A youngster, Teagan, is on the train heading into Sydney central station on a warmer than average Sunday afternoon. She is bored and winding up her siblings in every way possible. After a lengthy game of kicking the seat, she encourages them all to sing rap songs.
Now the sister is probably about seven. She knows the words are rude or at least not what she is supposed to sing, but Teagan eggs her on anyway. Soon a few choice expletives and sexism are delivered in a Californian drawl.
Their father, who smelled like he had had a few for lunch, turned around from a couple of seats further down the carriage.
“Watch your bloody mouth,” he said, in a half apology to himself.
It’s a classic of course and it followed any number of hollow threats to put an end to the unruly behaviours of seat kicking, risky trapping of the small feet in the moving backrest, and random exploration of all adjacent carriages.
This man had no control over his children. And they did not respect him or any of the other adults in the carriage. He had no authority over their actions and they were playing him like a fiddle knowing just when to push and when to pull back to avoid the inevitable rapid escalation that would happen behind closed doors. Out in public where society sets rules against any physicality, he was impotent.
Teagan is one annoying child. But my guess is that there are many more like her. Kids who are lost for want of structure and, dare I say discipline, to focus their young and agile minds onto matters that excite and engage them whilst teaching respect and a sense of self-reliance. In short, giving them the skills to take personal responsibility.
Now I know that you agree with this. And I also know that you think it sounds pompous and old-fashioned. It repeats the laments of parents from all previous generations and sends us on the road to “Victorian Dad” made famous in the irreverent Fizz comic book of the 1980’s. Such conservatism is not what the modern world needs or wants.
Perhaps. We are certainly far more liberal than at any time in history. We allow ourselves and our offspring so much behavioural latitude that personal boundaries are blurred or lost. For a child, this is a huge problem.
It is easy to blame Teagan’s father for his inattention and failure to control his brood. But it is also easy to see why he can’t.
Teagan meantime is learning a suite of skills in manipulation, emotional control and timing that will stand her in good stead in the future. Unfortunately, that particular skill set finds its easiest expression in ignoble practices.
She could, however, do exceptionally well in politics.