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The Huffington Post called out this three-minute sketch on YouTube from The BreakWomb, performed by three women who find comedy in their lives as parents. Thanks to Bruce Smith, for pointing me to this link.

It’s never advisable to read YouTube comments, but I took one for the team and read the less incendiary ones responding to the BreakWomb video. It was striking how quickly a sharp dichotomy of parenting philosophies emerged. Although the commenters’ opinions don’t begin to reflect the variety and nuance of parenting philosophies within our culture, it was fascinating to see how quickly people felt compelled to defend their positions and attack those who disagreed.

One of the first comments was from Maria A. who wrote:

This video needs to be shown everywhere so paretns [sic] can see how rude they are to their kids without even realising [sic] it because they think it is normal.

She received some brief support from a few people, but several other commenters challenged Maria A.’s cred by asking if she was a mom. (She wasn’t.) The commenters dismissive of her view wrote at length to explain why it’s okay to talk to kids—but not to adults—in the manner illustrated by The BreakWomb sketch.

Josh Williams said:

There’s a difference between being rude and setting boundaries. Obviously, the way we speak to kids is going to be different from the way you would treat adults. Spend five minutes in a classroom and tell me you can treat those kids as adults… and see if they don’t walk all over you because you have no boundaries. Kids need to be told when they’re doing something wrong. Kids also need to be shown the right way to behave and interact, as it’s not inherent in many people. Kids need to be taught to be kind and loving, because psychologically people will always go after what is easiest and makes them feel the best, unless they are taught to empathise [sic] with others. Particularly with respect to toddlers, I’m amazed that you think talking in such a way to a toddler is rude. These “people” are only just developing language skills, often have an under-developed sense of self, and are often doing even the most basic things for the first time. To talk to them in the same way as you would an adult would be to heap a burden of responsibility on them that they will cast off without even realizing it. [Emphasis added]

Kaylee Hart continued in this vein.

I heard someone once say that a big mistake parents make is they try to reason with their kids as toddlers and command them as teenagers. It needs to be the reverse. I don’t see anything rude here. That’s the point. It’s rude to adults, but children don’t think the way we do yet. Disciplining your child is not rude lol. They need to learn to obey you and have respect and manners. If you try to “polite” them all the time, they will never take you seriously. You are the parent, you’re the boss.  And anyone who tries to tell you that being a boss to your kid is wrong or that is belittles them, is very wrong. Kids need a boss. Speaking to them this way isn’t treating them like they’re stupid; it’s speaking to them on their level. [Emphasis added]

Frank S. Adamo tried to put a kinder face on the argument by pointing out that tone of voice is crucial when being commanding.

I agree that a home is NOT a democracy and the parents must parent and not simply be friends to their children; however, there are ways to stay in command and still talk to your children without having a COMMANDING and AUTHORITATIVE voice as in this skit. For example, the tone of voice is crucial. You mentioned that most of the time we have bosses and you are right. My question is what kind of boss would you want to follow? One who is commanding and uses a voice as if “you do this or else,” or a boss who leads and you want to follow.

Kaylee Hart came back with this clarification.

As an adult I obviously wouldn’t listen to someone snapping at me, but once again, everything is quite different when you’re a child. The point is, people who say you should never raise your voice to your children or that you shouldn’t boss them around, irritate me. That’s just not true. I know from years upon years of experience. Children need to know they aren’t in control; it also takes the burden off them and makes them feel secure.

These opinions about kids needing a boss, needing to be commanded, comes from a belief, instilled in the vast majority of us as children, that kids are “people” in a very limited sense. From this perspective, it’s okay to treat children differently from adults, to speak to them differently, because they are different. Last week, I was listening to Scott Simon’s essay on NPR’s Weekend Edition about political debates and GOP candidates’ demands to structure the debates to benefit them in specific ways. What struck me was a metaphor Simon used to describe his discomfort with some reporters’ treatment of presidential candidates in this current campaign season:

It’s tempting to make jokes about the demands Republican candidates made of broadcasters for future debates — and believe me, I have. But I’ve also squirmed to see reporters bark at presidential candidates to raise their hands, yes or no, to reply to a question, as if they were schoolchildren asking for a bathroom break. [Emphasis added.]

Implicit in that metaphor is an assumption that it’s okay–or at least reasonable or expected–to bark at children, but not okay to treat adults that way. We don’t see this behavior as bullying when it is directed at children, precisely because it is institutionalized and part of the very fabric of our culture. (Too many people also find it difficult to see this belittling behavior as bullying when it’s directed at other marginalized people by those with power and authority.)

It’s worth reading this lovely post by Brian Davis on the Fatherly forum encouraging parents to stop treating their kid like a child. The post was reprinted from the comments he made on Quora in response to the question, “What are some unique, effective ways to discipline a child?” His perspective was unique among the commenters. Everyone else suggested any number of punishments, consequences, boundaries and manipulations that would be damaging to a respectful adult relationship.

I’ll end with his conclusion, because it’s true.

Punishment, deprivation, praise, criticism, distraction, and a lot of the other things people on this page have recommended don’t actually do much to teach your child good behavior. More often than not, they teach children to be retributive, praise-seeking, or distracted.

Ultimately, parenting is not about control. Kids aren’t irrational beasts out to deprive you of patience and silence. They’re little people in need of understanding and a helping hand. And when they get what they need they’re usually pretty spectacular.