As I continue to work on things away from this blog (which is a collection of Free-Time/Casual Online Writing, Remarks, And Notes By ME Whelan) and continue to figure out what goes and what stays of my existing online-writing, the de-emphasizing of one or another continues as well....

Monday, September 24, 2012

Negative ("Bad") Behavior in Children - When Is Ignoring It Better? When Is Ignoring It Not An Option?

(transfer post)

 Negative ("Bad") Behavior in Children - When Is Ignoring It Not An Option??

Author's Note

This piece was prepared after I ran into a forum thread on whether or not parents should punish a child for "bad" behavior or ignore it.  The subject was one that I thought would make a better full-sized piece of writing than forum post.

Here's the question asked in the thread: "According to a friend who is also a family therapist, some bad behavior or what he considers to  be acting out should be ignored since it is usually a ploy to gain attention. More specifically; tantrums, yelling, whining or any other  behavior that is negative but not harming the child or anyone else. I'm not so sure I can agree with this completely. While I agree that it is  used for getting attention, I don't think that always ignoring the behavior is an option. So what should be done in those situations where  punishment seems necessary? What do you think?"

One reason I thought this question was one worth elaborating on is that "bad behavior" is such a common topic among parents. The  negative ("bad") behavior, itself, is often just a small part of a bigger picture, even if that bigger picture is a common, normal, and even  temporary one that exists at the time of the negative behavior. What follows addresses the larger picture, as well as some of the smaller,  "bad-behavior" pictures.


 All Negative Behavior Is Not Equal

This question is over-simplified because 1) there are parental responses that fall between either "extreme" of ignoring or punishing; and  2) many of child-behavior incidents/situations that can take place are among a wide variety of different behaviors, so parents most often  need to use their own common sense (provided they have some) as their guide in each situation.

Also, this question includes a phrase that, to me, doesn't particularly indicate a solid enough understanding of children. That phrase is  "ploy to gain attention". It's probably safe (and accurate) enough to say that most "bad" behavior comes from a child's need for  attention, but I don't think the signs of needing attention should necessarily, or always, be interpreted as a "ploy" (which suggests the  child just willy-nilly decides he'd like some attention for himself for no particular reason other than his own ego, and then sets about  creating a llittle plan to get that attention. Some "calls for attention" may have more conscious planning to them than others, but a good  part of the time negative behavior is more a matter of something like complete and utter frustration that may or may not also include  physical discomfort (like being tired or hungry).

Some negative behavior can come, too, from a child's not having learned the proper way to handle things when he's faced with a situation  that is beyond his ability to comfortably, acceptably and adequately deal with it.

Often, too, while negative behavior is very likely a sign that a child needs attention; a good part of the time the child, himself, doesn't  even recognize or understand that it is his need for attention that's at the root of the behavior in which he may not even be able to stop  himself from engaging.

Added to the mix of factors that make "bad-behavior" question a matter of not always having a black-and-white, one-size-fits-all, answer  is the fact that each parent's expectations (realistic, reasonable and/or misguided) can color whether or not some behavior is "bad". The  emotional maturity and general developmental level of each child, and each general age-range (as well as the parent's understanding of  different age ranges) also factor into, not just whether or not the behavior is seen as something of concern, but the expectations of the  parent.

Before ending this description of all the factors that prevent the negative-behavior (and how to address it) issue from being a simple,  black-and-white, one; it's worth including one more of those factors: The definition of "ignoring it". When some people use "ignore it" in  the context of discussing this issue they mean exactly that - ignore it, don't do anything or say anything about it (ever), and just wait and  hope that the child outgrows the negative behavior. On the other hand, some people who use the phrase, "ignore it", don't really mean  "ignore it". They really mean "don't punish the child for his behavior and/or at least, don't punish him on the spot, right then and there.

My own interpretation of "ignore it" involves not always, and absolutely, addressing the matter with the child right then and there. Then  again, what makes me say that not absolutely every last, little, misdeed always has to be immediately addressed with the child is that I  have a fairly high threshold for determining what I think of as "bad behavior". Having said that, and in general, however, I don't think  parents should ever ignore negative behavior. I think a whole lot more parents (and more importantly, children) would benefit if more  parents had a better understanding of the roots of negative behavior in their own child and in each situation; and )that's why I'm not  particularly a fan of the "punishing" for a whole lot of the negative behavior that a lot of parents believe warrants punishment. (There's a  difference between "consequences", "parental responsiveness", and the "results achieved" by the child's negative behavior.

To get to a more direct reply to the question-in-question:

I don't think any parent should generally make a habit of ignoring any negative behavior. That doesn't mean "punishing" the child for it,  though. It does mean the parent needs to take some action - just not always "dramatic" or "punishing" action. Why? Because, if nothing  else, a child needs to learn that his negative behavior isn't the right way to deal with whatever his problem is. Something to consider,  however, is that the kinds of behavior mentioned in the question above (tantrums, whining, yelling) is very often not behavior that  should warrant "punishment". It's behavior that warrants "addressing" (either immediately or in the near future) - and there's a big  difference between punishing and addressing.

Something else mentioned in the question above is using "not harming the child or anyone" as a determining factor when it comes to  what should be addressed and what should be ignored. This one is a little tricky because "not harming the child or anyone else" isn't  always as clear-cut as it may seem to a lot of people. For example, the child who gets angry at his parent and, in his anger, runs out into a  parking lot to get away from the parent has done something that is potentially dangerous to himself (not to mention potentially  disastrous for any ill-fated and even slow-driving drivers unfortunate enough to have him run into their path). That example is an easy  one when it comes to deciding what could be harmful or dangerous.

Here, however, is an example that may not be so easy: Suppose a five-year-old gets close his mother's face and screams something  disrespectful at her. Some people might say, "Oh well, nobody is going to get harmed." Here's where the "harm" comes in, though: A  five-year-old child needs to know he can count on his mother to be the one who can, and will, help him deal with a world in which he has  existed for such a few, short, years. His mother needs to know how to establish the kind of relationship (which includes respect between  the two of them) that will grow, rather than erode, not just through the child's childhood, but (hopefully) throughout the rest of their  lives.

