The Blame Game

Men are only clever at shifting blame from their own shoulders to those of others. -- Titus Livius (59 BC - 17 AD)

Who is to blame for what happens when kids do bad things? When something awful happens everyone trots out his or her pet theory. The usual videogames- media- comics- weather- whatever- are- to- blame crowd chimes right in. And on the other side a lot of people throw the whole issue over the wall and blame parents when it comes to violent behavior. Since it's the parents' job to monitor their kids, if something goes wrong it must be the parent's fault. This is particularly popular in the game industry, but it's not exclusive to it. Both the mainstream and gamer species of parental name caller show up whenever there's blood on the floor, or blood in the air of the House of Representatives.

And something awful will happen. Sooner or later, no matter how hard we pray otherwise, someone will snap in a violent way. Some kid will go to school with a loaded weapon and murderous intentions, or beat someone up with a baseball bat. The predictable pundits and media players like our favorite Florida lawyer will get another slice of their 15 minutes of fame replaying their anti-videogame themes even if there aren't any there. The game industry press and forums will create or solemnly resurrect a thread from the past and add more entries casting their own stones of blame. More mainstream outlets like CNET will have polls and comments echoing along.

I don't buy any of it. I submit that people who reflexively blame parents for troubled kid's actions are just as at fault as those who reflexively blame video games. And none of the blaming does any of us a damned bit of good.

Broken Parents, Broken Kids

There are parents who are simply broken. Apalling stories of abuse and neglect like this are an all too common occurrence. And we see the side effects of these situations in the news, such as the case of Devon Moore. He was the young man who shot three cops in Alabama. His defense tried to blame it on his playing the video game Grand Theft Auto. The game is mentioned in every news story, but you have to dig deep to find any story that points out he was also abused, neglected, and shuffled between 21 different homes before he was 6. And no one at all asks where were the people who should have been taking care of him and watching what he was doing and maybe not letting him play several hundred hours of a mature-rated game.

But the parents that really worry me you'll never read about because they're all over the place. The myriad ways people find to mess up the simple but laborious process of taking care of a kid as they grow astound me. It's the benignly indifferent parents, the social engineers who are up on all the latest parenting theories and are busy inflicting them on you and their children, the over-wrought helicopter parents, and the ones who can barely manage to pass enough current through that pint of blue mush between their own ears to take care of themselves much less another human being who are dropping the ball in a hundred little ways every day. In those cases, whether or not their five-year-old is playing GTA is really just the tip of the problem iceberg and no one is looking at this at all.

A lot of people do not seem to believe in any sort of moderation or perspective in behavior of their children, or themselves. Really look at those kids acting like animals at a restaurant. Their parents do nothing, or worse, do something totally ineffective. Now, at what point do you think those parents are going to limit their child's actions? Before or after a school or maybe even the courts get involved? Letting a three year old act like that is one thing. Wait until they try to get control of a 15-year-old that's bigger than them.

And there are kids who are simply broken. There was a news expose on CNN about a young man who brutally murdered a homeless man. Gabe over at Penny Arcade made some very pointed comments about that boy's parents. The next day, he posted an email he received from that boy's stepmother. It detailed their long efforts to get help dealing with this boy and his problems to no avail. Reading the post reminded me so much of the trials I've gone through with my younger son. It took a lot of work but at least the authorities helped us. I hope like heck someone is taking a good look at the policies and procedures for Human Services in that state.

Laymen aren't alone in this blame-game. I know it's hard to take in with today's emphasis on finding first causes and assigning simple solutions to complex problems. But there are things we just do not understand about the way the human mind works.

There are professionals and pundits out there claiming they have all these answers, but no one has really ever conclusively proved a root cause for many problem kids. Any success at all in that area has been on a case-by-case basis; no generally applicable rules have been found. I consider even the case-by-case findings suspect. There are way too many like this case study published in 1997. It's about a 14-year-old who spent two years in an institution who still isn't considered diagnosed. He's been in treatment since he was 3 and showing symptoms since he could walk. This kid was been in a locked-down facility with three different psychiatrists and psychologists trying to figure him out for over two years. They've got three serious disorders to choose from based on his symptoms and they can't decide. But time and time again the aforementioned professionals and pundits who never even met that dead school-shooter want me to believe they truly understand what went on in his brain while he was in his bedroom doing Lord knows what for the last two years.

