I will consider my parenting to be a success if when my children grow up they are:
- Not arseholes.
In that order.
I can cope with an unhappy non-arsehole, because I know how to support people to find their joy. Being an arsehole though is not an easily un-doable state of being.
The thing is that arseholes don’t just spring fully formed once a person turns 18. An arsehole needs to be trained up to become one. Usually this is through a process of drip feeding entitlement to them.
I know a kid who is manipulative, disrespectful to pretty much all the people in his life, will never get up in the morning for his parents, throws tantrums even though he is 9 and who gets away with everything I’ve just mentioned – all with no consequences. When I look at this kid I see the lovely little boy I remember him being as a small child and I see the emerging adult arsehole. Having known this child for a long time I feel desperately sad that he is being conditioned by his parents to grow up to become an entitled teen.
Entitled teens can go on to become what in the adult world we call abusers – men (and sometimes women) who emotionally, sexually, financially or physically abuse their partners.
Some of you might be thinking ‘Steady on, he’s only 9!’ And yes he is, but 9 year olds absorb the messages of the family and culture around them. Most kids are sponges that will soak up whatever they see role modelled. That is why a child who grows up in an abusive household is statistically far more likely to grow up to be an abuser (and to a lesser degree a victim of abuse).
“The single best predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence later in life is whether or not they grow up in a home where there is domestic violence. Studies from various countries support the findings that rates of abuse are higher among women whose husbands were abused as children or who saw their mothers being abused.”
Behind Closed Doors: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children (UNICEF Report)
But the sad thing is that children can grow up to become abusers or rapists even if they haven’t grown up in an abusive household. All they need is to grow up being fed the perfect recipe of entitlement and inequality and like magic an abuser will (in the majority of cases) emerge.
An abusive mindset is the result of two factors:
- A core belief in inequality
- A sense of entitlement – in this case we mean entitlement to be “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment”.
That means that the person with the abusive mindset has to have a belief that they are a better, more worthy person than others. Usually they will believe that men are better than women, with themselves and other men they consider to be high status at the top and everyone else below.
The sense of entitlement can manifest in many ways. My abusive ex kept me (and everyone else in his life) waiting on him all the time. He was not apologetic about his consistent lateness as he felt entitled to arrive whenever it suited him (or sometimes to not arrive at all). The sense of entitlement could manifest as an expectation that things will always be done the way he wants them to be done and that he knows best at all times. There are innumerable ways in which a sense of entitlement can manifest and none of them are pleasant to be on the receiving end of.
The 9 year old I know gets away with being physically rough to his younger siblings. I once saw him hold his 5 year old sister in a painful grip as she cried and yelled at him to stop. He wouldn’t stop, even after I asked him to. I then got his parent and asked them to ask him to stop. He held onto her little body until he was ready to let go. It was a show of power over everyone present. Showing us all who was the boss. I had seen this behaviour before, in my abusive ex. Power and control are the two tools abusers use to control their victims.
The boy’s dad said ‘Don’t do that to your sister’ and that was that. He was not made to apologise, not made to repair the damage he had done, not talked to about respecting other people’s bodily autonomy and not given any consequences for his actions.
The parents of this child are teaching him that other people’s consent does not matter and that what he wants to do to other people is more important than what they want him to do (or not do).
What is that going to look like when he is 16? When he is 30? How do you think that boy is going to treat women when he gets older, bigger and stronger?
The parents of this boy are teaching him that force is acceptable to use on other people.
What will this boy do when he’s angry or annoyed with another student at school? What will he do when he is older and a girl says ‘stop’ or ‘I don’t want to do that’?
The parents of this boy are teaching him that he is entitled to live in a consequence-free world.
What will happen to this boy when he is an adult who can’t get his own way? What coping mechanisms will he have to fall back on having never had to feel the consequences of his actions?
I hope you’re still with me here, and you can see the progression from child with no consequences to adult abuser. I don’t know about you but I sure as shit don’t want that for my kids.