The potential harm in allowing this kind of behavior to go ignored is ultimately to the child's emotional well-being, the relationship  between him and his mother, the child's development of solid social skills, and even the overall health of the family/household  environment. One five-year-old who yells at his mother this way only once, and in a rare instance of complete and utter frustration; may  not ever do such a thing again. The problem is that children this young are at the age when they're learning how things are done, and  what they can get away with. Making it clear to the child that such behavior is absolutely unacceptable, and letting him know that if he  ever does it again there will be consequences (such as not getting a treat on the next shopping trip, not getting to go somewhere he  hopes to go, etc.) is important.

The child for whom this behavior is a rare and uncharacteristic thing probably already knows that he "lost it" and probably already feels  bad about it. Letting him know that the behavior is unacceptable isn't sending him a message he may not already know. If, on the other  hand, he didn't already know that the behavior won't be tolerated, now he will.

Some negative behavior (like the yelling in this example) may be a matter of earlier earlier negative behavior having escalated to a more  noticeable level. Sometimes, on the other hand, if the behavior is generally uncharacteristic of the child, what needs to be addressed  (besides letting him know the behavior isn't acceptable) is the cause of his action. For example, a child who lives with the chronic teasing  and over-powering of an older sibling may live in a chronic state of wishing his parent would stop the older sibling once in awhile, if not  permanently. The parent who is oblivious to her child's chronic state of feeling over-powered/mistreated may not see that if her five-year -old "explodes" on day that's the result of his "not exploding" for a good stretch of time. The straw that breaks the camel's back could be  one, seemingly out-of-the-blue, demonstration of anger toward the mother (maybe at a time when she has, yet again, failed to step in on  the child's behalf).

In a situation like this, letting the child know what the behavior won't be tolerated and addressing the underlying cause of the behavior  are two separate things. It's always wise, in a situation like this, to let the child know the yelling won't be tolerated. In a case like this, the  fact is the child IS in need of attention. His behavior, however, is not necessarily a constructed ploy to get that attention. He's just plain  miserable and frustrated, and what he needs is for his mother to do her job of protecting him from a situation that makes him so  chronically upset.

Some young children just haven't yet learned how to express frustration in a socially acceptable way. Most, to one degree or another,  aren't able to manage their own frustrations in the same way that some (but certainly not all) adults have. Also, some young children  learn the negative behavior from the very parent who sees it objectionable when it shows up in his child, because one of the biggest  ways children learn about behavior is through emulating the behavior of parents.

Emulating aside, when a household includes some types of behavior that essentially amount of a child's seeing that behavior as "the way  things are done are in this house" (or in the world) that's what the child learns about the ways things are done. One difference between  parents who engage in what may be a less extreme version of the same behavior is that parents can know (or think they know) when to  draw the line on their own behavior. Children are known for not knowing where to draw lines. That's why parents need to let them know  where lines are drawn.

 That's also why parents need to ask themselves whether, in fact, they draw their own lines when they should, and particularly whether or  not they have a different set of lines for other people, as opposed to their child. Children see how their parents treat others, and they feel  how their parents treat them. Somewhere in the mix of what children see, feel, and are told with regard to what's acceptable and what isn't  is the message they get - but also the difference between whether they see the reason and good sense in it or see only contradictions.

The point (again) is that letting a child know that behavior won't be tolerated is a very different thing from addressing the cause of one  incident (and particularly several incidents), and sometimes it can be completely misguided to hope that even punishment will be  effective when there is conflict in the message, the rules, and the examples of acceptable-versus-unacceptable behavior.

When children are (and feel) respected by parents it comes more naturally to them to treat their parents (and most other people) with  similar respect. One of the most effective weapons a parent can have is being able to say, "We don't treat you that way, and you will not  treat us, of anyone else, that way either. That's not what we, in this family, have going on in our home."

Of course, different ages bring different challenges to kids. A five-year-old child already has much of nature/behavior established. A two -year-old has a different set of challenges, but a lot of what a two-year-old does is the result of his being so new to being the youngest  age at which a child is "an independent, but still very little, person", a lot of the "behavior bugs" in two-year-olds are more a matter of  frustration and social awkwardness than anything else. That doesn't mean a parent should tolerate her two-year-old's slapping her in the  face or intentionally kicking her or the cat, but it means that there's most often nothing more to be understood than the fact that two-year -olds still have a lot of learning and maturing to do. I , personally, think it's wisest to let even a two-year-old know that yelling at his  mother is not acceptable and won't be tolerated. Then again, if a two-year-old yells in church or the movie theater the best response to  that just might be to leave the church or theater. Two-year-olds aren't consistently (if ever) capable of sitting quietly for longer than their  age permits. Expecting them to do so isn't just expecting too much of them. It's contributing to their frustration.

 A child this young counts on his parents (even if he doesn't realize he's doing it) to kind of act as a go-between between him and the  frustrations of his day and of the world. When the person he should be able to count on doesn't realize the ways he needs her to make  things a little easier for him, it shouldn't be a surprise that a two-year-old suffers the double-whammy of the situation, itself, and the fact  that the person who should help him feel better doesn't know that that's what she needs to do. "Double-whammy frustration" is tough  even for adults. It's no wonder so many two-year-olds "lose it".

The parent who has a pretty good understanding of ways to often prevent tantrums in two-year-olds usually know that, at best, even  that understanding will only be so effective over the course of the years between just-before-two and, maybe, just-turned-three. One  important thing to keep in mind about tantrums in a two-year-old is that, even if they're generally part of being around two for a lot of  young children, that's when parents need to know how not to "teach" their child that tantrums are an effective way of getting what he  wants. Still, treating the tantrum-throwing child as if he's doing something worthy of punishment is like treating a one-year-old who steps  into the street the same way. Plain and simple, it's a parent's job to oversee the situation in which toddlers and the youngest pre- schoolers find themselves, and it's a parent's job to help such young children manage situations that are simply more than their  developmental levels allows.

Essentially, the first three years of a child's life are major, major, developmental-advancement years. When a child is three, has good  language skills, and has ironed out all the "social bugs" of his first three years that's when a whole lot of socially unacceptable behavior  dies out naturally.