For many years, the medical community conclusively blamed parenting as the root cause of many mental illnesses. Schizophrenia, autism, depression, and bipolar disorder were all attributed to the actions of the patient's parents. For a blatant example of the thinking of the day, see particularly the fourth and fifth paragraphs of a paper called On the Dynamics of the Manic Depressive Personality, published in 1959 and still cited by various studies today. That's right. The fact that their parents sought upward mobility while they were growing up was causing people to be bipolar. They didn't believe it happened in children at all.

Thanks to new diagnostic tools, we have a very different picture of these illnesses. We still don't have any sort of idea what causes these problems, but at least we're admitting it now instead of claiming we've found a definite cause. But we've still got a long way to go. In a case study entitled "Two adolescents at risk for schizophrenia" published in 1985, excessive use of comic books are considered a leading indicator in a family with two sons who are schizophrenic. I'll buy it as a symptom, but I can't see how they consider it a cause.

Even if they're not broken, they're not perfect.

Even if your family has not been dealt a hand like that, you're not home free. Even the best parents out there are working in a minefield with a blindfold on. No matter how hard you try it isn't going to be good enough. You can be the most jackbooted of fascists or a proponent of the newest and most enlightened parenting techniques, but it's just not possible to be perfect. One of my ironic favorites on this issue is a young man I know out in the great wilds of the Internet who firmly maintains that parents are responsible for everything a kid does without fail. He espouses that position with great fervor, even while he is sneaking behind his parent's backs to be online when he's been grounded from the Internet.

Many of the very vocal proponents of parental responsibility are not parents. There's no sinister reason why. Even if you leave the geeky social stigmas out of it, that younger demographic hasn't started their family yet. And with people waiting later and later to start families even older people may not be on the baby-train yet or have very small children.

They are making a common mistake. They think you have the same real, direct control of teens as you do with your four-year-old. With little ones you decide what they eat, what they wear, when they sleep. Everything. They are with you and supervised 24 hours of every day. They're not quite ready for creating real mayhem yet, either. Their most destructive goal in life is to graduate to a size of Lego small enough they can flush some down the toilet and see what happens because that Barbie head and the orange they tried last month was pretty cool. I have four kids, and they're all teenagers. I wish they would have stuck with flushing things as their favorite pastime. I'm going to tell you a frightening secret: Once a kid hits junior high, parents don't have total control. You're lucky if you know what they ate today. And once they can get around on their own, you're fighting a holding action until they move out.

It takes a lot of hours to just police your own house. They have opportunities left and right to hide things from you and do things you don't approve of. Take a typical day. It's oh-dark-hundred on a weekday morning. Alarm clocks out right next to their heads, but the racket only wakes you. You knock on the doors and call their names to roust the little angels. The girls mumble a bit and emerge from their room already arguing over who gets the big bathroom mirror first. One of the boys slaps the snooze and they both pull the covers over their head. You get dressed, then hit the boy's door again nine minutes later when the alarm starts shrieking again. You open the boys' door this time, though, and after threading your way through the lumps and bumps of their stuff all over the floor you shake shoulders until you get actual responses in a human tongue. They lever themselves out of the bed, and as they blink and weave their way to where they left their jeans over in the opposite corner you are reminded that they're not your "little" angels anymore. They both tower over you by a foot. You tell them both to shave as you head out their door.

The boys stumble into the kitchen fully dressed. One is in a sort of neo-grunge ensemble of black jeans with 42 pockets of varying sizes all over the legs sprouting chains and snaffles at various points, a big thick leather belt with studs and a green t-shirt that reads "NOT GUILTY". The other is dressed in saggy jeans four sizes too large and a fleece pullover that's even bigger. He looks sort of like a penguin wearing a burlap sack. After a couple stern knocks on the bathroom door, the girls roll out in a cloud of scented steam and cargo pants. Whoops! Try again with the shirt, young lady. Why? Because I will be damned by all the Gods in Southern California before you're leaving the house in that. After several rounds about the shirt and a quick check on who has what plans for after school they all shoulder their 40-pound backpacks and hit the bus stop or start walking. On the way out the door the penguin kisses you on the top of the head, and the one in the green shirt reminds you he has Drama practice around a mouthful of bagel. The girls give you a smile and a wave from the corner. You clean up the breakfast mess (discovering that both girls managed to get out of the house without actually eating more than a bite or two) and head off to work.

Do you know what's in all those pockets all over their clothes? They do their own laundry now, so unless you are rifling their drawers or patting them down on a frequent basis I don't see how. How about inside the bottom part of their box spring? When was the last time you saw the top back shelf of their closet? What about the rest of the house? There are hiding spots everywhere. When was the last time you really looked at what was on the household computers? Do you even know their username and password? How about the Guest account? Have you seen their MySpace and Facebook pages? Do you know what their profiles on those sites say about them? Do you regularly search the trunk of your child's car or under the seats? One of my kids even resorted to snail-mail once to try to get around me and my controls on their computer. Are you looking at that?