So what can be done to make sure your kid doesn’t grow up to be an arsehole?
It’s simple, but not easy. There are two steps.
- Boundaries and Standards.
Kids actually flipping love this stuff. Boundary setting makes them feel safe. They like to know the rules, and to know someone has shit sorted and they don’t have to worry about it. Create boundaries and standards for your kids according to the values of your household. For example in my house I have standards around language. I especially hate the term ‘Shut up.’ I find it offensive and de-humanising. So it is on the list with ‘Stupid’ and ‘Liar’ as the worst words that can be said in my house. It is part of the standards I expect from my kids that they will use respectful language with each other. The boundary setting I do is mostly around how I want to be treated and how I want them to treat others. The other golden rule of my household is when someone says ‘No’ or ‘Stop’ or shows in non-verbal ways that they are uncomfortable – then that MUST be respected. I’ve found a helpful exercise was to have all my kids write out a list of the 10 most important values they have around what kind of person they want to be. Then when they act inappropriately I say, ‘Was your behaviour in line with the kind of person you want to be?’ (sometimes showing them their list). Then I ask them what the person on the list would do next to fix the situation.
- Enforcing them, aka Consequences.
This is the hard bit. You have to find the thing your kid loves more than anything and take it away from them (*insert evil laugh*) but seriously, this bit won’t work if it isn’t something they really love. For my teenage daughter it’s her phone, for my 10 year old it’s the internet, for my 7 year old it’s having friends over, for my 5 year old it’s Lego. Each kid has a soft spot – you need to find it and exploit it. That is the consequence hanging over their head if they embark on douchery. Now, only use this level of serious consequence when the behaviour warrants it. If that had of been my son in the story above this is how it would’ve gone down.
My friend comes to get me to ask me to intervene. I say to my child to immediately stop. If my child doesn’t stop I say, “If you do not stop right now you will be on an internet ban for 2 days”. Then once he has let her go I would say to my son that what he did was one of the worst things you can do to another person, that he has damaged the trust between himself and his little sister and that her needs to make it up to her. I would have him apologise to his sister, to my friend who he also disrespected by not listening to her and I would ask him what his plan is to repair the situation with his sister. Sometimes kids can need a bit of help in this area so I might say, “Her room is a bit messy, maybe you could offer to tidy it for her?” or you could suggest some other things that you know your daughter might like or enjoy. If he did something like that again I’d follow all the same steps and enact the internet ban. The really, really hard bit though is – enforcing the consequences. If you are anything like me this is where you slip up. My main problem was that I have so many kids I have trouble remembering who is on what ban, so to combat my lack of follow through I wrote the ban start and end times on the calendar on the wall as well as putting reminders in my phone. Whatever works for you, but follow through on the consequence is vital to the creation of a non-arsehole.
I started writing this because I watched my 6 year old son playing with some other children and one of them belted my child across the head from behind. The mother of the violent kid did nothing. I went over and told her that her child had hit my son and she turned to her kid and said ‘Don’t hit people!’ and that was that. There was no apology to my child, no attempt to repair and no consequences. And I thought, ‘Man, this sucks. That kid is learning some pretty toxic stuff from his parents.’ Now maybe she was having a tough day or whatever, I get it no one is a perfect parent and if there was such thing they wouldn’t be a perfect parent 100% of them time. But this is the kind of parenting I see everywhere. And it depresses the hell out of me.
1 in 3 women in this world will be a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault in her lifetime. To put it another way – that’s roughly speaking 1 in 3 men who are abusing women. I have 3 sons who will grow up to be 3 men. I don’t want one (or any of them) to be one of the men who abuse. I personally have been on the receiving end of extensive abuse (sexual, emotional, financial and physical). In every case my attacker or abuser was a man. A man who was once a boy.
Taryn De Vere is an eccentric dresser, a writer, mother of 5, a performance artist https://www.facebook.com/A-Chaotic-Embrace-113263035681066/?fref=ts&ref=br_tf and works as a conscious relationship coach and a parenting advisor for lovewitheaseplease.com