I think that if there's one crucial year in a child is interested, anxious, and receptive in learning "how things are done" socially, it's the  year when he is three years old. The child who gets to four or five and hasn't yet learned what's acceptable already has a couple of years  of negative social behavior on which to build and/or that needs to be un-learned. The tantrum in a five-year-old is a very different thing  from the tantrum thrown by a two-year-old. "Addressing" something like tantrums in a five-year-old may or may not be something a  parent knows how to do, but if she doesn't know how to do it (other than just punishing the child), asking for professional help in  learning how to do it would be wise. (It's always less than a year before a five-year-old turns six, needless to say.  A junior-high guidance  counselor/vice principal once commented to me, "I can go to "X Elementary School", see how a kid is when he's seven years old, and  have a pretty good idea about whether he's likely to get into serious problems when he's a teenager." This individual did add, "Of course,  you can't always be 100% certain, but I can tell you that in general, it can be a pretty accurate way of knowing which kids are going to  have problems."

His point was (and my point is) that by the time a child is seven years old, behavior problems in day-to-day getting along in life and  being generally socially-acceptable people aren't usually associated with "something understandable" (like their developmental level).

On the other hand, while the behavior issues associated with much younger children, and associated with "no harming themselves or  anyone else", may be more numerous and more likely to occur; the negative ("bad") behavior that can surface in grade-school aged kids,  but still be associated with their developmental level and emotional/social immaturity, can seem far less benign (and far more ominous) to  parents.

Whether the negative (bad) behavior of a child in this age range is yet another matter of his immaturity or not can depend on the  behavior, how many incidents of it take place (or take place within in a certain time frame), and any number of other things too specific to  the incident, the child, the situation, and his parents to easily know.

While lying and/or stealing are common in kids this age, there are times when one or both are a sign that the problem goes beyond just  immature, insecurity, and/or resisting urges and temptation. With the increased age, seriousness of some of the issues that can arise in  this age range, and the child's increased ability to understand right from wrong; it's always important not to ignore some of this behavior.  At the same time, while it is my personal opinion that talking about the reasons one deed or another are unacceptable is important, and  while having consequences result from the deed; I think parents need to understand that there's a 50% chance their child already feels  ashamed of himself for having not been able to resist temptation or for not being able to "just be honest". There's also a 50% chance their  child is a child who doesn't feel particularly guilty or ashamed for what he's done.

How each child and each situation should be addressed depends, I think, on whether the child is generally a caring, decent, child who  has "slipped up" because "all kids do stupid things at one time or another", or is a child who may have quite some time ago stopped  worrying about trying to be the good person his parents say they want him to be (and who may have given up bothering for one reason  or another).

So the children who "stop bothering" have anger after feeling nobody has met their needs for "x amount of time" (even if they don't  know enough to recognize it on an intellectual level). Some may not have anger. Instead, they just have trouble doing what they know  they should be doing (and not doing what they know is wrong).

Sometimes, too, "stopping bothering" isn't something that the child does across the board, or that seems to be a part of the nature he's  developed. Instead, it may involve only individual people or situations. For example, a child who behaves perfectly well at school may act  up at home - or the other way around. A child who bothers to try to do what's right at, say, holiday gatherings or restaurants may not be  a child who is able to (or feels the need to) keep bothering when it comes to his school work.

No, "bad" behavior is not a black-and-white, one-size-fits-all, thing. Neither is the precisely appropriate approach to addressing it. Still,  too often, too many parents treat what should otherwise have been seen as "understandable" behavior as if their child must certainly be  headed for a lifetime of crime. Also too often, parents who approach their child's negative behavior as if it's nothing more than a matter of  "what all kids do" learn too late that not "all kids" keep getting away with that behavior, and their own child's behavior goes from  something that was once fairly understandable based on his age has turned into something far more serious.

None of this discussion even addresses the matter of the challenges faced by, and posed by, kids who have reached their teens. The  stakes are often higher for teens in a lot of ways. Their world is larger than it was five or ten years ago. The teen years are a time when  even "the best kids" can do some really dangerous and/or stupid things. Those years are also a time when some of the "issues" a kid  developed as a young child turn a lot more serious. The pull to be grown up, and the need to be cool (or at least not shunned), can call  for a resistance to peer pressure that even a lot of parents (who also want to prove that they're the adult and/or also don't want to be  shunned by one person or group of another) can't always muster up. A lot of a teen's conscience has (or hasn't) become well developed  by this age. Also, their ability know what's right and how they ought to behave is a whole lot more developed for them than for four-year -olds. The outward picture of a teen doesn't necessarily always indicate that, however, because there are so many factors that can go into  which teen may adopt which unacceptable behavior (and even whether the behavior is truly unacceptable, just unacceptable to their  parents, or unacceptable in view of their age).

In any case, the situation with negative behavior in teens is too complex to address here. The point is negative behavior in kids this age  often either stems from their having developed that mind of their own or else from their having a brain that hasn't quite had the finishing  touches put on it. Their inner world, home world, and the world outside their home all combine to contribute to either good or  unacceptable behavior. In a way, however, it can almost be a little easier for parents to differentiate between "what isn't harming them or  anyone else" and "what may be harmful" (to the teen, his future, his health, his relationships with his parents and others in his family,  etc.).

Contrary to the above example of the five-year-old who yells in his mother's face, it can be a lot easier to determine whether there's harm  in dying one's hair purple versus whether there's harm in using drugs or hanging around with delinquents.

When all has gone smoothly until the teen years, there's usually no more worrying about whether a child will yell out in church or a  theater. The teen whose parents have managed to do a pretty good job isn't likely to resort to that kind of behavior. As little as even this  much accomplishment as a parent can seem to mean when a teen is "going through a thing", the fact is a solid, respectful, relationship  built between a parent and a child in those earlier years does give a big edge to parents when it comes to getting through some of those  more challenging teen issues. The child who stopped bothering at ten isn't likely to start bothering at fifteen.

In any case, a teen is certainly old enough to know that doing something like yelling at parents is not acceptable. My personal belief is  that while not being too tough ("punishing") a five-year-old who slips up in the behavior department is the understanding thing, it's the  teen years when - really - kids are old enough to know better and old enough to have more expected of them. To me, this is the age when  punishment (rather than just lesson-based consequences) can be more appropriate. As with younger kids, I don't think one slip-up (with  something like yelling at a parent) necessarily calls for punishment, provided the message that the behavior won't be tolerated has been  received loud and clear. To me, however, the fifteen-year-old who "mouths off" more than once may benefit from being punished with  something like not being allowed to go to some event/place; or not being given money for one thing or another.

Even with teens, however, I still think things aren't always all that black-and-white or one-size-fits-all. The teen who is generally a well  behaved, decent, caring, kid and who "loses it" once may need the kind of "pass" a parent who, in his lifetime, has ever once "lost it"  would give himself.