Even if you do manage perfect coverage at your house, look outside it. Afternoon rolls around, and they call you at work to check in when they walk in the door. You're not home? Well, they're 16. They don't even qualify as latch-key kids anymore. Besides, even if you were there, it's not like you're watching them like a hawk out the kitchen window while they are playing in the back yard. The old swings hang empty now. The whole neighborhood is milling around from house to house to mall to sports to jobs to activities, and your kids are all a part of the big stew. Then the real worrying begins.

They're supposed to check in once an hour, or when they go to a new place. Great. But with the advent of cell phones you can't even be certain what area code they're in when they check in. Heck, whose phone number is that? Is it yet another new one for Tanya the Lost Phone Queen, or is that a new one for that Rachael chick again? They aren't pulling any nonsense when they're driving your car, but when was the last time you really checked theirs for anything more than repairs and general cleanliness? You don't have any say at all in their friend's car. You may have your Internet locked down, but not Joey-down-the-street's. His PC, game systems, and Internet connection are wide open and in his room behind closed doors and he has a very nice DVD writer. You've already talked to his parents once about the risks they're taking, but they gave you a whole spiel about how very mature he is and how they don't want to invade his privacy so I don't think they've done much. And then there's that Rob kid. Everyone talks about him, but you've never met him. He seems to know everyone and Tanner called looking for him again. I wonder why? Is he really that popular, or are the rumors he's dealing true? Tanner's dad is out of treatment again, but judging by the fact that he's drinking a beer in his front yard at 3pm it didn't stick this time either. I think the Tanner and the boys will be spending the night here on Friday rather than over there.

Do you know all their friends, and all their friend's friends? How about the friend-of-a-friend "hook ups" for drugs/alcohol/cigarettes, game systems and older-rated games, magazine collections (guns as well as porn). What about that kid down the street whose parent's liquor cabinet has a bad lock, or whose parents don't mind if he drinks or has sex as long as he's at home? Have you looked around your neighborhood lately? There's that spot down at the end of that one road where they all gather. What are they doing? You'll drive yourself crazy. For a parent, weekday afternoons are a hundred times worse than that evil hour right after curfew on a Friday night.

What's that? Your little angel wouldn't do that? I beg to differ. My little angels didn't find that tree down by the school parking lot where they stashed their oh-so-unfashionable coats themselves; they were initiated into the mysteries of it by a junior high friend when they were in sixth grade. Every neighborhood has "stash" spots where the kids leave stuff you won't allow in the house. They just pick it up when they go back out. Watch the paths the kids take to school, and then walk along them after they've gone home one afternoon looking for out of the way nooks and crannies. You'll be amazed at what you can find and they all know who uses which one every day. This information and other ways they all help each other get around their parents and teachers percolate through the school yard along the same channels that carried the lyrics to that "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory Of the Burning of the School" song and the first five verses to "Mary Had a Steamboat" back when they were in elementary school.

And even with all your hard work, look closely at the yearbook they bring home at the end of the school year and you might just find a picture of your daughter in that shirt you thought you didn't allow out of the house. Cramming a skimpy little top into a corner of a huge backpack full of books is a no-brainer. Crap. I forgot the backpacks.

I don't think me being even more of a fascist would solve anything or even be healthy for the kids. And I am a fascist. I am wicked, mean, evil, bad, and nasty. I limit content ruthlessly at my house, and they are under strict monitoring when it comes to the computer and the other hardware. I require pretty much constant contact when they're out and about. I require any kid who comes over to my house to conform to the house rules. I expect my kids to follow those rules when they're out and about, too, but I'm realistic about it. Their friends keep coming back in large flocks, so it can't be too awful. And even with all that in place I've coped with every one of the situations I listed here, and a few festive variations I'll save for my tell-all book or my therapist. If you think back into the mists of prehistory you might remember a few things from your own teen years that you decided your parents were better off not knowing you had or did.

So now what?

Awful things happen. Violent behavior by youth is nothing new, and it happens all over the world. And every decade there has been some new scapegoat for it. Radio, comic books, television, movies, and rock-n-roll have all taken their turn standing where video games and rap music stand today in the minds of those who insist on finding something to blame for their problems. Parents always seem to be standing right beside the media target of the day. No one has any real black-and-white answers that actually solve anything.

