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A reader asks:

How to raise boys… we have 7, 8 and 9 year old boys, adopted, with the two youngest were adopted 4 years ago internationally. After 4 years I would think that they would have understand the rules of the household (i.e. don’t hit your brother) and what seems to be to be common sense things (don’t Febreeze the cat, don’t run top speed into the wall on purpose). All 3 boys act this way, our oldest models them (he’s special needs, so it was expected). I can’t even trust them to go into the kitchen to get a snack without somebody destroying something or making a huge mess getting into something they know they shouldn’t be into. My friends’ kids the same age can do things I can’t let my kids do, because they can get into downright dangerous stuff (yesterday, the 7 yr old went INTO the neighbor’s garage, got a can of gasoline, and poured it in on our garage floor, then the 8 yr old walked in and fell into it… could have been a really bad situation but turned out ok, thank God). My husband keeps telling me “that’s just how boys are” but it drives me crazy. There’s no volume except top volume. There’s no activity except climbing the walls crazy level activity (and no, it’s not sugar intake!). What’s worse is it seems to be getting worse and not better. Is my hubby right? And I just wasn’t prepared for boys? I really worry that the boys are going to end up in jail or get kicked out of school or something. So far they act perfect in most public situations, and at school.

My answer:

First, you’ll have to forgiving me for laughing my butt off at some of your comments (yes, we say “butt” in our house… shameful pagans).  Having 7 kids, going on nine, with every flavor of personality (from parent-pleaser to Dennis the Menace), I can vividly imagine every scene you describe!

That they are well behaved in public and school says that you are probably doing more “right” than you give your self credit for. Parent’s who have well behaved kids in public are already significantly ahead of the majority today.

Boys Are Boys But…

Your husband is partly right but kids need discipline, consequences, direction and instruction too. “Boys will be boys” is not reason to let them run wild like hyenas no more than “girls will be girls” is an excuse to allow typical “bad girl behavior”.

On the flip side, I think we have become FAR too constraining and protective of our kids with the culture pressuring parents into creating a risk-free, stress-free and problem-free environment for kids. As a result, we have a whole generation of undisciplined, narcissistic and wimpy kids who are NOT prepared for the cold, hard, uncaring, risky and dangerous world they will face once they move out of their parents home around 30 years old.

Let your “kids be kids” when it comes to adventure, experimenting, creativity, exploration and spontaneity within the bounds of disciplined reason and appropriate safety (dousing your sibling in gasoline is probably outside those bounds unless of course you have a water hose nearby).  Kids like to make noise, take things apart, draw on stuff, run around, see how this mixes with that, scare the cat, catch bugs, drink nasty concoctions, play in the mud, bang pots and generally just “tinker” with the world. Nothing wrong with that… in fact, there is everything healthy about that within the predetermined boundaries of loving and conscientious parents.

Don’t discourage “kid stuff” just because it’s messy, unorthodox, unimportant (to you) or the “wrong use” of something (within common sense reason).  Most kids today are totally creativity-dull because we sit them in front of a screen (easy for the parents)  instead of letting them live, grow, explore and create (which can be messy, tiring and lots of effort for the parent). That’s one thing I love about my wife; she works with and encourages our kids in all manners of play (and it’s usually educational disguised as “fun”), creativity and exploration.  Reading, playing and creating comes before any screen time, and the benefit of those priorities is that is leaves LITTLE time for camping out in front of the glowing one-eyed brain sucker.  Watching a movie or playing a video game becomes a “treat” rather than a lifestyle and here’s a little secret for you:

The less you let your kids zombie out and rot their brain and personality in front of a screen, the less appeal electronics have to them. They discover the fun, joy and excitement of games, adventure, art, exploration and chasing the dog around the yard.

Respect for Location & Event

Whether it’s friends or family, I have no problem with letting any kid know: the inside of my home is NOT a playground.  There is a difference between indoors and out, playgrounds and home… but most parents don’t teach and possibly have never even considered this difference.

Generally speaking (my experience), kids are not taught there is a difference in appropriate behavior BASED ON LOCATION.  Whether they are in their own home, a public place or someone else’s house, it’s a free for all.  Standing on furniture, yelling, throwing things, making “outdoor” messes inside, kids are not taught there are different allowances for behavior based on both location and event, sometimes a combination of both.

For example, my kids know they aren’t going to bring dirt in the house and make mud piles in the bathroom sink but they know it’s okay most of the time to play with dirt outside in the yard and even get muddy once in a while.  That’s teaching them “appropriate location” for that kind of activity. In house, NO. Outside, YES.  Yelling, hollering, climbing, throwing, general mayhem? Outside okay. Inside, forget it.  They are also aware of “event” in the sense that if the event is at our house, mud making in the yard might be perfectly legit, but if we were over visiting some other family’s home, then they would have to get permission first.

