Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Parenting Hall of Shame

Children are special treasures that are entrusted to us to protect. Particularly in the summer, I spot safety risks for children that land parents in the Hall of Shame.
Here is my monthly parenting column from the Home News Tribune.

Each summer I inevitably observe parenting behavior that appalls but not necessarily surprises me. I often say, if there were such a thing as a parenting license, these folks should have theirs revoked.

The first incident took place on my own street, when an SUV driven by an adult cruised by with his sun-roof wide open. An 8 or 9 year old boy was standing up in the sunroof, and waving to passers-by. I cringed and hoped that an Edison patrol car would soon be turning our corner and issue a summons to this driver.

The second incident took place on the West-bound train platform at Metropark. I looked across the tracks to see a little two-year-old girl running back and forth between what appeared to be her parents, standing several yards apart from each other. It appeared that she was enjoying her freedom as she ran back and forth with Amtrak Acela trains speeding by at 100 mph. Having grown up with a mother that had a “death grip” on my hand when crossing busy streets, again I cringed at this irresponsible behavior.

The third incident took place on a recent trip to Florida and although it did not involve safety, it tops my list of bad parenting behavior nonetheless. Near Boca Raton there is a water park named SKIRIXEN. The brochure states: direct from Europe to Florida comes one of America’s first cable water-ski resorts. Imagine waterskiing and wake-boarding with no boat, just an overhead cable to pull you. When the advertisement says, no boat hassles, I can personally vouch for the fact that there is no family recreational activity that is more stressful and has more yelling than renting a boat, equipment, and waterskiing.

I watched the safety video and got the explanation of rules with a group of youths who were all 1/4 my age. A young girl of about 13 years old was standing on the line in front of me, ready to go into the lake but looking hesitant and her father was standing nearby not going in himself. He was yelling at her, “You better go in after all the driving I did to get you here.” Her red face revealed not only embarrassment at her father’s tirade but the fear of a child who clearly did not want to do this activity.

After a lifetime of waterskiing experience, even I was feeling a bit uneasy, since this cable system involves being yanked onto the lake at 18 miles an hour, as opposed to a boat’s pull which gradually increases. It was reasonable for her to be nervous. Incidentally, safety rule #1 at SKIRIXEN: if you fall, look behind you fast to make sure the next skier sees you and avoids running you over.

The father then berated his fear-stricken teen-ager, “I paid $25 damn bucks (expletive toned down by author) for you to try this sport so you better get the hell out there and do it right now!” Although I was disgusted, I have been told on more than one occasion to mind my own business, so I write about incidents in my column rather than confront the guilty party face-to-face. Here are the four violations I would give this dad if I could suspend his parenting license:

#1 – Use of foul language in the presence of a minor
#2 – Speaking in a demeaning and angry tone in public
#3 – Forcing a child to do something she fears
#4 – Making $25 more valuable than his child’s emotional well-being

If I would have spoken to this man, I would have suggested that he forfeit the $25 and thereby gain his child’s respect and trust. He would have then topped the list of his daughter’s role models, rather than the Parenting Hall of Shame.

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his website www.FamilyThinking.com