Regardless of a child's age, where common sense can come in is in knowing one's own child, having one's eyes open, and in being able to  recognize whether one incident of bad behavior is just that or is, instead, part of a larger picture of overall negative behavior. Regardless  of a child's age, it's usually easy enough for a kid to see the fairness in consequences that result from behavior that even the child,  himself, knows is unacceptable. What's not as easy for kids of any age to understand is the fact that their parents often don't react to  some misdeeds in a way that seems to indicate that their parents understand why some kids sometimes do some things.

And what about that whining that was mentioned?

My own opinion of whining is that while it's certainly unpleasant behavior, it's far from "bad" behavior. Although there are, of course,  kids who have learned that whining is the only way to get some version of results, whining is sometimes not at all what it seems to be to  some parents. Much of the time, children who are miserable are going to express it. Some children are more aggressive and/or demanding,  so if/when they express their anger and/or other misery it doesn't come out in the form of whining. Children are aren't the least bit bold or  aggressive can tend to voice their misery in a tone that comes out as "whining". Rather than add yet more words to this already too-long  piece, I'm including a link to a short piece I wrote awhile back about whining:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Why Don't Men (and Even Some Women) Understand Women Better?

Why it is that so many men don't understand women is, as far as I can guess, a question that has been asked since human beings were first capable of asking questions.  It occurs to me that I should have probably worded the title question differently, and included the word, "still", before "don't".  Doing that would add a new dimension to the question, however; and as it is, the simple question, itself, might already be tricky enough to adequately and accurately answer.

My immediate reaction to so many questions that seem to "lump together" women or men into one club of "all-think-alike" people is to be frustrated (yet again) at a world that so often just doesn't seem to get it when it comes to the fact that individuals are, in fact, individual and unique.  As a woman, my immediate reaction to this kind of question inevitably comes the reply, "Maybe if men would figure out that we, women, are human beings, and not aliens, a whole lot of men would understand a whole lot of women a whole lot better." 

Without even trying to go back over all of history and all of the ways women either were, or were not, understood (and as a result, not respected); I'll address this question from the standpoint of contemporary society, particularly society in a post Women's Movement era.  (This is where I think, again, that "still don't" might have been better wording to the title-question.)

Between the 1960's and Early 1970's and The Present

While I've always been very grateful to have had The Women's Movement change the world for women just about when I was reaching adulthood, it's always seemed to me that when The Movement broke down some one major, oppressive, wall of ignorance and lack of respect for women (which had existed throughout history), the landscape still wasn’t completely cleared for women because when that wall was broken down a lot of people seemed to start to build a whole new kind of wall that would be made up of smaller bits ("bricks", if you will) of ignorance and bigotry toward women.

It was a new wall, so it certainly wasn't as big and oppressive as the old one used to be.  Still, it seemed to be in human nature not to allow there to be no wall at all, so this new wall was being built from new bricks.  More sobering, the new wall was also being built from bricks taken from the rubble that was the remains of the old wall. 

Here are a couple of easy-to-think-of examples of "old-bricks/new-bricks" or "old-wall/new wall":  Old wall: "Women aren't equal to men and never will be."  New wall:  "Women can be equal to men if they'll just be more like men."   Old wall:  "If you're a woman and you want a happy marriage, all you have to do is go along with everything your husband says and thinks."  New wall:  "If you want a happy relationship or marriage, all you have to do is understand that men and women are from two different planets; and pay close attention to what the experts on the thinking of creatures from either of those planets tell you about how they think and do things."

To make truly understanding women (or, by extension, men) that much more difficult (apparently), it hasn't just been a matter of one old wall being broken down and replaced with some of the original bricks or else bad ones.  It has, in some ways, also been a matter of tearing down whatever wall existed in the decade ushered in by The Women's Movement, and beginning to build an even newer wall - and again, either with some bricks made of old thinking or else some made from yet a new and different kind of thinking.

Here's an easy-to-think-of example of what replaced the wall left by The Women's Movement and built by, I guess, people who didn't like some of the bricks The Women's Movement had added:  Post-Women's Movement Wall:  "Women are not sex objects."  Replacement wall:  "Boobs and cleavage - the bigger, the better.  If women don't have enough, and show enough, they'd better build more and show more if they want to BE enough."  Another example:  Post Women's Movement wall:  "Women are not the household help of men.  They are more than that.  They can be even more than that."  New wall:  "If women aren't running a Fortune 500 company and/or if women choose to nurture their own young children, they're inferior (and far from "equal"); but if women do run a company or have some otherwise "impressive" professional endeavor/achievement they are inferior because they aren't being to their children what mothers are supposed to be."

What I think has gone wrong with so many elements of those newer walls has been a matter of bricks that are made of things so much a part of evolutionary hard-wiring that even people who are generally "evolved" well enough beyond their hard-wiring that they most often aren't at its mercy, there's still enough of that hard-wiring in place that the challenges in overcoming some of it (in men and in women) are generally a lot bigger for women.  (If you're thinking, about now, that I'm going back-up the belief that men and women are hard-wired to think differently because they "come from different planets", hold off on thinking that.  That's not where I'm going, and I'll to where I'm going soon - just not yet.)

Other bricks that have been used in some of the the newer walls have come from a lot of misguided ideas that have been passed around, and accepted, in society; and that have often been a matter of ego and/or profit (someone's own or someone else's), or else a matter of insecurity (someone's own or someone else's).

What may be more insidious about the newer kind of walls, as compared to the old one is that the old one was right out there in society for everyone to see.  It was a massive and seemingly permanent wall, and it took a whole lot of "man-like" behavior and fighting for women of The Women's Movement era to break down that wall to the extent they did.  The new kind of walls that have cropped up in place of the old one aren't always out there in public view.  We can look at changes in the landscape of the workforce, or changes we can see in laws and policies and even a lot of attitudes; and be under the impression that today we "know everything there is to know about women".  Further, we can look around at an enlightened world and wonder why women haven't either moved on or climbed higher in this world.

The thing is, a lot of us who go through our lives and this world as women have discovered that instead of that one, big, wall behind which all women once were we can find ourselves, as individuals, behind those more hidden walls; and breaking them down is either impossible for one person to do, or else would mean that that one person would have to destroy parts of her life and herself in order to do it.