The kids know that they are allowed to drag out 47 coloring books and 12 pounds of crayons at OUR house because we don’t mind but they know that’s too big of a mess to make at someone else’s home without permission. Location and event… respect for both should be instilled in your kids, teaching them appropriate behavior accordingly.

Now, let’s talk about my general recommendations for appropriate allowed behavior in our own homes. These are just my personal guidelines but they are made with the idea of teaching a clear boundary and respect for “inside vs. outside”, a boundary that you would want your kids to recognize when visiting friends, family, church, etc:

Inside: no yelling or screaming; pick up one mess before making another, no “dirty, messy” activities without permission first; no rough playing or climbing on furniture, the interior of the house is not a playground; older kids (3+) don’t need to be running full steam in the house, no coloring/drawing on anything not meant to be colored on; no throwing things; play in rooms that are meant for play and respect rooms that are not yours (like the parents bedroom, or other siblings rooms).  Outside: run, play, whoop & holler, climb, throw, ride, explore, jump… playground fun as long as your not destroying property or abusing your own possessions.

You might say “well I don’t care if they do some of that outside stuff indoors”. That’s up to you. Remember, the point is not just what’s safe, doable or tolerable to YOU… it’s teaching kids respect for property and awareness of location.  The idea is not to be overly restrictive (especially if you are just being restrictive because you don’t want to be inconvenienced as a parent) but rather to teach your kids respect for property, awareness of surroundings, life has boundaries, and that the whole world does not cater to their immediate impulses.

The Skill of Quiet and Still

I can always tell kids who either 1) spend most of their time in front a screen, or 2) have no boundaries at home. Those are the kids who have no clue 1) how to sit still and be quiet for ANY length of time, or 2) why/when/where you should sit still and be quiet. I hear parents bemoan the inability to take their kids “out” (church, restaurants, weddings, etc) because the kids won’t behave, won’t be quiet and won’t pay attention.  Of course it’s not the parents fault… they are just “being children”. Hogwash.

If you make a concerted effort to teach your kids the discipline of sitting still, being quiet and paying attention, they will do it. Kids as young as 18 months old or two years can be taught to sit still and pay attention if you only put forth the effort. Several tips on how to do this:

  • Screen time is the ENEMY of teaching your kids to sit still and be quiet. Electronics are passive stimulation… they occupy the mind which means there is no self discipline involved in staring zombie-like at the mesmerizing aura for hours on end.  The amount of screen time you babysit your kids with will be directly parallel to their inability to sit still, pay attention and be quiet away from the screen. There is good news though: your kids will likely receive the idiotic and criminally overused diagnosis of “ADHD” which has two benefits: 1) your school gets more money to waste (no conflict of interest there!) and 2) you have a built-in excuse for bad parenting (ooooooohhhhh… THAT will get me some nasty comments!).
  • Actively teach your children to sit still and be quiet just like any other skill you take time to teach. To teach our kids this, we would have them sit on the couch or in a chair, quietly, hands folded and still, no talking, no distraction for ONE MINUTE for each year of their age until the skill was learned.  Sit still and be quiet means SIT STILL AND BE QUIET. If they don’t last the whole allotted time, they start over.   You only do this exercise until they learn the discipline.
  • Do activities that promote sitting still and being quiet: reading, coloring, writing, thinking up ideas, solving problems.  NO SCREEN TIME… that only promotes FALSE self discipline even though kids can zombie out for HOURS in front of a tube (tube? man, I’m old but “flatscreen” just doesn’t have the same ring).
  • Play the quiet game and give prizes. Whoever sits perfectly quiet and still the longest gets a prize. Teaching, fun and reward… a great combination. However, don’t just use a rewarding game; at some point kids need to learn this discipline simply for the sake of maturity and discipline.
Is it worth it? I would say this one discipline might bring the greatest benefit back to you as parents. We can take our children anywhere, to any event, even weddings and funerals with ZERO concern about their behavior. They are quiet, still and respectful.  Restaurants and church aren’t even an issue… we enjoy taking our kids anywhere knowing they will act appropriate to the location and event.

P.E.S.

I don’t know if PES is an actual term or not. If it isn’t, I have made it one because I don’t want to type ‘passive electronic stimulation syndrome” again and again.

So, what exactly is PES? It is the effects of passive electronic stimulation from “screens” like TV, movies, electronic games, social internet sites, internet news sites, internet pornography, email, Instant Messaging, etc. It would be adequate to stop the list right there because the two primary ways that people waste away their time are listed. They are television and internet.

Kids nowadays spend hours and hours and hours a day on electronics primarily for two reasons: 1) their friends do it, and 2) it keeps them busy which makes parenting easier. An alarming and growing number of kids waste 5-10 hours every single day on passive electronic stimulation.

