Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Parenting 101 - Teaching Your Kid to Not Be an Asshole

Parenting, as it were, is a remarkably simple task that is very, very hard to accomplish correctly. 

All you really have to do is make sure they have enough food to not starve, and are safe enough that they survive childhood without getting run over by the UPS truck, and you’ve successfully raised an adult.  The trick is that in doing so, you probably haven’t raised a very well-adjusted, happy, or productive adult.  This is the part that people make out to be trickier than it needs to be. 

There is one thing that I would suggest that all new parents get through their thick skulls in whatever way possible, and it is this:

Kids absolutely, positively need boundaries.  Their little minds crave them.  They have to know what is right and what is wrong.  They are hard-wired to NEED a black and white world.  In everything that they do, and every act that they partake in, they need to know that in doing right, there will be reward, and in doing wrong, there will be consequence.  Their little brains crave this.

Proof of this is easy to find – locate a child whose parents have not set boundaries, and look at what that child invariably does:

Bad things. 

Increasingly bad things, to be exact; things with no benefit to the child at all, other than to just be bad.  This is not because children are jerks; it is because that kid is craving boundaries, and will continue to do increasingly bad things until he finally gets an adult to tell him “NO!  This far, and no further!” 

He isn’t being a jerk because kids are wired to be that way – he’s begging for someone to give him the black and white world that he craves, even if subconsciously.  Yeah, he’ll be all pissy when you tell him “no,” but at the end of the day, he’ll be a happier, more fulfilled child to know that his world has boundaries and is black and white. 

This is why giving your child a say in the way he or she is raised is horribly damaging to them, psychologically.  They don’t want a say.  They want rules and boundaries, and even punishment when they go outside those boundaries.  They want their parents to be infallible gods, not fallible humans who need to ask them advice before they make a decision; who collaborate with children before they choose.  The kid will appear to rebel against rules on the surface.  They’ll whine about bedtime, and get mad when they don’t get their way, but in the end, they will be happier children than they will be if you give them the run of the roost and let them “express” themselves.  They don’t want to “express” themselves in that way, nor will society allow them to “express” themselves when they grow up, resulting in a shock to their system when they learn that everything that they know and learned as a kid is untrue.  They want to be safe and secure, and KNOW, not just hope, that the people in charge of them, taking care of them, and setting rules for them have it under control.  There is nothing worse for a child to suspect that their parent doesn’t have it under control.  Asking your kid if it is okay to do this or that is like telling them that they are in control, not you, and that scares the shit out of them. 

Look at what happens when kids get old enough to learn that their infallible parents aren’t really infallible; when they become teenagers, and they become defiant and sassy and insubordinate.  But then, they are adult enough, and have enough life behind them to deal with that.  Parents that don’t do these things for their young children get the same defiance and sass and insubordination of a teen that’s discovered that their parents aren’t god, but from a much younger child.  In essence, those parents have forced their toddler or pre-teen into becoming teenagers much sooner than they are wired to be, and this isn’t good because they AREN’T adult enough, and they DON’T have enough life behind them to be able to deal with that. 

So all of that, coupled with one more thing:

Teach your kid not to be an asshole. 

My friend has a daughter that doesn’t really have very stout boundaries set, and who has been given a controlling vote in decisions made in her life since day one.  She is eight years old.  Her controlling vote comes in the form of throwing temper tantrums or whining.  Once she does either, she generally gets her way.  Oh, sure, her parents express their discomfort at her actions and scold her, but in the end, she usually wins, and they usually lose. 

So they’ve trained her that the way to get what she wants in life is to whine until she gets her way, and then throw a crying tantrum if that doesn’t work.  They express frustration that their daughter seems to be incapable of communicating outside of whining and throwing fits, yet they continue to reward that behavior and reinforce in her mind that it is the best way to get what she wants.  She can be kind of hard to be around. 

As a result, they tiptoe around her as much as possible, trying to not to set her off.  In a sense, they appease her so that they don’t have to deal with the tantrums.  This girl, predictably, acts horribly as a result.  There are no consequences to acting horribly, and since she craves those boundaries I talked about before, she continues to do increasingly bad things trying to get someone to tell her “no.” 

Yesterday, she was on a “correcting” binge, where everything someone else said, no matter how mundane and inconsequential, was incorrect on some point of minutia in her opinion, and she would rush to correct what was said in the most snooty, self-gratifying way possible.  Remember, she’s 8 years old, so this is, at least to me, rude and unacceptable behavior beyond anything that I’ve ever dealt with from a child before.  An example: Mrs. Goober found a pretty rock and showed it to Mini-Goober, and said “look at the pretty purple rock!” and Little Gal snootily chimed in “That rock isn’t purple!  It is bluish-brown!”