There are no certainties and parents have no real guidance. All I know is I have to keep my kids from doing what that news report says that other kid did. How? No one knows what causes it. So what do I watch out for? That pundit says it is all the fault of this one thing, this news article says it's another. My pastor says I need to pray more, and my Mom decries the entire state of the world these days. Everyone has their pet theories and parents are dangled above the abyss, swinging between them all.

When these things happen, we need to start by looking at the entire problem. There are many factors that add up to make a bad situation into a violent tragedy and they all need to be assessed. Some parents and kids are broken, some kids really can't handle violent media the same way the rest of us can. Blindly throwing all blame on parents without giving them the tools to know what's going on or the authority to enforce that responsibility doesn't help anyone either. Maybe if we stop just assigning blame and start looking for solutions, we can do something to help these families before that tragedy has to strike.

Comments

I wondered why it was so long in coming.

Good grief, said Charlie Brown. I stopped at your fourth link and realized I needed more time to digest this. How did you meet so many of my students in writing this article?

Great, great stuff. It's a real honour to be able to enjoy your writing talent and wisdom here at GWJ.

An absolutely amazing, brilliant article. Easily one of the best to ever grace the front page of Gamers With Jobs. Momgamer, you are to be commended.

They do their own laundry now

Holy Cow! You're doing a great job!

Also, they acknowledged your existence on the way out, so you're way ahead of the game (but you knew that already).

Thanks for the article. It's nice to hear the other parents are just taking their best shot and praying, too.

Thank you for this excellent article. I'm afraid I belonged to the 'parents-are-mostly-to-blame-for-their-kids' club, but your article made me realise that I can't point fingers. Not only do I not have kids (thank god...) but I have not lived at home for long enough to forget how many tricks we used to have for concealing things from our parents. And while I do think that a lot of parents are making a complete shambles of raising their kids, it would be generalising to say that all juvenile problems are the fault of the parents. There are a lot of parents (like you, from the sounds of it) who are doing their best, and more, are doing a decent job of it too.

A good article is one that challenges a reader's perceptions, and makes them think, and possibly convinces them that things aren't the way they think they are. Yours has succeeded on that score, with this reader. Thank you.

PS: First post after some major lurkage! I feel all warm and fuzzy inside!

Opera clap.

Rallick sums it up for me as well. Even as a parent, I've fallen into that camp reflexively more often than not.

This is fine, well reasoned, and thought provoking. I mean "fine" in the superlative sense, not the passive aggressive sense.

Gee... thanks. I have a 3 and 2 year old at home and now I'm officially afraid to have them grow up. Not because of the potential for violence and such but because your story reminded me the time is going to come when I can't give them hugs and tickle them mercilessly whenever I want.

Great, great article!
---Todd

Great article momgamer. I don't have kids (and don't plan on having kids), but I couldn't stop reading. One of the most level headed articles I've ever read on parenting. Keep it up!

Someone around me once said that if you want to raise your kid, don't worry about teaching him lessons, watching every move, or having him register at all moments -- preventitive parenting generally revolves around gently pushing him to peers of his that you approve of. Of course, this is much easier when they're younger. =)

I really think I messed that all kinds of up.

Holy crap that was a good read. Blogged...linked...and delivered.

Thanks.

I can't remember if I've read a writer anywhere that had the guts to not assign a quick fix to this problem. There really is no quick solution. So many enviromental factors influence us on a daily basis that its just impossible to say one factor drives people to kill. Like you said there is so much we just don't know about how our brains function. Moreover, parents can't lock their children away in a closet and then release them to college. I've seen this happen and its not pretty. A kid that's been confined and under surveillance for seventeen years has no clue how to handle the relative freedom and self responsibility that college offers. Rapid burnout, social shunning and suicide can occur. I really believe that when you have a child that child becomes a hostage to fate. This is something that many would be parents just don't think about before having kids.

Wow! Great article. I'm still in the parenting stage where my kids are young enough that I have some semblance of control. It's chilling to read your description of the realities of raising teenagers. Thanks for sharing this and good luck with the parenting - it sounds like you have a great perspective.

Urge to procreate... diminishing

Good one, MG.

As a parent of two young kids, I dread the junior high / high school years because I vividly remember all the sleepless nights I inflicted on my parents. I don't believe that any amount of good parenting could have saved me from becoming a complete asshole when I turned 14.

