Sunday, August 12, 2001


Parents struggle to find right tone in negotiations

        In our continuing parental quest to keep The Kid Down The Hall from having fun, we have begun to set limits. He is 15. He wants to be as far away from his parents as possible. This is OK. Frequently, the feeling is mutual.

        Mainly because we fear getting locked up for parental neglect, we have established an 11 p.m. curfew on the three nights a week he is allowed out. This is hard to enforce, seeing as how his friends are allowed to keep the hours of a vampire bat.

        “What if I spend the night at (fill-in-the-blank's) house?” he wonders. Fill-in-the-blank is up later than Conan O'Brien.

        “You have to be in by 11, regardless,” I say.

        This elicits great, heaving sighs of protest. If you have a 15-year-old — if you ever were a 15-year-old — you know the sound.

        The Kid's friends used to rely on mom and dad to get around. Now they arrive like mosquitos at twilight, in their squadrons of used family cars. You've never seen so many Corollas.

        Suddenly, everything is different.

        “Where are you going?” we might ask.


        “Where out?”

        “Way out.”

        “When are you coming home?”

        “I dunno. Can I have some money?”

        It could be worse. Check out a recent issue of Time magazine.

        “Who's In Charge Here?” asked the headline on the cover story, about the tug-of-will between parents and their rampaging adolescent children. The story's spice was a photo essay featuring a suburban couple and their two small sons. These are parents who “negotiate” the “demands” of their boys.

        Who's in charge seemed a rhetorical question. Beneath a photo of dad crouched subserviently beneath son was this caption: “(Dad) lets Lucian speak his mind, no matter how long it takes.”

        It's a remarkable photo. The dad is slammed so low to the ground, his nose is practically scraping the floor. Junior, a k a Lucian, who is 4, wearing his perfectly precious, Abercrombie-looking gear, towers over dad. He even has his arm around dad. Dad looks less like an authority figure than a supplicant.

        Dad has a few problems here, not the least of which is that he named his kid Lucian. Also, the body language here suggests Lucian is about to send dad to his room.

        But here's the larger problem: Bargaining with children can be like negotiating with terrorists. Once you start, there is no winning. There is no end.

        There is another picture of Lucian, jamming food in his petite piehole. Mom and dad don't make Lucian eat things he doesn't like. This concerns dad. “I'm disappointed when he doesn't expand his food horizons,” dad says.

        Time and CNN commissioned a poll that found 80 percent of people believe children are more spoiled today than even 10 or 15 years ago.

        Only 80 percent? Time even asks this question: Is $20 too much for lunch money?

        Where does that kid eat? Morton's?

        Another kid in the story is brutally, perhaps terminally, disappointed when her request for a BMW is deferred. And so on.

        For whatever reason — too much free time, too much money, too much effort put into being their child's “buddy” instead of his parent — parents have gone insane.

        We parents think about parenting too much. Instead of relying on instinct and experience, we weigh every action for its effect on Junior's psyche. What we end up doing is making things so sweet for Junior, when he's out on his own and his life misfires, he can't cope.

        My parents didn't have time to ponder deeply how they raised their kids. They were too busy trying to feed them. They had about a seven-word vocabulary when it came to our “demands.” It began and ended with “no.”

        We turned out OK, self-esteem and all.

        The Kid Down The Hall thinks his parents are strict, and he's probably right. But we're what he's got. And he still has to eat his vegetables.

       Contact Paul Daugherty by phone: 768-8454; fax: 768-8330; e-mail:


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