Parenting, and a Little Golf

You are the parents of young kids or teenagers. You want to know if you are good parents or not. One question: do you regularly allow your kids to go out unsupervised very late at night? Then you are bad parents.

It’s that simple.

I don’t care if you live in the UK or the US or in Russia. Through your indifference or diffidence or just incompetence, you are not doing your kids any favors, and you are making the world a worse place. Congratulations.

Recently I read about a shopping mall in Maryland, the Boulevard at the Capital Centre – and yes, I agree, the name gushes pretentiousness – which has decided to start a new program next month, which will ban anyone 16 and younger after 9 pm, if they are without adult supervision. (Here’s the article.)

The move follows recent disturbing trends in teenage violence across the US and the UK, and mimics policies in place in other American malls, such as the country’s largest, the Mall of America in Minneapolis. As can be expected, teenagers, reacting to any diminution, real or perceived, in their freedom to do anything, anywhere, anytime, are against the policy.

Sierra Gillian, 17, and showing the wisdom and maturity of someone ten years younger, called the initiative “dumb.” She then goes on to unleash a powerful tautology: “If something is going to happen, it’s going to happen.” Wow.

Why can’t kids understand that such restrictions, limits or controls are for their own good? Oh, yeah, it’s because they’re kids; they don’t understand because they are not yet adults.

In the May 4th Sunday Times Magazine was an article about the spoiled children of Moscow’s new batch of billionaires. Every licentious dish is on the menu, every hedonistic appetite is satiated. And they’re still teenagers. One young man is celebrating his 17th birthday. It’s 3 am on a Friday, and the scene is the Rai, a nightclub popular with Moscow’s young and very wealthy. Drinks, drugs, and chauffeured Hummers take the place of family time and salubrious role models.

One rare voice of reason is heard from a wealthy Moscow mother: “I have no doubt that many rich kids will either be in rehab or addicted to a shrink by the time they reach their mid-twenties. I do all I can to make sure mine won’t; ultimately the parents are to blame.”

Boris Arkhipov, a professor of child psychology, says of kids who are spoiled by parents who lavish money and presents on them instead of time and parental influence, “Discipline for many is a problem. They don’t accept authority.”

Closer to home, nearly every weekend night, very late at night, and by this I mean from about 2 am to much later, I hear out my Edinburgh flat window very young voices. Not very young as in young adults in their twenties or thirties; no, I mean kids younger than 15 or 16, and often sounding closer to twelve. What are they doing out that late? Why on earth do their parents allow that? And why do these kids sound as if they are drunk?

I’ve spent enough time bartending to know the sound of someone who has had a trigger amount to drink. You know what I mean by trigger, don’t you? It’s that point when speech begins to slur, and people become repetitive and either jolly and giggly, or they go in the other direction and become argumentative and surly. These latter types can quickly turn violent.

There is nothing at all wrong with my sounding like a curmudgeon and complaining about how things aren’t now like they were back when I was a kid. When I was young, we were told “no”. We were punished if we did something wrong, which is how it ought to be. We were controlled and did what we were told. We were given chores and taught the importance of work, and we were taught how to behave. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ were assiduously drilled into us, and we were respectful to adults. That’s a key point there, that we were respectful. We grew to understand that there was a certain amount of deference owed to adults: they knew things, they had been places, they had gone through various kinds of war, and they could do things we couldn’t.

I regularly read in the UK papers how groups of violent teenagers and young kids, often drunk, roam the streets and attack and sometimes murder hapless adults. How could things have possibly gotten so bad? It’s the fault of the parents.

As I think back to when I was a kid growing into a teenager, my younger brother and I were raised in a strict household. It was strict but there was also a very generous amount of love and time spent with the whole family. Older and wiser now, it strikes me that parenting, good parenting, is very difficult. It involves a great deal of work, patience and time. It also requires the parent to place a greater priority on being a parent than being a friend, and also requires the mom and dad to learn how to say “no”.

Kids will offer up their best acting learned from watching movies, and use the oldest and least compelling arguments, such as “But all my friends do…” Weak parents, the kinds that don’t care how their kids turn out, won’t marshal the strength to tell them ‘no’. The kids turn to Plan B, C and D, and scream, cry and plead; sure a parent can be lenient and say ‘yes’ now and then as a reward for good behavior, but most of the time, when your kids want to do things that they shouldn’t, like go out with their friends late at night, they need to be told “no”. It’s like any other exercise: it gets easier the more you do it.

There are far too many parents who are happy to let the TV be the babysitter. There are far too many parents who would rather let their 12 and 13-year old boys run around Edinburgh late at night, evidently after drinking cheap cider, than be brave enough to tell them “no”.

Originally I was going to finish with an impassioned section exhorting parents to get their kids — boys and girls — to play golf. I was going to tell how my dad taught me and encouraged me, and how he helped me to learn some of the important lessons golf teaches. Lessons like the primacy of being honest, playing by the rules, and being respectful of others. But I won’t. I won’t go to all that trouble because I’m going to go play golf right now, after I send my mom and dad an email and tell them I love them.

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