Monday, 27 August 2012

Being Good or Doing Good?

Earlier this year a book came out entitled French Children Don't Throw Food. Apparently us Brits have the wrong idea about teaching our children to behave - with the upshot being that we are raising a nation of rude and disobedient children. I have not been to France recently but the book assures me that if I were to go I would be met with lots of obedient, tidy and well behaved kids quietly munching their brie and  baguettes and not demanding to watch le cbeebies every 5 minutes!

But why is "obedience" such a desirable trait in children? Obviously children need boundaries and they also have to follow the rules of society or they risk exclusion but do we really want a nation of compliant robots? Do we really want to knock all the spirit out of our children in order to make them comply with our perception of the 'right' way to be?

It always strikes me as odd how the characteristics that we would value in an adult are the ones that are so despised in children. An adult who thought outside the box, wasn't afraid to voice their own opinion, stuck up for themselves and challenged ideas that they thought were wrong would probably be considered a strong character, looked up to in the workplace and no doubt would achieve success in life. However if a child were to act like that then they would be considered disobedient, stroppy and would constantly be told off for answering back!

This idea that children should be good seems to start even when they are first born. New mother are often asked about their child "are they good?". This basically seems to mean that if they cry, if they need feeding more often than the alloted 3 hour slots in fact if they dare to express any emotional need they are somehow naughty or bad.

I actually feel that it is important that children should feel that they can answer back if they believe that something is not right. Just because we are adults does not mean that we have all the answers. Surely if each new generation didn't challenge the view of those that came before them we would not have votes for women, the feminist movement or gay marriage.

So as a mother I will be teaching my children to be polite and to be respectful of others and I will be teaching them which rules do need to be obeyed. But I certainly don't want them to be obedient for the sake of it. If they feel that certain rules are unfair or wrong I want them to challenge them just as if they feel someones behaviour is wrong they should be able to challenge that. I want them to feel that they can speak up for the underdog. I want them to know that actually doing good is much more important than just being good.


  1. Of course they must be obedient. When they are old enough they may be allowed certain opinions, when and only when they are able to reason. That often doesn't come, I have decided until they are about 30 years old or often older.

    But, at all times they must be polite, courtious, have excellent manners, which of course also includes such "trivia?" as holding their knife and fork correctly, sitting at the table until everybody has finished eating.

    Yes and note all bra burners, boys must learn to respect girls and ladies, let them go first and assist them like a true gentleman at all times. I could go on but it is bed time and golf again tomorrow early.

    I have just thought. No elbows on the table.

    1. Mr. Driver - Please tell me you are my Uncle Richard. Because if you are not my Uncle Richard you need to meet him - you would get on famously!

      And why can't you put elbows on the table???

  2. As parents we have to consider other people who are subjected to our children so, yes, obedience is necessary. No-one likes the child running about the restaurant because they don't see why they shouldn't. Or the 5 year old answering his parents (and other adults) back just because he hasn't learnt basic courtesy. Very young children have little idea of right or wrong - if they don't want to do something, then by their rationale it's wrong. That is why so many parents have problems getting their kids to bed, for example. They 'challenge' going to bed because in their opinion it's wrong that they should have to if the adults are up. In fact, kids will find an 'argument' for just about every bit of logic a parent can throw at them. That is why they need to be good. As they get older, that 'challenging' becomes disruptive; at school, in the playground, at uni, in the workforce. Behaviour and obedience shouldn't be challenged, society itself shows us are divorcing their parents, calling social services because they were grounded, crying 'abuse' to get attention. It's gone too far.

    1. I think it is interesting that you use the phrase "subjected to our children". Surely children should be seen as a joy and a pleasure not something to be subjected to? I agree that children need boundaries but I also think that being able to challenge the ideas of others is an important skill and one that will serve children well as they get older. Surely challenging at university and in the workplace is what is expected and desired - or else how would studies and business move forward, grow and develop.

  3. I read an interesting article recently, which suggested that an obedient child might be easier to deal with when he/she was young, but could potentially be trickier during the teenage years. The theory was that an obedient child would be easy to influence- good when it's you, the parent, doing the influencing, but bad when it's the kids at school who advocate smoking/ staying out too late etc. The article went on to say that a spirited toddler would, following the same theory, turn into a confident teenager who would not bend to peer pressure...

    Don't know how true or scientific it was, but I like to think about this whenever my kids are being 'spirited'!

  4. Thats really interesting and I certainly think there must be some truth in that. I know that my two can be very stubborn and can't really be made to do anything that they don't want to do which can be hard now but will hopefully mean that they can stand up for themselves when they are older!