We were on my boat, fishing.  Bird Dog was on the back deck, trying to jump in the water to retrieve the bait I’d just thrown (as an aside, taking bird dogs fishing is a pain in the ass – they aren’t designed with a “hold still and chill out in the boat” setting).  Bird Dog understands a few commands, one of which is “get in the truck.”  It means “get into whatever thing it is that I’m telling you to get into.”  I use this command to tell her to get into the camper, get onto the 4-wheeler, get into the truck, and in this case, I used it to tell her to get back in the boat.  (As it were, the idea behind this is that “truck” is a unique word with a unique sounds, so it is an easy identifier word for a dog to remember). 

Little Gal corrected me in her typical snooty manner: “We aren’t IN a truck, Uncle Goober, this is a BOAT!”.  This came after four hours of being in the boat with her where literally every time she opened her mouth it was to whine about something that she wanted her parents to do for her, or for me or my wife to do for her, or to correct something someone had said.  It was wearing thin.  I muttered “Jesus Christ” under my breath after she corrected me, mainly because neither her father or mother made any attempt to do anything about it.  I know when I was a kid, if I’d been stupid enough to correct something an adult said, I’d get an ass-chewing the first time I did it, and an ass-blistering if I was moronic enough to try it again. 

What her Dad did do was to step in to her defense and explain to me that I needed to be patient with her, and that she was only 8. 

I love this guy like a brother.  He is my best friend on Earth, and I would never, ever do anything that could possibly ever come between us (I’m a little nervous about writing this, even anonymously, since the series of events is unique enough that he’ll know who this is writing this, and it will hurt his feelings.  But it needs to be said, because I need an outlet for my frustrations on this issue, so I’m taking the risk.  If he does read this, I hope he’ll understand and give me the benefit of the doubt here.  I love him and his daughter and his family with all my heart.  Nobody’s perfect.  Especially not me).  As a result, I bit my tongue and agreed with him, and let it drop without saying anything more. 

But here’s the thing I WANTED to say to him:

“I would not accept her treating me like this if she was 40 freaking years old, man!  Why in the hell would it be MORE acceptable when she’s eight?”

And therein lies the trick.  Our society has a set of baseline standards to which a person must fall within, or risk being considered an asshole.  The most important thing to keep in mind is that once a person reaches 3 years old (or thereabouts) these standards apply uniformly, across the board.  If a 40 year old can’t do something without being an asshole, then an 8 year old can’t either.  Once you’re three years old (or thereabouts), crying tantrums in public directly equates to assholery.  Once you’re three, not applying the uniform rules of polite conversation (ie, saying “please”, “thank you”, and just generally being polite) equates directly to assholery.  Whining to get your way equates directly to assholery.  It doesn’t matter if you are 8 or 40.  In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that society had MORE STRINGENT rules for not being an asshole for kids than they did adults, and kids all over the country were adhering to the more strict kid’s rules of not being an asshole, then. So don’t tell me that your daughter is incapable of not being an asshole because she’s only 8.  It is BECAUSE she’s 8 that a higher standard of non-assholery applies to her. 

When I was 8, I got it.  I would never have dreamed of keeping my seat in a room where the seats were filled once an adult came into the room.  I’d get up and give my seat to the adult.  I don’t do that now because I am an adult; thus, proving my point that kids are capable of adhering to higher standards.  Little Gal, on the other hand, would purposely wait until I left my seat to go and take it, and then refuse to get up when I came back to reclaim my seat.    

As a kid, I would have never dreamed of correcting an adult, even if I KNEW they were wrong, because I was a kid and that wasn’t something I was allowed to do.  I don’t even know what my Dad would have done if I’d ever whined about something, because by the time I grew old enough to have memory, he had already taught me that whining was fruitless, and so I never, ever did it. 

My two year old does not do any of these things anymore, except for very rarely when she’s over-tired and not thinking straight.  She doesn’t do them because she’s learned that they are fruitless things to do which, instead of leading to the desired outcome, will lead to consequences.  Whine about wanting something?  Get told to stop, and made to stand in front of me and ask nicely, saying “please” and “thank you.”  Throw a fit?  Get told to stop immediately, and if you don’t stop, get told LOUDLY to stop immediately, and if that doesn’t work, you go to your room (time-out) for a bit until you calm down, at which point you can only come out if you apologize for your behavior to every person who witnessed it.  This is my TWO YEAR OLD, folks.  She is the happiest, most well-adjusted kid I know.  My other friends who discipline their kids similar to me also have the sweetest, most well-adjusted and happy kids in my group of friends.  My baby loves her Daddy so much that she wants nothing more than to be around me, and it is in no small part because she knows that I am infallible, and that I will tell her what is black and what is white without her having to find out on her own, and that I will provide for her the things she needs to become a good person, and not be an asshole.  I am, in a way, her everything.  And she loves that and appreciates it.  She is good because she wants to please me, and also because she knows that being bad will have consequences.  She isn’t forced to bad behavior in an attempt to learn her boundaries; I set them from day one without her asking, and this is a GOOD THING, folks.  I am not squashing my child’s ability to be happy and learn and play.  I am enhancing it by teaching her to be a good functional member of society that people want to be around. 