What is PES doing to your kid’s brain (and yours)? Just to list a few:

  • Loss of cognitive skills
  • Inability to think abstractly
  • The weakening of personal communication skills
  • The inability to sit still, be quiet and focus on tasks
  • The promotion of a self-centric, instant-gratification, impulse-driven worldview and expectation
  • Loss of creativity (it’s all done for you)

… and probably all sorts of other fancy $12 phrases I don’t even know about.

Now, I’m not a doctor (I’m mean a real doctor not a pop psychologist) or researcher but my gut tells me that PES is primarily responsible for our dramatic decline in communication skills, education level, national creativity and the meteoric rise of so-called “ADHD” (which, in my opinion, 99% of the time is an acronym that stands for “I sit my kids in front of a screen hours and hours a day so they won’t bother me while I’m watching my screen”; more comments forthcoming).

I also believe that PES has a huge negative impact on family-building and parenting. It doesn’t take a genius to observe these things because they are so evident in everyday society.  By the way, if you were wondering … reading this blog doesn’t count towards PES! I’ve inserted magic programming code to enhance your attentiveness and creativity.   So no hypocrisy here… just move along.

Boundaries Give Security and Peace

While kids will buck and moan about any limitations, the reality is boundaries give them security. They know what is right, what is wrong, what is acceptable, what will be tolerated.  They don’ t to have to worry about being in trouble when they know the boundaries.

It also directly benefits parents. When the boundaries are clear, you don’t suffer parental guilt when you have to inflict consequences on violators. You’ve heard “son, this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you”. Whatever. If that’s true, you need to grow a parental backbone. Whenever your children violate clearly communicated and well known boundaries, the only person it should hurt is them. You should feel GOOD about being a consistent, involved and courageous parent who sets boundaries for their children and expects them to be kept.

What are boundaries? Simply put: rules, expectations, limitations.  For example, “you are not allowed to tie the cat to the car bumper (boundary) unless you want to be hung by your toes and slow roasted over an open fire (consequence)”. It’s not rocket science.

Tell your kids what they are allowed and not allowed to do then enforce it. Communicate your expectations of their behavior and equally communicate what the consequences will be if they do not comply.  Clearly define limits based on location, event, activity, etc.  Just as clearly outline the consequences of surpassing those limits.  It’s not fair to punish a kids for a crossing a boundary they didn’t know existed and it’s inconsistent and ineffective to make up consequences as you go.  When the kids know “if I shoot my brother with this BB Gun again, the BB Gun will disassembled and made into my very own special paddle” then your kids instinctively no they have no one to blame but themselves when they shoot a smiley face pattern on their brother’s butt  (sorry, I forgot…we are far too safe and enlightened to let kids play with BB guns anymore. Maybe that same mentality is why this week an entire bus load of people sat by and watched two young punks beat a women for 10 blocks without lifting a finger to help her. I’m just saying….).

Energy and Personality VS. Out of Control

I hear parents say “that’s just their personality” concerning their bratty kid and I find that too be just as convenient as “they have ADD”.  Yes, kids have different personalities. If you can think of a personality, we have at least one kid with that one.  No matter what the personality trait, to let it run amok is to promote a lack of self control and childish indulgence.

Kids simply must be taught: just because YOU want it, just because YOU feel like it, just because YOU decided to is not PERMISSION to do it.  Again, it goes back to the overriding principles you are instilling in them: respect for authority, respect for the appropriate time and location, self discipline, and the realization that the whole world does NOT revolve around what THEY want every minute of every day (a rude realization they will be made aware of later in life if you don’t teach them now).

Cultivate their personalities. Parent them according to the personality (one-size parenting does NOT fit all). Encourage them in pursuits that fit their personality. But personality should never be allowed by parent or child to be an excuse for being out-of-control, disobedient or misbehaving.

Zero Tolerance Offenses

We have a lot of ridiculous “zero tolerance” policies today while being sadly negligent on the ones that matter. Some kindergartner cuts out a paper gun to play “cops and robbers” at school and they are suspended for a year for terrorism. How stupid.

Yet the very same people will tolerate the very kinds of behaviors that really will lead a kid to grow up as a miscreant (defiance, disrespect, etc).  Here are the things every parent should have a zero tolerance policy for with clear and expected consequences appropriate to the child’s age and maturity.

Defiance

Defiance is rebellion, plain and simple. It’s human nature. You don’t have to teach a kid to think “the heck with you, I’m doing what I want”. It’s inbred in the human race.  What an idiotic place we’ve come to in our society when we list defiance as a “disorder” (ODD – Oppositional Defiance Disorder). Defiance and rebellion are built-in human tendencies based in selfishness. I want my way. Plain and simple. You don’t have to teach or demonstrate it. Humans are born with this ability.  When we make excuses for it, ignore it or cater to it, we only encourage and cultivate it.