Wow! Great Article. Fear of God, Wrath of Khan level stuff. I consider myself well warned for the coming years. At 5 and 7 I have a few to go until my boy and girl are teens and I would guess the landscape will have changed by then for the worse. If I compare my childhood, young adulthood and parenthood to the one you just described, I must say my schoolmates and I did do things our parents might not have been happy with, but today those things are accepted as ok.

It's actually scary how in 25 years or so how much has changed. Kids are the same but there are a greater number of influences on those angelic minds. As a parent, we are busier then ever before and our children tend to mimic that behaviour. My two have a lot more going on then I did at 6 or 7. Those were the days when you got home from school and you were outside until Dinner was called around the neighborhood. Sad to say, those days are gone. Now its dancing, soccer, drama, play dates.... Family time is cherished. I feel incredibly lucky that my wife and I have time to spend with the kids in the afternoon or evening. We have kiggered our schedules to maximize the time that at least one of us is around and still we hear them ask for more of it.

The lesson there is to give your time now when they are young in the hope that they will continue to want a little of it when they are older. Being involved and trying to shape them on a daily basis is the parents' job. Some are better equipped then others and yes some parents and kids are broken but statistically I believe that those with parents trying hard do better then those who are neglected or whose parents just aren't getting it done.

I am firmly in the 'parents bear a great deal of responsibility for how there kids grow up and turn out' group. I also believe that you do not get a vote to lay all the blame on this group if you don't have kids. If you haven't lived the fear, heart break, elation and love of raising them, you don't get to have an opinion on how well parents are doing. However, if you are in the thick of it, at least your opinion is based in some reality as to what goes on in a child's life on a daily basis. This gives you the ability to have an 'informed opinion'. It may be wrong but at least you have some knowledge of what parents are up against.

The classic mentioned above is kids eating out at a restaurant. I know what I did to enable my family to have a nice meal out that does not bother other diners. I am also somewhat unsupportive of parents who are not even making the effort. I hold that position because I went through it, and my kids behave in a restaurant. I know it can be done and in fact it wasn't especially hard compared to teaching my kids other things. So step it up and get control of the screaming 6 year old. However, you didn't have kids, well then, sit back and bite your tongue or go have some and see how hard it is. As an example, your loud talking on your cell phone is bothering me. Did your parents drop the ball there and not teach you manners at a public dinner table? I guess so. Its not that you have elected to be rude, you are not old enough to know better etc.... Your parents just didn't teach you.

So, yes there are a myriad of outside influences but parents are the ones to do their best to filter, explain and put those in perspective. But parents do not bear all of the burden. Society and what occurs in it has a profound effect on the kids and as mentioned above you are in a holding action as they get older. You can only do your best and hope it is good enough. Set a good example, help them understand and maybe just maybe you will be lucky enough to turn out some great young adults who are not broken.

As has been said already, superb article momgamer. My hopes as a father of 2, is that my children emerge from childhood with at least one thing, respect. I feel that is the most important value to hold.

Wow, I'm glad you've been given front page status here at GWJ to go along with what you've shared with us earlier at GamerDad. We've got one teen and one tween, and it's a daily battle to keep doing what you can to keep your own cool while firmly parenting them and guiding them toward what's best.

At least for us, it appears as if, for now, they reserve their worst choices for when they're with us -- even with the semi-regular social difficulties of our son with Asberger's, we get told how well-behaved our kids are. And knowing just how far our kids actually can go wrong in their attitude/behavior, it frightens me about what else is out there, if our kids are "the good ones"!

cmitts wrote:

I am also somewhat unsupportive of parents who are not even making the effort. I hold that position because I went through it, and my kids behave in a restaurant. I know it can be done and in fact it wasn't especially hard compared to teaching my kids other things. So step it up and get control of the screaming 6 year old. However, you didn't have kids, well then, sit back and bite your tongue or go have some and see how hard it is.

I don't get what you're trying to say here. Are you taking the position that only the diners with children have a right to complain when a parent takes a misbehaving child into a restaurant?

Indignant wrote:

I really believe that when you have a child that child becomes a hostage to fate.

Like we all are.

Great article. I already feel like my 7 year old daughter is growing up too fast, and I sometimes wish I could keep my little 2 year old son at that age forever. You love your kids so much it hurts, but ultimately they are Humans of this world just as we are, subject to all the pleasure and pain that life will bring. What can parents do? Kids are like runaway locomotives, they have their own path, their own destiny that goes beyond us. We can only try to prepare them to make good decisions when we aren't around. All I can say about that is that from early on we are trying to emphasize consequences. One day, you will be free to do whatever you want - but for everything you do, there are consequences. Imagine the results of your actions. Control your actions to manage the results. The rest is luck.

