Modern children… have scant little respect for adult boundaries…

Modern children… have scant little respect for adult  boundaries… so says Nikki Gemmell in the Weekend Australian‘s Magazine. A timely article on modern-day parenting with Never Did Me Any Harm about to open in Melbourne for the Festival 9 October.


Time out!
By Nikki Gemmell

“Don’t make it too easy for them.” I contemplated that little truism following a despairing email from a father attempting some down-time with his wife, in their room, on a Saturday night. “Da-ad,” came the cry from outside. A child barged in. As they do. “Why have we allowed our kids to consider us always accessible?” he wrote. “Growing up I knew that once my parents’ door was closed, they were off-limits. Are we not instilling enough respect now for other people’s time and space alone?”

Mate, I’m with you. Contemplated your frustration as I tried showering in peace this morning but was constantly interrupted by shouts of “Mum, where’s my uniform?” “Can you pour my cereal?” “Did you organise the playdate?” accompanied by a symphony of toddler bangs on the door. It made me think of those reader tales of a peculiarly modern parental despair: going to the carwash just to read, because it’s the one place where the baby’s silent and contained; sitting in the playpen to escape while the toddlers rampage outside. Oh yes, there’s a whole generation of parents desperate to flee the kids, just now and then; to glean some precious drops of “me time” in the great mad whoosh of our lives.
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How has the power balance shifted so dramatically in the parent/child dynamic? I’m often informed by my boys that I’m poned – “owned” in internet speak, got the better of – yet saying something like that to an adult, when I was a kid, would have been the height of insolence. There’s a cheeky, jostling camaraderie now but yours truly is always the fall guy in it; the embarrassing one who needs teaching in the ways of this world. According to psychology professors Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell: “Parents want their kids’ approval [now], a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval.”

Modern children seem so entitled, confident, wilful, with scant little respect for adult boundaries. Dare I say, the fault lies in the parenting. I’m not sure why we feel the path to success lies in micromanaging our childrens’ lives, but I’ve fallen into that trap along with just about every parent I know. We do so ridiculously much for them; intervene, meddle, hover. Yet I know in my bones that the ignored child is the more self-sufficient child, possibly the more successful child (just look at Churchill’s childhood of magnificently nonchalant parental neglect. They never made it easy for him.) We aim for calm, centred, self-sufficient kids – yet seem to have lost the know-how to nurture those qualities. Once it was parents yelling, “Skedaddle, and don’t appear ’til the street lights switch on”; now we’re too scared to let them meander to the corner shop in case they’re kidnapped, run over, lost. Yet they’ll never become adults if we don’t let them attempt some responsibility (thanks, Seth Rogen and the rest of you, I see the future and it scares me. Kidults, still, at 40).

This attitude’s leaching into the adult world – in outbursts of rage on the road, trolling on social media, bullying on the airwaves. What is it, above all? Juvenile. A society that’s not letting its youngest mature naturally into adults with all the decorum, self-possession and restraint that’s meant to entail. Just writing this column makes me all hot and bothered.

Several kids in this house were recently naughty and a new punishment was instituted: the Foxtel card was confiscated. For a week. Cue howls of outrage. Reader, it worked. After the initial protests a soldering calm settled on the house, a vast blanket of peace. The kids retreated to rooms, were bored but found their way into reading, drawing, dreaming. It felt wondrous and rare and old-fashioned; like our world exhaled into order. But soon, I know, we’ll slip back. We’re modern parents, after all.


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