Training your kid to be an asshole will lead to them living the life of an asshole – lonely, unhappy, and unfulfilled.  You aren’t harming them by disciplining them and giving them boundaries.  You are harming them by NOT doing those things.  

22 comments:

  1. Over the last few years, as my friends and family increasingly began raising children and My Lovely Wife and I had not, we took careful notes. It is amazing what sort of examples are available of what NOT to do with parenting- even among ones we love. Danger is barely 14 months, but he's beginning to understand both the limits of things and the futility of tantrums. Here's to keeping it going!

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  2. Wolfman;

    You’re over the hump. It gets really fun from here on to 3 years. That’s the only experience I’ve got, but the 1 year old to 3 year old phase is fun. Big time.

    Congrats on the tyke. Despite the fact that the Boomers did everything that they could to try and talk us out of having kids and instead living selfish, self-centered lives, we GenX/millenials are having kids and doing a good job of raising them, and I look forward to what the future will hold. I think that this next generation is going to be awesome – a bunch of kids that have never known a time when the entire knowledge of mankind was not available to them at the tap of a finger, who have had so many different influences in their thinking process, and who have spent so much time reading and writing… I think the sky is the limit for them, and I’m looking forward to what they can do.

    Now, if we X’rs and Mellenials can just clean the economy up for them and get that out of their way by fixing what the entitlement-minded boomers handed down to us…

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  3. Hey Goober. I don't have kids but I have a really good friend who has 2 kids, aged 5 and 7 who are remarkably similar to the kid you describe. In short, they are relentlessly selfish a-holes. Here is where it gets complicated. The younger kid has cancer. He's in remission but has about 2 years of chemo left. So assuming everything everything goes well, he will live his life in constant discomfort and illness as a best case scenario. I know that when he takes his medication that is steroid-based, he turns into assholex10. His parents don't discipline him when he's on the steroids because they don't want to hold him accountable for something that is, I'm their minds, a chemical reaction and therefore not his fault. I'm not sure I agree. I think that since the treatment is going well and the kid has a decent shot at making it into adulthood, he should be dicsiplined to have the best chance of becoming a well adjusted and mature adult. Here is my question. Like you, I think that making comments in my friends parenting especially with me not having kids is crossing the line. Do you have any advice as to whether there's anything I can do as a friend that could contribute to these kids not turning into rude and immature adults?

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    1. Anon;

      That’s a tough one. The trick is to not let them get away with it, or be disrespectful TO YOU, but to try and step in and parent them beyond that is probably going to cause friction between you and your friends.

      Look at it this way – if you wouldn’t let some stranger off the street treat you that way, then you shouldn’t let your friend’s kids do it, either. That’s justifiable, and if your friend has a problem with you demanding to be treated decently, and starts a fight with you over that, well, then, he’s not that good of a friend.

      But to try and step in and parent these kids beyond that is overstepping, and could justifiably cause friction between you and your friend.

      Rest assured that most of the time, these kids figure out in the long run that acting the way they do doesn’t cut it in polite society. It’s just that they end up going through the school of hard knocks to figure it out, rather than being taught by their parents. It’s a rougher way to learn for the kid, for sure, but he isn’t going to make it to adulthood without getting set straight. If they care at all about other people, and what other people think about them, they will learn to control themselves.

      If they don’t, well, you aren’t going to fix that, either…

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    2. As a parent of a 6 year old child going through chemotherapy and steroids....I will tell you....you have no idea what the child or parent goes through.

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    3. I couldn't even imagine, Chantel, I don't want to try. Strength to you and your son.

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  4. Just as a side note: did not mean to imply that a kid who has a cancer as a youngster cannot live a normal life once he or she is cured. I merely meant that he will constantly be sick or in pain for the next 2 years while his treatment continues.

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    1. I get it.

      I wanted to add another point, which is to teach your kid to make excuses. I would be tempted to say that as this kid's father, I would not allow his sickness to be an excuse for improper behavior.

