

When I'm actually in the same room as her,  my immediate emotional response to her doing anything new or new to me or successful or big-girlish is to gush.  "Wow!  Look at you!  You're walking!  **Applause**  Good girl!"  Even though  it's a perfectly normal milestone that everyone who is physically capable achieves.

There's a parenting philosophy that you shouldn't gush over kids' accomplishments when they're regular everyday accomplishments, you should save it for the truly impressive. And proponents of this philosophy seem to think that parents are gushing over kids' accomplishments in an attempt to boost the kids' self-esteem.

But based on my visceral and emotional inclination to gush about MFLP (who isn't even my own child!) I question whether it's possible for a loving parent to not gush over a small adorable child learning something new or achieving a milestone.  It seems like it would take a massive amount of restraint, and would build up an emotional wall for no good reason.

What if parents made a point of never humiliating their kids?

This post was inspired by this comic strip:








Her son is mortified by the idea of her speaking to his class, but she completely shrugs off his emotions.  Her husband might be enjoying the fact that their son is mortified, and she seems to be amused by this.

This is sort of a common cultural trope - kids are embarrassed by their parents, the parents see the kids' embarrassment as foolish and invalid, and the parents therefore take a certain delight in embarrassing their kids.  And, as a cultural trope, it's seen as all in good fun, at least by the parents.

But it seems to me that this is the kind of thing that could foster bullying attitudes.

A kid in a family like this will learn that feelings aren't worth respecting. If someone finds something humiliating, taking advantage of that fact to make them feel humiliated is normal, valid, and entertaining.  Surely no good can come of taking that attitude into the schoolyard with them!  The kid will also learn (as I did) that baseline human reality is that people want to embarrass you, and develop self-worth and defence mechanisms accordingly.

But suppose instead the parent said "I respect your feelings. If it would embarrass you, I won't do it."  And then the parent said to the teacher "It would embarrass Danny to have his mother come speak to the class, and I respect his feelings.  I'd be happy to come speak to your students in a year or two, once it would no longer bother him."

Then he would learn that respecting people's feelings is normal, and might carry that forward into the rest of the world.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

My child-self's problem with princesses

Some people think the presence of princess characters in children's media are problematic, thinking that they might lead kids to value being pretty and waiting around to be rescued by Prince Charming.  For me they were problematic for other reasons, but I couldn't articulate it until I read a blogger's experience interviewing Julie Andrews about princesses in children's media.

And so I asked Julie Andrews (JULIE ANDREWS!), and Emma, who happened to be there with her own young daughter, how we raise strong, confident independent girls in a culture that’s so saturated with princesses.
I asked really nicely, I promise.
And their answers were terrific.
Because they didn’t talk about tiaras. Or even princes. They talked about values.
-Princesses are involved in charitable causes
-Princesses are kind
-Princesses are patrons of the arts
-Princesses make their friends feel good about themselves.

This was problematic for me when I was a kid. When I was very young, I didn't perceive the key characteristics of the Disney princesses and other similar fictional characters to be that they were pretty or that they were rescued by their prince.  I perceived it to be that they were Very Very Good.  The general moral that I got from the stories is that girls who are Very Very Good - they were patient, they were cheerful, animals loved them, they were proactively helpful, they never lost their temper - got to live Happily Ever After.

And this made me feel bad about myself because I'm not Very Very Good.  I'm not terribly cheerful - usually the best I can do is copacetic. I try hard to be good, but sometimes I lose my temper.  I don't know how to make people feel good about themselves.  I'm not good at seeing ways to be proactively helpful.  I'm not bad and I'm not mean, but the best I can do is just quietly stay out of everyone's way and not hurt anything.  I'll never have what it takes to be Very Very Good.  So I'll never get to live Happily Ever After.

On top of that, it wasn't just the princesses who were Very Very Good. Most, if not all, of the female protagonists I encountered at a young age were Very Very Good.  Since I'm not Very Very Good, that made me feel insecure in my femininity.  As I've blogged about before, I take after my father, I'm not very feminine-looking and was even less so without the benefit of puberty and makeup, and before I grew my hair long I was constantly mistaken for a boy.  My parents discouraged me from wearing skirts and (in a way that's rather similar to today's parents hand-wringing about princesses) tried to encourage me towards less girly pastimes and media consumption.  This led me into this weird cycle of self-loathing where I thought my parents didn't want me to do girly stuff not just because I'm not pretty enough but because I'm not Very Very Good, and I also thought I was going to turn into a boy because I'm not pretty enough and because of other misunderstandings of how human anatomy works, and I though that my inability to be Very Very Good was a sign that I must really be a boy.  But I didn't want to be a boy, I want to be a girl!  (And for those of you just tuning in, I'm female-born and cisgendered.)

Unfortunately, I don't think this trend of Very Very Good protagonists is going to go away.  Adults want kids to be good, so it makes sense that they'd keep producing children's media where Very Very Good = Happily Ever After.

But children's media could help produce more children who are closer to Very Very Good by teaching kids how to be Very Very Good, perhaps by showing characters who are working on it.  How do you make your friends feel good about themselves?  How do you be patient and never lose your temper?  How do you be proactively helpful? The stories I read as a kid portrayed these characteristics as innate, but they're actually things people can learn and work on.

There's recent research (I'm pretty sure I read it in Malcolm Gladwell, but the specific source escapes me) that kids who think good grades are the result of hard work get better outcomes than kids who think good grades are the result of innate intelligence. I think something similar could happen if virtue were presented as the result of work rather than as innate, as something you have to think about rather than something that comes automatically.