Parenting and the Changing Face of Society

There is this common saying that “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” While I would agree that patterns, like multiples or parallel lines on a cartesian graph may repeat, effectively remaining the same, I wonder if there is truly a reality where things get worse, or the perception is just recency bias at work in our minds. But while my thinking may seem inconclusive, I still find a way to convince myself that with regards to raising children, things are not merely remaining the same.

A quote attributed to Socrates would appear to undo my reasoning.

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannise their teachers

If this quote were to be randomly read in some public gathering, the audience, except they be literary aficionados would be forgiven for thinking the words were scribbled by a contemporary. I have seen this quote being used to buttress the fact that “children would be children”, but while I agree that children like repeating harmonics in all societies would maintain certain “childish” traits, I think that we are now giving a raft of excuses to tolerate clearly bad behaviour.

If you seek examples of some children acting as terrorists, the internet is awash with videos. From a student pepper spraying a teacher for seizing her phone, to another student enabling the public to become fully aware of her teacher’s underwear choices via a bout of fisticuffs, to a boy angrily smashing expensive TVs at a store, to a little girl thrashing groceries in a store and throwing things at her grandma and other adults, we seem to have become comfortable with whitewashing these behaviours rather than call them what they are.

In the parenting group to which I belong, one common issue raised by parents is how to enforce an appropriate level of discipline for their kids. It seems that quite a number of parents are over-correcting for perceived “over discipline” in their own childhoods, so the pendulum ends up being flipped to the other extreme where there is little or no discipline in the parenting handbook. But while discipline is an entire package that is not limited to meting punishment for unacceptable behaviour, I think the society has lost / is losing the practice of communal training. There used to be a quote that “it takes a village to raise a child”, but today, we have many parents who have zero interest in allowing anyone other than themselves to tell their child what is right or wrong, not even their teachers. This is why a parent would rush to castigate a teacher for scolding a misbehaving child since such scolding can now be seen as an attack on the child’s mental health.

The society is a living organism that thrives on the basis of certain norms, with an unspoken social contract that binds members together. For example, if there were to a fire in a building, we would expect the adults (likely males) to risk their own lives to save the children and women. But we do not seem to question why anyone should risk his life to free some random child. However, woe betide an adult who says a child should say something as simple as “Good morning”. We would see such an adult as overreaching. But if we take a step back, we might see that our societies evolved to have some form of obligations expected from different members.

The child in greeting an adult, learns respect, and learns his place in the society, while the adult in risking his life to save a child, demonstrates that he has learned to put the society’s future ahead of his own present. In the same vein, by allowing other adults and older children to correct a child, the society managed to ensure that even where a set of parents might miss certain behaviours exhibited by their child, some other member of the society might notice the behaviours and have the moral authority to call the child to order. This is even more relevant in today’s world where many parents are too busy trying to earn a living to have sufficient time for their children.

While it is true that communal parenting has had its own share of enabling child abuse, the solution is not a society where every parent handles parenting on their own terms. If we agree that every child is a potential contributor to the society and would have to relate with other members of the society, then, we should not subscribe to grooming our children in silos. Else, we risk a future of maladjusted citizens groomed with a divergent set of rules, with no baseline set of morals acceptable to the generality of the society, and aggressive pushback against any form of correction. If this happens, children will remain children, but this time, empowered with all they need to cross their legs and tyrannise everyone.

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