Why Are American Children Out of Control?
By Milva Matseva,WWH/CJE-The ear piercing scream has continued for 10 minutes now and the pulsing in my ears slowly builds up into a full-blown headache. One of these which don’t stop for hours, echoing the screams of the eight-year-old before my register.
She is an adorable little girl, curly blond hair and a pink dress with butterflies drawn all over it. Her
full red cheeks are burning with rage and her little frame is shaking with effort to jump higher and cry
No, she doesn’t want the fries, she wants pizza!
I shake my head and turn to my next customer. A mother with three teenage girls. She orders a large
sprite and a pizza.
“Mother, I don’t want that, I told you ,don’t get me that. I don’t want it!”
“I’m getting that for myself then, it’s not all about you,” the mother answers calmly, apparently used to
nervous burst outs in public.
The teenager continues protesting about something with an angry voice and clenched fists. For a minute there, I thought she might hit her mother.
I breathe out as they, too, sit close to my register to eat.
The next half an hour is a circus of an utmost scale.
As a European, my natural reaction was to get out and give the eight-year-old a good spanking and the
teenager I would ground for at least a week. The parents of these two children, though, calmly drank their sodas, completely unperturbed and apparently used to such kind of behavior to the point where it is a natural part of their environment.
So, what is wrong with American kids and why are they out of control?
Why do I see whining, jumping, screaming and bad attitude wherever I go, no matter the age or social
class? Public displays of rage here are so often that I sometimes wonder is this the USA or an open-door zoo.
We should again start with that one word which makes everyone want to come and stay here: freedom.
Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of… parental control, apparently.
Children can do whatever they want. And while you have some space to discipline a teenager without
slapping them, the simple fact is, once they are teenagers and out of control, they cannot easily be
changed. Everything starts from an early age when doing wrong should be associated with negative
emotions, like spanking.
And here I see a big red light and a police car after me. Because if, in the USA, I decide to spank my child, I may go to jail.
“Spanking is now considered abuse so they (the children) do not associate doing wrong with pain,” said Kaylynn Bolgrihn, a mother of a 4- and a 3-year old. She doesn’t talk about beating up the child or hitting them every time they decide to act out. She simply pointed out that a little child sometimes needs to learn a lesson and a few spanks on his behind are neither degrading, nor wrong, if they serve a purpose.
Moreover, until the child is old enough to understand, up until their early pre-teens, spanking is the
most effective and immediate way to say “no.”
The law disagrees.
So a little child, seeing that there is no pain no matter what he/she does, will only grow bolder and jump higher on the ladder of temper tantrums. There is no “no” and there is sometimes no control. But it is not only about control, it is about safety and protection. A parent doesn’t just say no because they are strict, they say no because they know better and want to teach their child a lesson in obedience, respect and order which will help them in life.
“I do want my children to respect people and property,” said Bolgrihn. “I would rather crush them being defiant now because you never know when obedience could save their life,” she continued, giving as an example an obedient child who listens and doesn’t cross the street alone and a defiant child who doesn’t listen and may end up hit by a car.
Situations of such gravity should be addressed right away, the minute they happen. If the child says “no” and crosses the street, the lesson in obedience should be as fast as possible. If not spanked/punished immediately, the child’s memory will probably erase a big part of the emotion behind the situation and the late punishment will be only a mere echo of what it should have been. But the law forbids that immediate punishment, thus creating defiant children, uncontrollable teenagers and indifferent parents.
And in indifference comes even more freedom and lack of control.
“Three boys, can you imagine? They never listen,” the middle-aged woman in the hair salon is looking at me with wide open eyes. “I can’t wait to send them off to college and get rid of them.” She says it with a smile and apparent intention to be taken as a joke.
Unfortunately, I have heard that so many times that I no longer believe that they are joking. Every second parent I meet says that they want to send theirchildren off to college and get rid of them.
While European parents try to hold onto their children as long as possible, the Americans do the
opposite. Maybe because Americans statistically have more children than Europeans and don’t have the patience to deal with them all. Which leads us to why would you have many children only so as to get rid of them soon. Maybe the culture here is simply quite different.
All I know is that in Europe I have never heard a parent say they want to get rid of their child, not even
as a joke. Because a joke that everyone repeats is truer than any truth. And the truth is, somewhere
between the lack of control and lack of desire to discipline their children, American parents kinda endure until the kids turn 18 and go away. An event quite rare in any European country where children stay with their parents long after high school, but at the same time have an attitude that makes them way more sufferable than their American counterparts.
What made me think of that lady in the salon is the fact that she was a stay-at-home mom, dedicating all her time to her children, able to watch them closely and exercise the control needed. Then why did she have an issue with her children’s discipline?
In Europe, a child would sometimes see their mother once a day before bed or even less if the
grandparents are taking care and the mother is working. Still, public temper tantrums are quite rare
even though not completely unheard of. The most uncontrollable children I have seen in the States were usually accompanied by women who were visibly, by their way of clothing, stay-at-home moms. It turns out that a stay at home mom in the USA has less control over her children than any working mother in Europe.
Having seen Bolgrihn’s children and her parenting methods that include spanking, but not getting rid
of the children or complaining about them in public, it makes me wonder if I am not wrong. Maybe it
is not the freedoms that kids in America are given that makes up the issue of discipline, maybe it is just
the parents. Quite possibly my journalism professor Mark Wollemann will turn out to be right, after all,
saying that “It’s just bad parenting.”
Yes, quite possible. But no matter the reason why, it is the question that stays as a fact:
Why are American children out of control? And who is going to do something about it?