So what does all this have to do with why so many men don't understand women?  I'll tell you: 

So many men don't understand women because so often when women try to make themselves understood they aren't take seriously and/or are misunderstood.  Moreover, a whole lot of women have long ago given up on sharing what's really on their mind because so much of the time even trying is useless.  It's important to point out, however, that it isn't just men who don't understand women.   Just as in the case of that old wall that once oppressed women and that wasn't just made up of what men believed, but also what women accepted and believed; today's walls are also made of ideas contributed by women who have believed or accepted what they've been told by a world that still hasn't gotten it right.

Some women have a more difficult time than others, and I can't speak for all women (because, as I said, we're all individual human beings and all have our own unique thinking and personality).  I can speak, however, as one of those women who have had a more difficult time getting past any number of those individual walls that have been before my eyes by people who don't understand me.  I tend to suspect that I'm far, far, from alone as someone who has so often had such trouble being understood, not only in approximately forty years of living as a woman, but in eighteen-or-so years of being a girl before that.  Besides actually being one of those women who has that more difficult time with getting people to understand me, I've had my share of relationships with women family-members, friends, co-workers, etc.; and I've done more than my share of reading up on, and thinking about, women's issues.  (The reason I point out my "credentials" to back up my thoughts on the men/women issue is that I'm aiming to reduce the inevitable chances of someone's thinking I don't know what I'm not talking about because I am, in fact, a woman.)  So here goes....

When Men Learn About Women At All They Often Don't Learn From  The Best Sources

As I said, one problem with women's being understood is that they have trouble getting anyone to take them seriously and/or not misunderstand them.  That isn't necessarily the only problem, however, because one might ask why so many men (but also other women) don't take women seriously and/or misunderstand them in the first place.  That, I believe, is because men either get their information from other men,  from mothers who may or may not provide correct information, or from nobody at all because some mothers (particularly those of earlier generations than today's) haven't believed that fathers are the ones who are supposed to teach boys about men and women.  So, there are a lot of men who don't understand women very well; and the only way they'll understand them better is to ask (and then believe the woman in question knows what's she's talking about and is presenting an accurate picture).

While it's not right to make generalized, blanket, statements about any generation; in general, as the generations have come along a lot more men have better attitudes toward women than men of previous generations did.  There are always exceptions to everything.  For example, my father (born in 1911) was a whole lot "better" about girls and women than a lot of fathers of his generation.  My generation has more men who view women in a better light than my father's, and my sons' generation shows substantial progress in attitudes toward women.  Even with that, however, it can be youthful males who are most guilty of knowing the least about women; because that evolutionary hard-wiring factor mentioned above can be an ever higher factor in  younger men than in men who are older.

Women Must Deal With the Hard-Wiring Of Other People - And That Isn't Easy

A person can't help another person understand her if that other person isn't going to hear what she says, believe what she says, assume she knows what she's talking about, and/or generally trust that what she says is accurate and based on something other than what she "imagines" or she has perceived incorrectly.

Do you recall how when I mentioned evolutionary hard-wiring I said how I wasn't going where  you may have thought I was, and how I'd get to where I was going later?  Well, this is that "later". 

The mention of  hard-wiring, of course, can bring to some people's minds built-in aspects of any differences between males and females.  This tends to lead a lot of people to thinking about what is now believed to have been learned (by science) about differences in male and female brains.  Of course, with anything believed by experts in the field, there are usually the warnings of how there will always be exceptions and how nurturing plays some role in the development of the brain.  The individual genetic make-up of any individual is most often mentioned, along with the reminder that one's genetic leanings aren't particularly, or always, the determining factor in how far anyone does or doesn't lean in one direction or another.  Without yet addressing the matter of what kind of percentage might be involved when it comes to those "exceptions", I'll just say that when I refer to hard-wiring I'm not referring to any differences (real or imagined) in how women think versus how men think. 

Without getting into a whole discussion that would amount to a re-hash of what most people already know about males, females, and the drive to further the species; I'll just point out that we live in a world in which anything and anyone associated with what is considered "feminine" has a more difficult time being seen and respected as "equal"; because hard-wiring, human nature, and society seem to have joined together and "established" that feminine traits and behavior, and the people who demonstrate them, are inferior and/or fragile or weak.  Since most people don't like "fragile and/or weak" in themselves, a whole lot of people don't think much of those traits in others unless, of course, someone prefers weakness and inferiority in others for his own reason, which might be, for example, a preference to be "Number 1".  Being "Number 1" goes back to that hard-wiring, of course; and many people are developed far enough past their more primitive instincts not to need to always be "Number 1".  Many aren't, however; and sometimes even those who are will fall back into that more primitive behavior when dealing with someone who evokes one or another emotional response in them.

People's tendency to view traits and behaviors traditionally associated with "feminine" isn't always about seeing those traits or behaviors as "inferior".  They can be seen as "superior" if the matter at hand involves being the sex partner of a man, nurturing children, and/or anything associated with "nesting instinct" (in other words, cleaning the house and cleaning up after anyone else who messes it up).  Since women, by virtue of just being women at all, are already demonstrating an association with "feminine", they're already dealing with a world that thinks the aforementioned roles are the only roles in which women's traits and behaviors really matter much or deserve respect.   Since it isn't just "official women" who have traits and behaviors associated with "feminine", however, and since people of both sexes can show any number, or degree, of these traits or behaviors; some women show more of them than others.  Those are the women who have the most difficult time.

It's not just traits and behaviors associated with "feminine" that can result in an inappropriate response to people.  Traits and behaviors associated with "masculine" can as well, whether they show up in women or men.  The difference is that what is considered "masculine" is usually associated with power, strength, and intelligence.  What's considered "feminine" is  not. 

Women who have or show at least a few traits of behaviors that are associated with masculinity can have a little bit easier time at gaining respect, provided they aren't dealing with someone who only respects women within the nurturing, sexual, or cleaning context.   In the last few decades (perhaps more now than ever before) women have often been told that they "have their own kind of power" and should use that.  What that has amounted to is more and more women showing more and more body parts in the apparent hope of using that "own kind of power".  Women have also been told they have their "own kind of power" with regard to their role in giving birth.  In the forty or so years since The Women's Movement, women who show too many traits and behaviors associated with femininity (but not as "nitty-gritty-tied-to" sex, childbirth, and nurturing) are generally viewed and treated as powerless and just-plain "less".  Worse, they're resented, and sometimes attacked, when they express the expectation of being viewed and respected as an equal.

