Dear Kid Whisperer:
I have two questions for you.
Am I mean?
Also, am I a bad person?
I ask these questions because I have been seeking parenting advice on Facebook recently. I have been trying to get some answers from people on topics like when I should have my 7-year-old start doing dishes or if I should have my 11-year-old start mowing the lawn. Almost everyone acts like I’m awful if I put my kids to work. I feel like either I’m right and my kids are capable of doing these things, or that I’m incompetent, or that I’m going crazy. Please tell me I’m not going crazy.
Answer: I see no evidence of you being crazy. You do not appear to be mean, and I doubt that you are a bad person.
In normal, face-to-face, human-to-human discourse, there is a rhetorical dynamic that has been happening since the advent of the word “parenting” in the 1960s. I call it “Cutest Answer Wins”: While standing in a group of human parents, one human parent says something “cute” like, “I just think if you love your kids enough, and listen to them enough, and hug them enough, they will behave and be wonderful people.” When people espouse this garbage, no one is very likely to contradict it because to do so might expose them to accusations of being mean or being bad people, or even that they must not really love their kids if they are not behaving. Meanwhile, human parents who agree with this nonsense will do so publicly, making them feel better while everyone else feels worse/lonely/crazy/mean.
Social media increases the power of Cutest Answer Wins exponentially. This human dynamic, which makes us afraid to be called out publicly and rewards people for saying things that appear to be cute and nice (but are incorrect), is just an inherent feature of social media.
Here’s an alternative to getting advice from social media. Go ask reasonable people who are older and wiser than you. If your own parents are still around, maybe talk to them.
You may want to get off social media altogether. If you don’t, I suggest never asking for advice on any platforms. Instead, you can be a brave person who refuses to play Cutest Answer Wins. This is how I would do it using your questions:
Kid Whisperer: I make my 7-year-old do dishes, especially BECAUSE it requires hard work and is kind of gross. I also make my 11-year-old mow the lawn, especially BECAUSE it makes him hot and sweaty, is difficult, and challenges him physically. I love making my kids better, stronger and more resilient by challenging them every day.
Also, I DO NOT CARE WHAT ANYONE THINKS ABOUT THIS. PLEASE DON’T COMMENT WITH YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT HOW THE WAY I DO THINGS IS MEAN OR WRONG.
Judgy Parent #1: I am just trying to understand… you think you are helping your child by traumatizing them with work? I am offended by your lack of thoughtfulness in raising a global citizen who can truly empathize with others according to the Zurich World Charter of Niceness of 2008. We should all re-swaddle our children in hypo-allergenic extra-soft bubble wrap so as not to chafe their sensitive tushies. In summation, I am good, and you are bad.
Kid Whisperer: I will refer you to my original post. If you comment again, I will delete your comment. Thanks.
Stay resilient, my fellow strong parent.
Behavioral consultant Scott Ervin, M.Ed, is a parent and former teacher and principal. He is the author of “The Classroom Behavior Manual: How to Build Relationships, Share Control, and Teach Positive Behaviors,” published by ASCD. More information can be found at www.behavioralleadership.com
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