Cannibal Crowley wrote:

I don't get what you're trying to say here. Are you taking the position that only the diners with children have a right to complain when a parent takes a misbehaving child into a restaurant?

No, They can complain and have a right to. I am saying that they do not get to pass judgment on the parents if they in fact do not have children. Everyone is entitled to a peaceful dining experience (unless you go to Chuckie Cheese on a Saturday), just don't jump on the bad parent band wagon if you are not a parent because at that point you are giving reasons to something you have no direct knowledge about.

The point here is the word misbehaving. What appears as misbehavior may be something else. For example: the child might be hungry and will quiet down once his/her blood sugar is stabilized. In that case is it the parents fault that the child is hungry or the unexpected 30-40 minute wait in a restaurant that is understaffed. On the other hand they may indeed be bad parents and the child may be acting out etc...

I guess what I am trying to say albeit it poorly is before you jump on the parents for bad parenting there are times when other factors are at work. If the person viewing the situation hasn't experienced that then their point of view would be somewhat skewed. It's still a point of view, but one as a parent I feel would be incomplete. To take it a step further I have heard and overheard comments on child rearing and social adjustments suggested by non-parents that are way off the mark at least from my perspective as a parent. Yet they are stated as fact and with force even though they at times likely have no understanding of what is going on.

Too back up a bit though, sometimes you can tell when parents are being bad parents even if you aren't a parent. It can be cut and dried. I think it is just that people do not always realize what is going on. To one of the many points in MomGamer's article the Teen years are different then the pre-teen years at least from a control perspective. I haven't lived the teen years so I do not really know what they will be like. Yes I am a parent, and therefore have a little insight, but I don't have a teen or a tween so I should likely try and remember that I do not know what a teen parent is experiencing and should take into account that my thoughts and opinions are likely incomplete.

One of the finest articles on any subject I've read in a long time momgamer. I do often tend to point the finger at parents, mostly because in my job that involves being in people's homes all day, I often see the type of kid you mentioned who gets to do whatever they want in however rude a manner they want without being challenged on it. I almost can't stand going to restaurants anymore because of children who act like brats and their parents who just sit there. And I still believe that parents who refuse to take a firm stance on issues with their kids because "they might warp them" or are just plain afraid are a big factor in why so many kids have behavioral problems. Most of these parents are also the ones who scream about video games or tell my Mom who works in a school library that she's a bad person because she raised her voice to a kid who wouldn't listen.

Your article has given me some new perspective on the issue and combined with the Penny Arcade e-mail you mentioned, do make me realize that sometimes a parents can try their hardest with the best of intentions and still not be able to succeed. Some kids unfortunately just can't be helped and that's truly unfortunate. My main concern is that society as a whole doesn't start accepting the argument that it's "just the games" or "just the parents." If only one facet of society gets blamed, then no one will be helped.

While I will not claim to be any sort of authority on parenting not having any kids of my own I do feel that I have some idea how the game works having been a kid at some point or another : P I agree wholeheartedly with the article posted above. There are far too many factors that contribute to a person's life experience to simply pick one at random and point the finger of blame. Hell I will be 29 in a few days and I still have no definite answer for why I do some of the things I do. I don't blame my parents or my schooling or the people I hung out with or the video games I played for any of the things I have done wrong or any failures along the way to who I am now. I know for a fact that the majority of the things I have done wrong were the result of a fairly conscious decision on my part. I knew they were wrong and did them anyway. The fact that I knew what I did was wrong is a fair indication that my parents did their job pretty well. *shrug*

A parent's job in my opinion is not so much to direct their child's life for them every step of the way as it is to guide them and inform them so that when they reach a fork in the road that they will be able to make an informed decision. Sometimes that decision will be the wrong one no matter how well a child's parents have prepared them for it. I know I have done more than a few things in my youth that were wrong, illegal, or just plain stupid. Sometimes doing the wrong thing is simply more fun. There is nothing my parents could have done short of chaining me up and leaving me socially retarded for all eternity that could have prevented me from doing these things. I knew they were wrong, illegal, stupid and I understood the consequences of my actions yet I did them anyway.