Physical traits associated with masculinity are generally height, broad shoulders, angular build and facial features, and a deep (sometimes booming) voice.  Physical traits associated with feminity are, of course, the opposite - small stature, narrow shoulders, softer build and facial features, and a "smaller" voice.  Men who have "feminine-associated" physical traits can have a more difficult time than those who don't.   As far as women go, it doesn't help that traits associated with femininity are also traits associated with children.  Not only do women have to live with traits that are associated with general weakness and inferiority, but they must also live with traits that tend to make others view them as "more grown-up children".

 It's not just physical traits that pose a challenge for women.  It's those behaviors associated with femininity as well.  Without writing a whole book on those traits, the nutshell version of things is that if something is associated with nurturing it's considered "feminine", and if it's associated with trying to attract a man it's considered "feminine".  In fact, if it has anything to do with a subordinate role of some sort it's considered "feminine".  Things involving a person's being in this world on his/her own terms, and separate from any any personal role or relationship are generally those associated with masculinity.  (After all, we all know the whole thing about hunter/gatherer and all that stuff.)

A lot of what is today associated with "feminine" versus "masculine", however, isn't necessarily rooted in hard-wiring.  In some cases, there can be more of a chicken/egg kind of thing with what's considered to be masculine versus feminine.  An easy (and infuriating) example is how in recent years, when some people want to talk about Americans being "softer" or "weaker", they'll refer to that unflattering view as "The Feminization of America".  If, for example, America doesn't take military action as soon as someone thinks it ought to, the jump is made first to idea that the country is "not standing up for itself" and then to the idea that such weakness is a matter of "feminization".  People who use this particular phrase don't even consider the possibility that there is such a thing as women who do stand up for themselves, their loved ones, and their home (country).  It's odd that when it's so often the female members of a species that are the most likely to attack anyone or anything that threatens their babies or nests, and when it's so often the male who goes out finding food (and yes, resorting to violence for food and/or supremacy), isn't it odd that not standing up for oneself and/or one's family and home seems to have become associated with the females of the our own species?

This goes to the fact that some of what is automatically associated with femininity or masculinity has been created by, or at least contributed to, by society's (not evolutionary) workings.

When it comes to some of the things that can be built into people, it doesn't particularly help women (who already have such a hard being taken seriously, believed, and treated with respect) that a lot of men take in information visually, rather than through auditory means (which is how a lot of women take in information).  (As always, there are exceptions.)

My ex-husband (who remains a friend, and whom I've know for thirty-six years now) recently politely explained his problem with conversation.  He's an engineer-turned-software-designer, so he's "technical minded".  He was saying how he takes in information visually and can't take much of it in at all through auditory means.  He said, "I just need to see something.  If I'm just hearing something all I hear is 'bla bla bla'.  So, basically I was being told that I shouldn't attempt to communicate by talking because it would be heard as "bla bla bla".    From what I think I've figured out, however, is that when people hear only "bla bla" it's usually when what is being talked about is not something that interests them; and much of the time what interests some people are only their own problems and the subjects related to their own areas of interest.

Whether a person is truly incapable of hearing anything at all other than "bla bla", or whether he's just not interested in the "bla bla" that he's hearing (or at all in anything that person doing the "bla-bla-ing" might have to contribute), doesn't really matter.  All signs put to some people's being sent the message that they shouldn't bother trying to talk to some other people (or at least not say more than some other people deem should be required).

There's an egotistical arrogance and sense of superiority in the person who believes he knows how many words it should take for someone else to say what s/he needs to say; because this goes to assuming one knows everything the other person must possibly have to say, and ruling out the possibility s/he has anything new or enlightening to contribute.  It's all just a way of essentially saying, "I know everything I need to know, and you don't have anything in your head to add to what I already know.  You have other stuff in your head that I don't know, but that stuff isn't important stuff or stuff I care about."  So, in yet one more way, women who try to communicate (and maybe communicate in a way that will help them be better understood) are up against the all too familiar situation of dealing with someone who sees them as "less".  It isn't just men who hear "bla bla", and it isn't just women who "spew" (we've all that heard that term used) "bla bla".  It's just, perhaps, that when bla bla is spoken in a softer or higher voice it's that much less likely to come through clear than a more booming voice will.

I can see the humor in the fact my attempt to answer the title-question has resulted in what will, no doubt, be experienced as "bla bla" by any number of people who've deemed that the answer to that question shouldn't take so many words.  What's not very funny, however, is that as a former girl, and now woman; I figured out a long time ago that if I ever even wanted anyone to understand me (or girls or women in general or mothers), my efforts to make that happen would have to come in the form of written words because so many in the world haven't yet figured out that a softer voice or smaller shoulders are nothing more than that - a softer voice and smaller shoulders.  Those things aren't an indication of my strength as human being, my intelligence, or my level of maturity. 

On the other side of the coin, neither do my nurturing instincts, kindness, affinity for writing, or choice to put other people's needs first when that's my responsibility (all associated with femininity) indicate that the only kind of power or respect I have a right to in this world is some "own kind" - not the same kind that so many other people in this world automatically acquire without fighting and without being the one to have to do the unflattering thing of "committing bla bla".

Why so many men don't understand women very well isn't necessarily because no men ever listen to any women.  Some men do.  It's more, I think, because so many people-in-general are far less likely to pay much attention to what women (at least the ones who show too many feminine-associated traits or behaviors) say or try to say.  In other words, the very people who could best help the world understand women better are the ones least likely to be taken seriously.

Through all the time that women has existed in this world, can you imagine how shocking it is that in 2012 so many women remain so misunderstood and/or essentially invisible?

Some People (Not Just Men) Don't Understand Some Women Because They Don't Simply Ask About The Smaller Things

As a woman, I can tell any man (or anyone else) that if he wants to understand me all he has to do is ask.  It will make it easier and quicker for both of us if the question is a specific one, and don't forget to ask about my reasoning to the answer (rather than just assuming that I'm "being run by emotions"). Keep in mind that what doesn't make sense to some tends to look "emotions based".  Keep in mind that something make not make sense to you because I have included more information into my reasoning process than you realize exists (and I don't mean "exists in my head"; I mean "exists in the world").

