Belfast Telegraph

I love my children but I don't love yours going on the rampage

Weary of watching children run riot, Fionola Meredith wants to see adults taking back control

I love my kids, but I don't love yours. No, I don't want to see - or hear - your little darlings rampaging around a cafe, screeching like banshees, when I'm trying to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee and the paper.

I'd rather not have a meal at a restaurant punctuated by shrieks, yells and hysterical meltdowns from the junior diners at the next table. I am not interested in how cute, how cuddly, how clever they are: they are your children, not mine.

Thank God it's September, and they'll all be packed off to school again, so the rest of us can get a much-needed break.

Look, I know I sound like a grouchy relic of the Victorian age, but I can't help noticing that children are now allowed to run wild in public in a way that rarely happened when my own two were small.

Indulgent mums and dads smile fondly at their antics - or sometimes just ignore them completely - as they tear about, heedless of the peace and comfort of other people around them. It's a really unattractive spectacle: spoilt, entitled kids running riot, with zero respect for anyone else.

Some parents operate on the assumption that you should be instantly charmed and honoured if their child chooses to interact with you.

On a recent trip to a hotel in the South, I was plagued by a curious two-year-old who twice tried to grab my cup (full of hot tea), while her daddy nodded and smiled and made ineffectual ah-ah-ah noises.

Afterwards, the little girl followed me up to my room, where she proceeded to open the door and let herself in. No sign of dad at all: he was still downstairs, enjoying his coffee, a bit too confident in the assumption that his darling would be loved wherever she went.

For other parents, it's about drawing attention to themselves by showing off their progeny.

In one cafe I know, a woman often comes in with her toddler son, brandishing him like a trophy the moment she walks in the door, talking to the child at the top of her voice. I guess she wants the rest of us to look and say, "Aw, how sweet".

But the admiration she's trying to generate isn't really for her son, who's clearly too young to care. It's for her, the mother. The kid is just a prop, a proxy, a way to get mum noticed.

It's not the children's fault if they misbehave. They're simply acting the way youngsters do when they haven't been shown the boundaries of good behaviour. If anyone is to blame, it's the parents.

Does nobody say "no" to their kids any more?

The Americans have a good word for these little monsters. "Frankenkinder", they call them: the offspring of people who have plenty of money but little time to spend with their children.

If tiny Tom or Tara are placed in full-time childcare, then Mum and Dad, motivated by a combination of love, guilt and work-related exhaustion, are often eager to indulge them in the few short hours they have together at the end of the day. So they let them do whatever they choose.

Want a PS4, Tom? You got it. Want a new iPhone? There you go, sweetie. Want to throw your dinner at your sister's head? Oh no, don't tell him off, he's tired, he can't help it, he doesn't like broccoli, get him some nice chocolate ice cream instead.

I exaggerate - but only a little.

The problem is that today's children are too often treated like miniature adults.

They are given too many choices, too much control, way too much over-indulgent attention, when what they really need is someone to take charge.

Not a friend, as so many people try to be to their youngsters, but a parent. Someone who will step in and say, "Stop, enough".

I believe that children need boundaries, even when they squawk and squeal and complain about them. It makes them feel secure. It shows them that there is a loving person who knows better than they do, a person on whom they can completely rely.

Maybe some parents are reluctant to put their foot down because they are scared that if they do, their kids won't like them.

But being a good parent doesn't mean being liked all the time.

It's about being present for your children, listening to them, guiding them.

It's about being the still, safe centre of an exciting, bewildering, sometimes terrifying world.

And it's about knowing when to say no.

Belfast Telegraph


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