There are millions of things in the world that can provide a bit of a negative influence. Violent video games, being bullied at school, the news media, the internet, movies, religion, politicians, friends, advertisements, the weather, etc etc. Different things influence different people... I would almost be willing to guarantee that if you look deep into the lives of any of the folks who commit violent crimes and blame it on video games or parents that you would be able to find multiple negative influences. It could be a bad home life coupled with being bullied at school, mental illness coupled with violent video games, religion coupled with severe anxiety, repressed sexuality coupled with sex in the media, poor parenting coupled with peer pressure, etc etc. There are so many possibilities that I don't think the blame could ever be definitively laid at the feet of video games or parents or any other major media outlet. They are just the easiest scapegoats.

I really don't see any way to have a 100% guarantee that a child will make all of the right decisions without placing them in a completely controlled and sterile environment from birth through death. Who would want to live like that? The best that can be done is to control the things we can and do what we can to provide children with the tools they will need to get through the things we cannot. The reality is sometimes it is just the kids, not the parenting, not the video games, not the fact that Joe Camel looks like a giant penis... *shrug*

cmitts wrote:

No, They can complain and have a right to. I am saying that they do not get to pass judgment on the parents if they in fact do not have children. Everyone is entitled to a peaceful dining experience (unless you go to Chuckie Cheese on a Saturday), just don't jump on the bad parent band wagon if you are not a parent because at that point you are giving reasons to something you have no direct knowledge about.

You make some good points in your article but the problem I have with many parents today (again I say not all of them) is that many seem to think they are perfectly OK to have a misbehaving child in a restaurant and not have to do anything about it. When I was young, if I started to throw a tantrum in a restaurant or a grocery store or whatever, my mother took me out of the place until I calmed down. Around here, most parents just sit there, often not even attempting to calm the child down, just assuming the rest of the people in the establishment should just tolerate it. More than once when having a weekly Sunday breakfast outing we take with some friends, I've had to ask someone to get control of their child and you should see the "How dare you!" look I get.

This is going to sound crass and I'm not a parent so I apologize if I come off badly but I am of the belief that if you have children and can't or are not prepared to keep them under control in a restaurant, then you forfeit your right to go to restaurants with other people until you can either get a babysitter or the child becomes of an age where it can behave. I've always felt that people such as those described above walk around with a sense of entitlement that because they have children, it's everyone else's responsibility to tolerate how they choose to discipline them (or not) in a public spot where the child's behaviour affects everyone else's experience. In my opinion, it doesn't work that way. If you choose to have children, then there are certain responsibilities that come with that including perhaps having to limit your outings to places such as restaurants if you happen to have a child that can't avoid throwing a tantrum. Or if you have one, that you remove it from that environment until it calms down.

This may change if I do ever have children (I really am undecided right now) but for now I see my city passing by-laws saying you can't smoke in restaurants, you can't wear perfume in restaurants and all these other things you can't do because it disturbs others. If those are acceptable rules (often advocated by the same people I've been talking about), then I see nothing wrong with setting some strong rules for how these parents must handle their children in the same public spaces.

Quintin_Stone wrote:

Urge to procreate... diminishing

Same here.

It seems to me that there are more under-socialized people out there, and sometimes they have kids. For instance, the 20-something woman who wouldn't stop talking on her cell phone during the movie we were watching, then was outraged when I shushed her. There just seems to be less of a sense of community in general, and that encourages more anti-social behavior. If you don't think there are consequences to your actions, then why not just do what you want? I think that's an issue that's larger than parenting.

Great article, momgamer. I think there is a general tendency to want to treat people in a "scientific" manner, and believe that they will behave predictably. Unfortunately, people are not electrons. There are so many behavioral variations that blanket statements of "the problem" and "the fix" don't work very well.

cmitts wrote:

No, They can complain and have a right to. I am saying that they do not get to pass judgment on the parents if they in fact do not have children.

By that logic, one can't pass judgment on a soldier/politician/gangbanger if he hasn't been a soldier/politician/gangbanger himself. It's like a blanket ad hominem.

Parallax Abstraction wrote:

This is going to sound crass and I'm not a parent so I apologize if I come off badly but I am of the belief that if you have children and can't or are not prepared to keep them under control in a restaurant, then you forfeit your right to go to restaurants with other people until you can either get a babysitter or the child becomes of an age where it can behave.

I am a parent, and I approve this message.

Paid for by Supportive Parents Against Non-behaving Kids

CannibalCrowley wrote:

By that logic, one can't pass judgment on a soldier/politician/gangbanger if he hasn't been a soldier/politician/gangbanger himself. It's like a blanket ad hominem.

I'm sort of in the middle here. On the one hand, I agree that there are some things that are difficult to process unless you've been there. I do believe there are SOME situations where it's very easy to pass judgment on a soldier, for instance, if you've never been there (and I haven't), and where I think the "unless you've walked a mile" sentiment applies.

