Parenting. Such a riot.

June 17, 2011 at 11:36 pm | In canada, leadership, social_critique, vancouver | 2 Comments

I want to tell you a story of parenting, as I’ve observed it among my Canadian peers. I’ll try to convey how and why this parenting style shocked me. It’s just a story (albeit a true one), but perhaps it illuminates a small part of the dynamics at work in this Wednesday’s Canucks Riot that erupted in Vancouver.

It happened about seven years ago, when my daughter, then ten years old, was singing in a local Victoria BC children’s choir. If it was seven years ago, it was only two years after my family and I had left the US to move to Canada.

The parents of the children in this relatively expensive and well-regarded choir often hung around during evening rehearsals, or else they returned early to wait for their children, which allowed for a lot of casual chit-chat among the parents. One night, the father of a pair of kids in the choir – a girl around 14 and a boy around 11 or 12 – complained to another parent about his son’s school.

I’ll call the dad Don and his kids Caitlyn and Ted. These aren’t their real names, but it makes telling the story easier. I want you to focus on Don, a reasonably educated and relatively feisty man – the kind who knows what he likes – and his son, Ted, a somewhat clunky pre-teen who was often sullen and not particularly co-operative about being in a choir.

But his parents had paid for the privilege, and by gum, he was going to sing and learn about music and about being part of a group, because everyone knows that sort of stuff can give you social advantages.

Don, who had choir pick-up duty that night, was telling another mom about Ted’s troubles at school. Apparently, Ted often caused disruptions in class. There was nothing “wrong” with him: he wasn’t labeled with any of the alphabet-soup-style afflictions so often ascribed to boys – no ADHD, no ADD, and none of the Autism Spectrum Disorders. He was just ill-behaved.

That week, the school had phoned Don to say that Ted had again disrupted the classroom (which meant that every other kid in that class was denied an opportunity to learn), and the teacher had marched him to the principal’s office. From whence came the phone call to Don, asking him to pick up his offspring, whom the school wanted to suspend for the day.

Well! That didn’t sit well with Don, who didn’t want his brat child at home. As he told the story to the other mom:

I let them have it. I told them, “You have to keep him, it’s a school day and you HAVE  to keep him in school, you can’t send him home!”

You have to keep him. I-the-parent can’t be forced to deal with him.

What struck me about his story:

  • he was puffed up with pride at having told the school “off”
  • he was indignant that the school was asking HIM to discipline HIS child
  • he was absolutely convinced, without any shame WHATSOEVER, that it was indeed the school’s obligation to deal with his brat child
  • the school CAVED and acquiesced to Don’s demand

I can’t say I was so much in sympathy with the school. Hey, we were homeschooling our kids, and considered schools a mixture of toxic peer pressure, jail, and industrial-style conveyer-belt rote “learning,” armed with massive budgets and an arsenal of institutional power to shore up their status. Hooray for a tiny David who aims his slingshot at that Goliath. But Ted didn’t strike me as any sort of tribe worth defending, that’s for sure. He needed parenting, from parents who acted authoritatively (not authoritarian). He didn’t need palming off on authorities (eg. school) – yet that’s exactly what Don thought was the right thing to do: the school should deal with him.

Amazing. Don’s little conversation made my jaw drop. He was serious: he wanted the school essentially to do the parenting of his child, a job that he and Mrs. Don should have been doing.

Fast-forward seven years, and Ted is now about 19 years old. He’s a hockey fan, but most of all, he still hasn’t learned about accountability. Sure, the schools have tried to drum it into his head, but what the fuck does he care? His parents insist they’ve spent good money on him, made sure he had advantages, and made sure they always sent him to schools where they could expect other people to exert the heavy-lifting authority that they themselves shunned.

Ted breaks a few windows along Granville, helps tip a car over, sets a few newspaper boxes on fire.

I blame the parents.

They’re probably the ones screaming for more police action, too. It fits with their earlier demand for more school action. Anything to get them off the hook.

I’ve seen some amazing parenting around here. People with the patience of saints, making a difference and helping to shape their kids into terrific young adults. I’ve also seen some outrageously bad parenting here, made worse by a (imo) crazy belief that it’s somehow the responsibility of others (institutions, cops, schools, CCTVs, television, Ministries, governments, Health Authorities, etc.) to provide authority in their children’s lives.

We boomers mostly hate authoritarianism. I know I do. But the one Big Thing that becoming a parent taught me is that there’s a huge difference between being authoritarian and being authoritative. Some of my selfish boomer peers have let others be the authorities. In my experience of raising kids, that doesn’t work so well.

See Identify the Rioters for images of Wednesday night’s event.

The Times-Colonist also has a page, called The 40 most dramatic photos of the Vancouver riots, which kind of smacks of salaciousness, as if there’s a competition to find the photos that drip with the most mayhem. Includes dramatic, if representative, shots. This video (also linked to in the first paragraph) is graphic in showing the ugliness of the crowd. Another good read: Vancouver Riot: Psychology (Not Hooligans) Responsible for the Chaos by Bobbie Brooks. See also 2011 Stanley Cup riot “worse” than 1994 in the Vancouver Sun.

Update 6/19 – More links: On Youtube, A Billion Dollars Worth of Bad Publicity for Vancouver, says 94 Riot Investigator, worth a look; and a historical video, from 1968, of Vancouver Mayor Tom Campbell calling out “the hippies” (historical and somewhat hysterical), Mayor Tom Campbell versus the Hippies.avi. This video is of interest to some people critical of the current mayor, Gregor Robertson, who has tried to paint the 2011 rioters as isolated “anarchists” and louts, a tactic that resonates with then-mayor Campbell’s. One additional link (newspaper article), View from Calgary: Seedy side was there before Cup riot in Vancouver, can’t say I disagree, having lived in Vancouver in the early 80s.

2 Comments

  1. Very interesting. But at what age do you start blaming the person themselves? We can teach ourselves about accountability.. What I want to know is: where do you draw the line? 19 is plenty of time to gain perspective. If not 19, then what age? Why is it up to the parent? Clearly the parent didn’t know much about accountability either, if he was treating the school as if it was a daycare – which he was.

    Comment by Davin Greenwell — June 18, 2011 #

  2. I agree that at 19 a person is old enough to be held accountable. Heck, during the Renaissance, 13-year-olds ran entire city states (Florence, eg.). I’m not sure when exactly we started infantalizing young adults, but our ever-increasing extension of childhood is just stupid, and you have to start asking yourself who really benefits from this. As always, follow the money…?

    Comment by Yule — June 19, 2011 #

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