Then, if my reply to the question leads to your still  not really understanding, ask another question for clarification...

...AND, if my answer is ever something that surprises you, or that you never would have considered, don't just assume that's because I'm "wacky" or "fluffy-headed" or otherwise less sensible or smart than you are.  (If you're tempted to think that what I've just said doesn't make sense to you, or seems too "weird" or "strange" to be based in reason - go look it up on the Internet.  If someone you respect more says the same thing maybe it won't come across as quite as wild and wacky to you.)

Many men don't understand many women because too few people understand women at all.  Too many people are far too sure that they understand women.  Too many understand so little that they don't even know enough to consider the possibility that they understand close to nothing about women.  What's worse, a whole lot of people see at least a few of the things women deal with; but have no clue as to the extent, or degree to which, some women have to deal with some things.  The fact that a lot of people see some of the ways women are misunderstood almost works against a lot of women, because those people tend to believe they've "seen it all" and "understand".  Sometimes there's nothing worse than people who think they understand what others live with when they simply do not.

My message, as a woman, to the world:  People, stop buying everything your buddies at the bar, some magazine, your parents, and/or even experts (skill and qualified or otherwise) tell you about ‘how women are’ or “how women think’!!!   Believing what you’re been told or what you’ve read about how “all women” are, or do, anything is slowing down a lot of progress for women in general.  As it is, preconceived notions about anyone (ANY human being who isn’t you) sets backs communication and understanding to the point where it can be hopeless.  Preconceived notions usually come from the stuff we’re told by “the world”.  Ill-conceived notions, on the other hand, tend to be the ones who come up with yourself after mix up all the preconceived baloney someone else convinced you was fact.

In order to understand the degree to which some women live being misunderstood (and only because so many misguided ideas about women are so deeply ingrained in individuals and society in general), I'm going to get personal here.

Twenty-however-many years ago (or maybe more), I read quite a few books that were aimed to point out different ways men and women communicate and/or think.   A couple of them that I read showed a list of traits for men and one for women.  When I read those lists I'd think, "This isn't right," with any number of the things shown on the list for women.  Then, I'd look at the list for men and think, "Oh, there's what I do."  At the same time, I'd notice that some of the men I knew had traits that showed up under the women's category.  Now, I know that there will always be exceptions, and I know that one person's handful (or so) of family members and friends don't make much of a sampling.  At the same time, I was thinking about how if even just one person saw this high a percentage of inaccuracy in some things on those lists, what were the odds of my being the one freakish individual who happened to live among another bunch of freakish individuals (especially since neither I, nor any of the people I had in mind, were really very freakish in terms of generally being "normal" people).

I noticed that in some cases, it seemed as if the person's traits fell under the sex of the parent who had most likely been least critical of him.  My husband and I both fell more under the list for the other sex, and I was familiar enough with both sets of parents to notice the matter of one parent's being more critical than the other.  Also, however, I wondered if the role parents of each sex play in the development of children of either sex were factors.

Eventually, I ran into a book that pointed out the different combinations of different types of parents, and whether or not each parent was strong and/or critical made a difference in the type of misogynist a man might turn out to be. 

Note:  One of the many books I read at the time (which was in the 1980's) was by Susan Forward, Ph.D. and was "Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them".  I believe that was the book in which I saw outlined the different types of "sets of parents", but I've just tried to find the exact material online by viewing parts of the book and haven't been able to do so.  I'm not going to further pursue that because what I'm writing here is not based on any specific book, and I've done no specific research for this particular discussion.  The only reason I'm reluctant to cite Dr. Forward's book, however, is that I am not entirely sure it was this particular book in which I saw the material to which I'm referring.  In other words, if someone goes to find the material they may be going to the wrong book.

In any case, I'd run into the breakdown of the different combinations of parents, with focus on whether each parent was strong and/or critical.  A question I have today is this:  If those factors and combinations of parents are related to whether a son turns out to be a misogynist who behaves in one way or another; isn't it equally possibly that even just those two traits alone, but in lesser degrees, might also lead to misogyny (but in a lesser degree) in sons, or perhaps even daughters?  In other words, might a perfectly balanced daughter with generally wonderful and loving parents lean more toward adopting some behaviors or traits of a father, if her mother has a stronger "presence" than her father and is the parent who most often expresses disapproval (criticism) of the child?  Assuming that what goes on with the parents is within what is normal and generally healthy, might this kind of thing lead some daughters to think or interact more like their fathers; and some sons to think or interact more like their mothers?

Also, based on a number of people I knew well, I saw an apparent connection between birth order combined with the child's sex.  So the combination of parents would be one thing.  Whether the first-born child was a girl or boy was another, and whether (for example) a second-born child was the second or first of his sex for the parents appeared to make a difference (at least with those people I knew) with regard to which child seemed to identify most with which parent (at least in general).

The point is, a whole lot of what I'd read about how women think/communicate versus how men do appeared  to me to be, quite frankly, "baloney"; and I thought there was the chance I had a fairly good idea as to why.  Later, when I became the mother of three children (one adopted son, one son by birth, and one daughter by birth); and when I aimed to raise "a person first" (but one who liked what sex he happened to be), I'd see more reason to 1) believe I may actually have been correct about what I'd thought previously, and b) question a lot of what some experts were saying about differences between the sexes (AND, for that matter, about birth order when birth order didn't factor in the sex of the child or the likelihood that child would adopt one or the other parent's behaviors and/or thinking style).  With books on birth order, as with the others, there is always the explanation that "there will always be exceptions".  That covers those instances when someone's personality doesn't match what the book would attribute to a person in that place.  Again, there is most often not anything very specific about percentages of people who would be exceptions.  Birth order books are, however, a subject for another time. 

The more important point is that when it comes to book and articles about how women (or men) think, or what they are, as “one, big, club”, over-simplified lists of what men think and what women think that don’t factor in some of major differences (in one’s life or situation) that can play a very large role in how one person thinks regardless of his/her sex; I’m going to guess that a huge percentage of what is presented as “in most cases” (rather than “only in exceptions”) is just grossly incomplete, misinformed, and/or inaccurate. 