      That might make me tough, but again, kids crave boundaries. Their little minds absolutely NEED for someone to tell them "no".

      If his time on Earth is short, why not make it a safe, secure time, rather than a chaotic, unsure one?

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  5. My wife's kids are assholes, they both have "issues" a word that u
    I don't like. One is 12, he has aspurgers and the other one is 10 and has autism. Basically the older on thinks he is god and that every one is stupid. I believe he is a lost cause, she does not. His dad is a useless sack of dog turds, he owes thousands in child support and doesn't really care so much, except to argue with my wife about taking him off the medicine he's on, which would be a huge disaster, he is completely nuts off his meds, so that's one thing. Another is that he has basically had no rules for his life, he whines and his mom gives in, sick of his hours and hours and hours of whining. And that is no exaggeration, he whined in front of me for 7 hours because he wanted chocolate chip cookies. His mom says that it's because he has aspurgers and "it's how he is" I call bullshit, the little but those has an iq of 150 and knows exactly what he is doing, so, he really doesn't like me a lot because I whoop his assistant when he whines because I won't stand for that level of disrespect. He hates not getting his way and when he starts balling I video it and tell him I'll post it on Facebook and YouTube and that usually shuts him down. He over eats, like a hobbit over eats, every 5-10 minutes he is in the fridge and every time I check when he cleans his room there are usually food wrappers under his bed or a fossilized pizza slice. In short he is the biggest pain in the assignment kid I have ever met. Now the other one, the autistic one, he's easier, you can redirect him, mostly, he is in his own little world, he screams at his toes and harassed the older kid all the time, sometimes it's funny, mostly not because it usually ends in me pulling 150lb 12yo off a 10 yo because the 10yo has one exceptional skill, aggravating the hell out of whoever his intended target is. It's almost a magical gift. He sets his mind to it and he could make ghandi kick his ass. So from the time I wake up till they go to bed it's us fighting with the older one, the older kid fighting with the younger kid and me being embarrassed to go in public with either of them because they are maniacs in public. I was raised in a very disaplined environment and their behavior is so beyond anything I would have even dreamed of trying to get away with. What do I do with these little jerks, whooping their asses doesn't work, being strict doesn't work, they have been ruined beyond repair?????????

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    1. Honestly? I think the solution lies in the relationship between you and your wife vis a vis these problems.

      She is the problem, and fixing her is the first step to getting your home life in order. You two need to sit down and hash out a mutually agreeable solution to what is acceptable behavior from her special needs kids, and what is not. Then, present a united front and work together to solve the problem.

      As your wife, she needs to support your needs and desires before indulging those of her kids. As long as you come second to them, you'll continue to be a second class citizen in your own home. You are her husband. You come first. Period. No negotiations. If she can't handle that, she is not really your wife at all.

      You shouldn't have to put up with this fucking bullshit, so I suggest that you stop. No more excuses. A good mother would be busting her ass to teach her special needs kids how to make it in society. How is she doing them any favors at all? Think a boss would put up with this shit? Want your step sons to be terminally unemployed? Teach them, don't indulge them.

      All she's doing is indulging them to pacify them, and blaming the resulting shitty behavior on their special needs.

      Unless the special needs condition of a child is so profound that they literally cannot be reached, I do not believe that those special needs are an excuse to be an asshole.

      Start with your wife. Start by asking, trying to work out a united front on which you will BOTH WORK TOGETHER to teach her boys.

      If that doesn't work, my suggestion is to seek good divorce counsel, because if your wife cares so little for you that she won't even attempt to help you with this, for the good of her own children, then she is not your wife at all. She is using you for as long as you'll let her.

      Also, stop getting mad. Stop arguing. And for crissake, stop hitting them (the legal peril of whooping a stepsons ass is huge).

      Just win. You are the pater familius. You have control. Take away toys, video games, etc. Escalate until you win. Deny play dates, groundings, etc. Do it in clear response to a defined breaking of rules, and continue doing so with every additional rule breaking stops. Make your 12 year old mow the lawn if he backsasses, make home mow the lawn with a pair of scissors. Get creative, but stop getting mad.

      The term I use is "amused mastery." You are the master of your own home. Not them. Stop allowing them to control you by bringing you into their frame. stop getting angry. start winning.

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    2. One more thing...

      For his own good, stop the hobbit eating. Get all the junk food like pizza and shit out of the house, and feed him square meals. Do not allow a 12 year old boy to dictate his own diet any longer.

      If he whines about that, make there be consequences, and make sure he knows why he's being punished: for whining and back talking to his stepfather.

      His health and happiness demands that you save him from his borderline neglectful mother.

