Hi! Welcome back to Mothers For Women’s Lib! I originally wrote this as a post for my other blog but before I posted it I realised it would be much better posted here, and as I’ve been planning the return of MFWL I figured why not kick off with this?
I saw a link on Pinterest today about a game to play with your children to teach them good table manners and ensure ‘good behaviour’ when eating out. In the game, each person at the table (adults and children) gets three lolly sticks. If you (child or adult) ‘catch’ someone breaking a ‘table rule’, you get one of their lolly sticks. The person with the most lolly sticks at the end of the meal is the winner.
Now this isn’t about my discomfort at trying to push an adult model of behaviour onto children who are behaving age-appropriately when they exhibit ‘bad behaviour’. I think there’s enough room in allowing kids to act age-appropriately to also teach them the way in which they will need to behave as they grow older in order to be accepted by the rest of society. No, my issue is with the way this game was worded in the blog post in question; the writer says “My kids love this game. It is the only time they are “authorized” to correct Mom and Dad.” Later the writer adds, “Also, remind them that ordinarily they are not allowed to correct adults. They may only due so during the Manners Game.”
Now I’m not picking on this writer specifically – he or she was just the latest in a long list of writers, and people I’ve met in real life, who adhere to the belief that children should never correct adults. The idea, I think, is that children are obliged to respect adults and that they should show this respect by never correcting them, even if the adult in question is clearly doing or saying something that is wrong.
I have two problems with this. The first is that adults automatically deserve respect from their children. Wee Chum is seven now, an age where he is properly carving out his own identity in a world that expects him to behave in ways that don’t necessarily fit with his instincts. He has, I feel, a great deal of respect for me, my husband, his father and most of, if not all, the other adults (and children!) in his life. But I’ve never demanded respect from him. I remind him not to be nasty or rude, and I model respectful behaviour to him, and above all else I ensure I behave in a way that means I earn his respect.
Because really, I don’t automatically truly respect any person I meet. This is a two-part statement. Firstly, I think everyone is deserving of some level of respect (respect for their bodily autonomy, respect for their beliefs, etc), whether they are adults or children. But the sort of respect that these people are talking about – the respect an adult “should” be shown by a child – that sort of respect, I think, should be earned. I want my son to respect me because he admires me as a person, because I do and say things that he finds worthy of respect – not simply because he is forced to by expectation.
My second problem is that somehow children are less entitled to point out another’s wrongdoing than adults. As a parent, I think nothing of telling Chum that he’s doing something wrong, be that chewing with his mouth open, not letting another child have a turn on the slide, or being rude to somebody. What makes it all right for me to correct him, but not for him to correct me? He is, after all, a human being, no more or less a person than I am. I am very comfortable in the fact that Chum feels confident and comfortable enough with me to correct me if I do something wrong. The thing that comes to mind straight away is swearing. I try not to swear around him, but if I do he reminds me that swearing is not allowed in our house. And I don’t tell him off for telling me off. I apologise, because he’s right!
This can have further reaching consequences than the writer, and others who feel children should never correct adults, might have foreseen. For what if an adult was to abuse that child who’s been told to give blind respect and never question an adult’s words or actions? Knowing Chum is not afraid to speak out when an adult does something he knows is wrong, means I am a little more confident that he would be able to say “No”, that he would be able to tell that adult that his or her behaviour was wrong, and that he would be able to come to me or another trusted adult and tell us what has happened.
So there’s my tuppence-worth on the idea that children should never correct adults. I think that to raise honest human beings who aren’t afraid to speak out when they see bad things happening, we need to start by telling children they have the right to speak out, and that even adults get things wrong sometimes. What do you think?
Edit: I had an email today from the writer of the blog post I referenced, and she has also replied to my comment on her post: “I meant that normally we don’t let them correct adults at the table. It is a little embarrasing when we are at someone’s house and they point at the host and say, “You are chewing with your mouth open!” Lol. Of course they are aloud to tell us if someone is doing something seriously wrong. We just want to show them that there is a time when we don’t tell other adults they are having bad manners.” She makes a good point here and I am grateful to her for the clarification!