Thursday, February 16, 2012

Do You Know the Ten Things We Should Never Say to Kids?

It's no secret that I think raising children is a drag. Not so much when they’re young. But an astonishing number of parents don’t want it to end; the ones who invoke cheery sayings  like, “Once a Dad, always a Dad...” and, “She’ll always be my little girl...” I don’t know; that creeps me out a little. 

Seriously. Am I the only one who finds it the tiniest bit needy when parents conspire to keep their offspring dependent into their twenties? Because if you don’t, you may not be wild about my counterproposal that the whole point of parenting—THE WHOLE POINT—is raising adults. Right? Our finished product is people who, under our influence, bit by bit, stop acting like children and start acting like grownups. 

What would keep reasonably high-functioning women and men from accomplishing what seems like an obviously beneficial objective? Put another way: Are there upsides to withholding vital information and training from our children, and so raising people who have a higher than economically-necessary likelihood of boomeranging back into our households — or not leaving in the first place? I have as yet found any upsides that aren’t more than offset by negative consequences.

One result of these considerations is a list (of course — I list, therefore I am). I call this list: Ten Things We Should Never Say to Kids.  So, what are the ten things we should never say to kids?

Thing 01 — Do You Have Your Jacket-Homework-Gym-Bag-Back-Pack-Keys?
Unless you intend to be available each day for the rest of your life to advise your offspring on each detail of her life, won’t you both be happier if she learns to consider the obligations and options before her and devise her own plans for the day? And who will help her learn that skill set if you don’t?

Thing 02 — What Were You Thinking!
That’s a question that isn’t a question; it’s a setup. The only remotely safe response to, “What were you thinking?” is a reply guaranteed to leave all parties feeling worse: “I don’t know.”

Thing 03 Because I Said So.
Really? That’s all you got? Then, what happens when your child is pressured to believe something or do something that doesn’t seem quite right to him but his only argument against it is, “Because my mom-dad-church-rabbi-imam-teacher-mentor-boss-government said so”? How do you expect that to turn out?

Thing 04 You Are Such a Pretty Little Thing.
Whatever you intend to communicate by this sort of language, what if your daughter makes the mistaken inference that she is loved because she is lovely? Sooner than later, your voice will be replaced by the voices of less benevolent, more self-interested parties who will use your words against her. And what then? 

Thing 05 I’m Proud of You!
Is there any level on which you actually intend that your child should grow up believing that 1) it is his job to make you proud (and keep you in that state of bliss), or 2) that his efforts, ingenuity and accomplishments reflect credit on you as much as him? 

Thing 06 You Can Do Anything You Set Your Mind To.
No she can’t. That’s a con. The best you can promise is, “If you think you can, you might; if you think you can’t, you won’t. So, let’s talk about what’s worth attempting for its own sake; or because it contributes to a larger good.”

Thing 07 Let Me Tell You What Happened Here.
The world and everything in it is magic to kids who have everything explained to them by experts. Not magical; magic. As in: I don’t know how that works but my old man does and I am mightily impressed. If the upside of this is that your kid is impressed, the downside is you’ve simply impressed an eleven-year-old. Whatever your next trick may be, it won’t last.

Thing 08 That’s Not How You Do It!
Who died and made me or you or anybody else the sole authority on the one right way to tackle a problem, meet a challenge, solve a puzzle, render a service or navigate from point A to point B? Nobody, that’s who. Innovation comes early and often from people who are steadily affirmed for their contributions instead of being constantly berated for failing to do things the right way. Caveat: If there really is only one right way to do something, help kids learn to understand why that way and that way alone will do. Otherwise, surely you have something more pressing to attend to…

Thing 09 Don’t Make Me Turn This Car Around.
Who are you kidding? You’re not going to turn the car around. What? You are? OK, then, own it. If you turn the car around, do it because it serves a purpose you can name. But don’t let them make you do it; and don’t let them believe they can make you do such things against your will or better judgment.

Thing 10 I Give Up.
We get do-overs. We get to change our minds. We get to shift strategies. We get to adjust tactics. We get to back off and see what happens. We get to help kids pick up the pieces, learn from their mistakes, reboot, dig out of the rubble, rise from the ashes. We don’t get to give up on our children. 

I think complying with a cease and desist order on some of these things would be very hard. Others not as much. I wonder if you and your child’s other parent would agree on which ones are harder. I also think holding my tongue on some of these things would produce deafening silence, followed perhaps by testing. Which is why I devised and borrowed other things to say instead of the toxic ten

But we start by stopping; creating space to think less toxic thoughts which can be spun into better words than we had before. These more useful words don’t fit what is generally regarded as “article length.” So they’re part of an eBook called…wait for it…Ten Thinks We Should Never Say to Kids—the lowbrow literary equivalent of being sent to our room to think about it. It’s OK; we’re allowed come out when we’re ready to behave.

Download your very own copy of Ten Things We Should Never Say to Kids...

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