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    3. A twelve year old boy who is used to being allowed to dictating his own diet all the time is obviously going to be mad if suddenly all the unhealthy stuff is thrown out. Suggestion: Have one meal you know he likes, such as pizza, a week. The rest of the time, put something he eats, such as garlic bread, a couple of carrots, rice, etc, on the side of his plate, and serve up the main course. If he wines? Say "You don't have to eat it" and tuck in to your own meal. If he asks for something different, say "Eat what's in front of you first, then we'll talk." Don't give him an adult size portion.

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    4. While this article is totally logical, refreshing, and well written, I found the answer you gave Anon about his wife's two special needs children absolutely dumbfounding. Your answer should have been, "I am not an expert in neither Aspergerber's or Autism, and certainly special needs present a whole different slew of challenges and solutions. I can't tell you how to parent a special needs child/teen." The answer "she is the problem, and fixing her is the first step to getting your home life in order" is totally asinine when a person poses a question that includes special needs kids.

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  6. This is SO spot on. I agree completely with everything you wrote. Very well expressed. (from the mom of a really good teen, who is not an a-hole)

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    1. Heather I don't know if you read the comment from the Anon who called you either a liar or a "kind of asshole, too," but I don't think saying your kid is a good kid and not an a-hole is bragging or rude at all. The author of this article says repeatedly that his daughter is an enjoyable human being and there is no fault applied to that at all. None should be applied to you either. It is neither rude, dishonest, or arrogant to be acknowledging of having worked hard to have good boundaries and reaping the reward in a pleasant household and a good kid.

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  7. For anyone who still has a chance: listen up! Get those fuckers under control while you can!!! Trust me, I made every possible mistake with mine, and now I'm trying to back pedal because I have a 15 year old who is very much an asshole. Just try to set boundaries when they're already used to being an asshole for so long. Just try to show them you mean business when for the first 14 years you didn't have a clue how not to be an asshole parent. If one person can learn early on from my mistakes, that will make me feel better.
    And for Heather, ["a really good teen, who is not an a-hole"] if you're not lying, then you're bragging and being kind of an asshole too. Just saying.

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  8. I have a 13 yr. Old step daughter. I have been with her father for a bit over 2 years now, and she is the root source to just about every disagreement, or fight. One turned physical btw and she thought it necessary to have any kind of imput. Her father talks about our finances with her amongst other things children have no place in. If I try to ever correct her I get a silent treatment or yelled at by her dad, she will give empty threats about moving in with her mother when she doesn't get her way, we take her on vacations and she pouts and whines the entire time, I haven't been on a date in months her father and I get no alone time what so ever. I have my 2 year old that is more polite than this child will ever be. Her room is filled with trash literally clothes are typically every where, she waits until late at night to wash any clothes and the Laundry is in our room so Iam expected to switch from washer to dryer at fucking 1 am. She ate 12 cupcakes in one sitting and her father just laughed, she is conceited like a mother fucker and obviously the rudest person to walk and talk. I'm at my wits end with her and her father I have also discovered we are having a baby and her father threatened to leave me and my two year old and our unborn child for this manipulative little piece of shit.

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  9. Great article! Any advice for co-parenting? My ass-hole was fine until a year ago when he was alienated from me :( now it's a constant battle! If we're together for several days at a time then it's great, but as soon as he spends time with his mother he comes back a total disrespectful jerk! I'm sure she continues to alienate me and that causes most of this, but what to do?

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  10. I have 2 daughters, ages 10 and 7. My 7-year old is as sweet as can be. My 10-year old is an asshole. I feel like my husband and I have raised them the same way but these girls are night and day. I set strict boundaries and I don't allow back-talk but she just doesn't stop. She always wants to get the last word in. We send her to her room, we ask her to think about her behavior and apologize when she comes out. She apologizes but I know it's not heartfelt. When she really gets under my skin I have resorted to spanking (although I really never want to ever do it again...every time.) She is a very intelligent girl, she is in a gifted school. She is very responsible, she makes her own lunch, wakes up and gets ready for school by herself, does her homework without needing any reminders. She is a figure skater and she is very dedicated to her sport. She leads a very privileged life and I don't think she appreciates it at all. On the surface she is an exceptional child. However I feel like her ego is HUGE. She is not perfect (like her room is a mess - normal like any kid), but she is so quick to criticize me and my housekeeping - believe me my house looks damn good compared to some I've seen. She finds faults in others but thinks her stuff smells like roses. I was googling the other day and was reading about narcissism and it really really sounded like my daughter. Dear God, I hope it's just a phase because the prognosis for adults is basically that these people are lost causes. How do I get a kid who does have boundaries to stop being a narcissistic asshole?

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