Children's behaviour in public is something different, and there are extremes on both ends. I've seen parents backhand their kids in public. To me, you don't need to be a parent either to say something, do something, or anything else. Even if you don't say anything, I have no problem if someone thinks to themselves "that person is an a-hole, an abusive twit, and should have their parenting license revoked."

On the other hand, I have also seen people shooting nasty looks at the woman on the plane with the screaming child. In that case, truly, unless you've been there, you have no idea how much more it sucks to be the parent than the passenger.

Parallax Abstraction wrote:

This is going to sound crass and I'm not a parent so I apologize if I come off badly but I am of the belief that if you have children and can't or are not prepared to keep them under control in a restaurant, then you forfeit your right to go to restaurants with other people until you can either get a babysitter or the child becomes of an age where it can behave.

It may come as a surprise but I completely agree with you. If your child is in fact misbehaving then you should do something about it. If you sit there and do nothing you are A. not letting my family and I enjoy our meal, B. Doing a disservice to your children and C. Showing that in your opinion your world is more important then everyone else's around you.

My wife and I have taught our children what is appropriate behavior for in this case dining out and I have no qualms or worries that there will be any issues with them at any restaurant I take them to. If your child can't behave then you should dine at 'Family Friendly' restaurants where there acting out will be lost in the overall din.

No matter how formal and hushed it may be, I know my kids will act appropriately. What I don't appreciate is the looks I get when I do go out to such a restaurant or the need for the Host to seat me in a back corner by the kitchen. While I can give the host a little leeway for what he does, I feel the looks from the other patrons should at least be held until there is a reason to give them.

Overall it comes down to misbehavior and the lack of parental response versus a child who has an affliction or ailment that causes issues or is just plain old hungry. In both of these cases I think understanding is required versus the case of misbehavior for which your assessment is spot on.

Parallax Abstraction wrote:

This is going to sound crass and I'm not a parent so I apologize if I come off badly but I am of the belief that if you have children and can't or are not prepared to keep them under control in a restaurant, then you forfeit your right to go to restaurants with other people until you can either get a babysitter or the child becomes of an age where it can behave.

In this case I have to wholly agree with you. It's not a matter of misbehaving children or bad parenting at this point. It's simply a lack of common courtesy on the part of the parent/guardian. If you cannot control your child for whatever reason then you should remove yourself and the child from the situation. If this were a grocery store or something there is the potential need to tolerate that type of behavior. The parent could be a single parent and not have the means to remove the child from the situation while trying to obtain the things necessary to survive. A restaurant however is something completely different. If your child is being offensive to those around you perhaps you should take your food to go or at the very least remove the child from the situation until they calm down. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule like Chuckie Cheese but even in that type of environment there is still an acceptable level of courtesy.

I went out to eat with my neighbor at a mexican restaurant a few nights back. It's a pretty family-friendly establishment, they have a nice play area out in front that is similar to a giant sandbox with things for kids to play on while waiting for a table. So it's obviously the type of place you can take your kids for a meal and if they get a little noisy while having a good time it's not a big deal. However sitting at a table near us is a family of ~7-8 folks w/ 2 fairly little children. They are obviously there celebrating someone in the group's birthday as there are presents and such around. One of the kids is getting a little rowdy here and there which is no big deal. This same kid however is continually throwing things on the ground. Food, napkins, paper from the kids menu, silverware, etc all piling up. No one at the table is doing anything to discourage this kid from simply trashing the area.

By the time they left there was a pile of food and trash under and surrounding this kid's chair that was probably twice as much as what you are served in an average dinner plate there. It was a huge mess. Some poor bastard at the restaurant is going to have to clean that up and no one there seemed to think anything of it. To me this is just terribly inconsiderate. It's understood that a child will potentially be messy while eating but to simply let them trash the place without even a minimal attempt at preventing it or picking up after them is just negligent. At some point parents have to take into consideration the way their child's actions may affect others. If you can't control the child at least you can limit their ability to inconvenience other people. *shrug*

rabbit wrote:

To me, you don't need to be a parent either to say something, do something, or anything else.

I agree, but it seems like there are a lot of crazy parents out there who view other people correcting their children as a capital offense. Back when I coached hockey, I had one parent yell at me because I "punished her kid" by sitting him out a shift because he called me a name. I told him what I was doing and why, and he seemed to understand just fine, but she was ready to call the Supreme Court. God forbid that someone teach your kid about what's appropriate, lady.