Sunday 17 February 2019

Just who’s in charge anyway?

Over the last 35 years, Malta seems to have gone through a massive social upheaval right before our very eyes.

I still remember a time when a woman would be looked at askance for wearing a string bikini to the beach (a ‘two piece’ was considered more modest), now girls as young as 13 wear hooker-style clothes on a night out in PV.

We have gone from having a child ‘out of wedlock’ being considered the worst possible shocking scandal to ever befall a family, to boasting about producing a smattering of children from various mothers/fathers on Facebook. (And here I’m just making a sociological observation not a moral judgement – in these matters, my motto has always been: ‘live and let live’).

Yes, things have certainly changed, and in no other area have we seen such a huge change as in the matter of childrearing. As with so many other things in this country, we have swung violently on a pendulum from one extreme to another.

In the past, a whack and a thump were considered good parental skills, and too much physical affection was frowned upon (it was considered fsied zejjed, or over-pampering). These days, however, I look around at screaming toddlers, bratty prepubescents and downright slappable teens, and wonder who on earth is in charge.   We have gone from too much rigid discipline at home and corporal punishment at schools to what to me looks like a downright free-for-all, with children calling the shots and parents quivering and quaking because they want to be ‘liked’.

Granted, raising kids is probably the most difficult job there is. And, of course, no one quite knows if they are doing it ‘right’. But I still find it incredible that we have not found a happy medium.

Hitting children, to me, is unacceptable, but there are always exceptions. A slight smack on the behind or the legs never killed anyone, and is sometimes the only way to rein in an uncontrollable child who has thrown himself prostate in the middle of the supermarket, yelling his lungs out because he wants sweets. Of course, ideally it would not come to that and we would have to rewind a few years to understand why this child feels that a tantrum will produce the required results: a mortified parent who caves in at the embarrassment of their child making a scene.

Likewise, I do not agree with parents and authority figures who repeatedly and aggressively scream and yell at their children for absolutely no reason at all, or for just a minor incident. Apart from the fact that being spoken to with a constantly scowling face and raised voice is not pleasant for anyone (and will only result in children who will themselves shout) it is also true that kids will eventually learn to tune out the constant shouting until it becomes so much background noise.  If used all the time, rather than judiciously as a form of correction or discipline, shouting loses its effect completely.

But in a case of political correctness gone truly haywire it seems that some parents think that shouting at children, even if the latter are doing something very naughty or are in danger of hurting themselves, is going to inflict harm on their precious self-esteem, and humiliate them in front of others.

Oh, please give me an almighty break.

As any mother will tell you, dealing with children on a daily basis can be exhausting, nerve-wracking and can stretch one’s patience to breaking point, so sometimes in order to restore order, only a good old-fashioned sharp rebuke and shout will do. Of course, you then have the other extreme: the threats and expressions I have heard parents scream out at their unruly children when they completely and utterly lose it in public places would make your head spin. Inkissirlek wiccek, jekk tibki inbkik, jekk taqa’ infarraklek geddumek etc. (loosely translated all these phrases basically mean that “if you fall and hurt yourself, I will continue to maim you myself”).

In moments such as this, when I witness a parental meltdown (and yes the poor Mums and Dads do have my commiserations), I try to imagine what a primary schoolteacher’s day must be like, faced by tiny tots, squirming, wriggling, chattering, running recklessly around the school yard and generally just being kids.

From anecdotes I have heard, it seems that teachers these days have very little room to manoeuvre. The result is  that they either give up disciplining the students altogether or risk being ‘reported’ by a little tyke to his parents, who then come marching self-righteously to the school, as we say in Maltese “ghas-sodisfazzjon” (to get their satisfaction). The head of school promptly summons the teacher who then has to lame-facedly justify his/her actions and made to feel like a monster for daring to use a raised voice to discipline Mummy’s little darling.

Have we completely lost our marbles or what? Have we seriously got our priorities so screwed up that it is teachers who are now being reprimanded instead of naughty, uncontrollable children who will now be even more empowered to do what they please because the teacher was scolded?

I have even heard stories of parents who threaten to pull their child out of a school unless a teacher is kicked out. Apart from the complete injustice of this, by belittling the teacher, those who run the school are simply reinforcing the belief that, in today’s world, it is the children who are in charge.

I look around me and cannot believe the sheer arrogance with which kids as young as six years old speak back to their parents. Even at such a tender age, they already have such an obnoxious attitude that you dread to think what they will be like in ten years’ time. Respect for authority must start at home and carried over to schools with teachers, parents and heads of schools all working together to convey the same principles.  That is why I feel that when parents undermine a teacher who is only trying to do his/her job, they are only serving to erode the basic fabric of our society because this disrespect will simply be carried over into ‘real life’ where the child, now an adult, will think he does not need to obey any authority at all, and that rules are meant to be flouted.

It is time we wake up to the realization that something must be done to restore the natural order of things in families and schools.  Teachers, especially, need to be given back some measure of control and respect, rather than having to live in fear and anxiety that one of the students is going to go running home to Mummy to “tell on the teacher”.  After all, these mothers (yes, I’m afraid most of the time it is mothers) should realize that by allowing their children to get the upper-hand at school, they are only undermining their own authority at home. They will wake up one day to be faced with a snarling, insufferable teenager who treats them like crap and ignores them completely.

And by that time, no amount of threats, shouting or ultimatums will get you anywhere.




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