Defiance should never be tolerated or excused as “disorder” (my kid is “sick” with ODD, it’s not my fault they won’t obey… how convenient).  Defiance should have expected and well defined consequences EVERY TIME.  There is never a time to allow children the luxury or gratification of defying appropriate authority.

Disobedience

Same deal. What possible benefit is there to your children for allowing disobedience? Okay, occasionally you can show “grace” and this teaches a valuable lesson too, but as a rule, disobedience should be zero tolerance.

Parents, zero tolerance means zero tolerance, not zero tolerance after you’ve warned them 27 times, counted to one hundred or finally blown your top.  All that does is teach your kids how far they can push, fudge and bend the rules before you finally get to zero tolerance.

Disobey, get consequences. Period.  If your kids know that and expect that, guess what? Magic.  Like magic, they quit disobeying almost over night. Amazing how that works.

I heard a story once (Jim Dobson I think) that went something like this:

“After several requests for water, hugs and tucking in, I told my daughter if she got out of bed again, I would be coming in to spank her instead.  So a few minutes later I hear her call out, ‘when you come to spank me, can you bring me a drink of water?'”

 Now’s that funny… no matter planet you’re from.

Disrespect

You get the point by now. So I won’t keep going over “zero tolerance”.  Disrespect should never be tolerated in any form: mouthiness, back talk, sour attitude, “up yours’ body language, pouting or self pity. If you allow disrespect when parenting, expect them to be disrespectful to teachers, cops, authorities and ultimately, God.

Deceit

Interestingly, lying is included in every “really bad” list of sins in the Bible. Why? Because to lie and be dishonest is to corrupt your entire character and disrespect everyone else. “I can say whatever I want to get my way, advantage myself and avoid responsibility with no regard to your right for the truth, what it may do to you, and how it affects others”.

Lying, exaggeration, conveniently leaving out facts that should be disclosed and “spinning the truth” are all forms of deceit and you should have zero tolerance for them. One big reason: if you allowing lying AT ALL, when will you be able to confidently believe ANYTHING they say.

Culture has made a joke (literally) of lying. Commercials, cartoons, sitcoms… all make lying a source of humor and entertainment. News, politics and pop culture has simply made lying into a personal choice of convenience “as long as it doesn’t hurt others” which is an absurdly immature understanding of the effects of lying.

Destruction

Kids should not be allowed to destroy either their own stuff or others. We see the result of this lack of parenting all across society. Kids lose things, junk things, misuse things and ruin things with little regard to the sacrifice others make to produce or buy that object. Public property is destroyed. Community property is abused and ruined routinely… ask anyone that owns a business or property where the general public congregates (especially kids) and they will tell you how little regard people have for what it not theirs and was provided by the hard work of others. Your children should not be allowed to waste, destroy or take for granted material possessions whether it belongs to them or others.

Consequences Tailored to Fit

If your consequences are not true deterrents, then don’t bother. At that point its just something for your kids to make fun of behind your back.  I see parents give their little angel a 30 second time out after an hour of horrible behavior and even then, the kids pouts, sulks, glares and complains the entire time before finally getting their own way. Yeah, that will really show them you mean business!

On the flip side, if you overkill the consequences and ground your kid for 6 months because they didn’t face the milk label forward perfectly perpendicular to the refrigerator door, don’t think your consequences are doing anything but building resentment.

Consequences have to be substantive enough that your kids are faced with a real choice next time: “hmmmm… do I really want [consequence]  if I choose to do [behavior].”  Consequences have to be reasonable in duration and discomfort to teach the lesson but not make kids forget why they were in trouble in the first place (which turns into bitterness for having to endure overly harsh punishment).  This will differ from child to child because of their personalities. It’s not a question of “fairness” to have different consequences for different kids based on history of behavior and personality. Parent each child uniquely based on THEM.  I have some children who get the message with fairly minimal consequences.  I have other children who require much more “attentive” and “creative” and “frequent” consequences to impart the needed wisdom into their life.

If you overkill the consequences, you wear kids out and they resent you. If you wimp out on consequences, your kids know they RULE you and you aren’t going to change their behavior or mature them.

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Whew… I tired myself out just writing that. Maybe the next time one of my kids misbehaves, their punishment will be reading this blog post. That will show them.  What are your questions about parenting?

I’m outlining a book on parenting that I’m going to write soon. What topics would you like to see covered? What questions would you like to see answered?  Email me (brent@brentriggs.com) or leave a comment.

PS: WHAT ARE YOUR QUESTIONS FOR ME? Ask here. To give a gift of support, click here.