I, personally, am not in a position to be able to accurately state what percentage of some of the stuff that shows up in books and articles and old wives’ tales about women is wrong. I only know that based on myself, and based on a good number of people I’ve known over the course of my life as a woman; a whole lot of what shows up is simply out-and-out inaccurate.  Logic and reason (women actually do have and use those cognitive skills) tells me that I cannot possibly be the only person in the world who has observed what I have, based on myself and others I’ve known.  Logic and reason also tell me (oops, look!!  There they are again!!) that simple lists that say what men are like and what women are like are very likely to be wrong as much as about 50% of the time, if not completely than on x number of traits/behaviors  presented, as  if “written in granite”,  as what one sex or the other is or does.  (Look around.  Do you think in the all the same ways as everyone else you’ve ever known of your own sex?  If your reply to that question is “yes” then look outside your own circles because I guarantee you that nobody who looks beyond his own small circle of family members or buddies will reply “yes” to that question.)

What I can say with absolute certainty is this:  The first time I ran into those lists about how women think and how men think, and the first time I noticed that I and a lot of others I know didn’t fit neatly under the side we were supposed to, I actually thought to myself, “I wonder if I’m one of those people who is really ‘a man in a woman’s body’”.  It took only a second or two for me to realize that wasn’t likely to be the case.  After all, I knew I was heterosexual.  More significantly, perhaps, I knew how much I’ve always enjoyed being my own sex; and I’ve always pretty moved and felt about as feminine as anyone could feel.  I’ve certainly never been “the frilly, girly, type” but being feminine doesn’t always involved frills or “being girly”.

All I knew was that I wasn’t seeing accuracy in so many of those “expert” assertions.  Ironically, when I’d been a child and teen; it was my father who pretty much took for granted that I “had a good head” and “was likely” to be whatever I wanted to be in this world.  It was my mother who had the expectation that I think for myself and, equally important, be a strong and independent individual.  I didn’t have all that many problems “being-understood” problems when I was a kid.  Those problems arose once I grew up (particularly since I grew up in a time when “expert word” about the differences between women’s and men’s thinking was spreading fast and furiously among anyone impressed enough with the word, “expert”, to a) accept what experts said, and b) want to join in with those experts and at least appear to be that much more “educated”.

It was when the world seemed to have become so much more “enlightened” about differences between the sexes when I noticed that nobody seemed to notice people like me.  Nobody with a healthy awareness that he is, by no means, an expert on a subject feels very comfortable speaking up against what “all the experts” seem to be saying.  People who are most prone to just accepting what experts say are also those people who are least prone to think for themselves when faced with evidence or experience that conflicts with what those experts say.

Most of us are well familiar with what Christopher Columbus had to do to get anyone to even consider that (contrary to popular belief of the time) the world just may not be flat after all.  Since I’ve never particularly been looking for anyone to kick in on the costs of my own journey, and since I’ve never been someone who particularly bothers trying to prove anything to anyone, I just accepted that I lived in a world that still didn’t have a clue about how women think.

It's not that I haven't tried, time and time again, to make someone understand me or some other women I know.   I don't pretend it doesn't bother me to see someone assume the worst about another woman just because he doesn't understand her.  I don't pretend, either, that not being understood hasn't resulted in more than its share of disaster in my life.  The thing is, however, that when I've tried (as with when so many other women have tried) to be understood better, either nobody is interested or else somebody thinks he (or she) knows more than I do.

We women often have little choice but to go through this world and life with our femininity on display, no matter how much we try to play it down.  Some women are willing to try to eradicate all signs of femininity in themselves (not just what shows on the outside but what's in their minds as well).   Most of us do not.  Most of us have our narrow shoulders and our measly 5' 2" skeletons. (5' l" to 5' 3" are the most common heights for women in this world, and yet women in that height range are still seen as "short women", which is different from being a "short person".)  We have our feminine voices which may sound soft, gentle, or “too nice” when we're happy enough; and either shrill or b--chy when we're not.  If we're mothers we're respected (up to a point) for being good ones, but we all know that being a mother only gets one kind of respect and only so much of it.  Women who are beautiful or pretty may be respected for their appearance, but not necessarily for the “whole person” as an equal.  Those who have impressive academic and/or career accomplishments are often respected for those, but not necessarily for being “equal as a person”.  There are any number of skills, talents, or traits for which women may be respected, but they tend to be isolated from that “generally equal as person” (or even “superior as a person”) variety of respect.

Sometimes women are respected only when they’re what someone else believes they ought to be.  For example, a woman who is nice will be respected for how nice she is by someone who expects “nice” from women.  On the other hand, someone who equates being nice with being less-than-intelligent won’t respect the nice woman.  Instead, that person will respect a not-so-nice one.  This kind of “respect discrepancy” between people can exist for men too, but in general people (both men and women) tend to have more expectations of and standards for, women than for men.  Something like being nice is often seen as “a positive extra” in a man.  In a woman, it’s often seen as a sign that the woman isn’t strong enough, tough enough, or generally as worthy of respect as women who aren’t quite as nice.  Emotional strength is often just assumed for men.  It’s often not even recognized by some people when it’s a woman who has it.  Assertiveness and confidence are generally expected in men.  When a woman shows those traits/behaviors it can be seen as unlikeable or even as the woman’s being more assertive or more confident than she has a right to.

“I am woman.  Hear me roar?”  How about, “I am woman, so I don’t dare roar”  Why?  Because whether I whisper, speak in my ordinary voice, or roar; a whole lot of people will have already tuned out what I have to say because of whatever voice it is I choose to use.”  Worse, perhaps, is the fact that even when someone has not turned out what I, as a woman, have to say in whatever voice it is I choose to say it; there can be the overwhelming odds that whoever I say it to will think he (or even another she) knows better than I do, is “less emotional” than I am deemed to be (even when I’m not a very emotional person in spite of my sex), is “more reasoned” or “more logical” than I am deemed to be (even when I’m about as reasoned and logical as anyone could ever be); or else just generally has a right to judge what I say as if I’m a child or else generally inferior to him or her.

Why don’t men understand women better?  Because fewer people (men OR women) really listen to women than a whole lot of people realize.  Some women manage to make themselves heard (even if not always respected for what they say) better than others.  Women, in general, have made a lot of progress over the last few decades.  I know that.  I also know that not all women are as oppressed as some are, even in a country where women are supposed to be valued equally and have the same freedom as everyone else.  At the same time, I know, too, that for all those who are not similarly misunderstood, and even oppressed, as some (even in America, where women are so often believed to have made so much progress); there are many, many, others who are.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Giving Your Child An Allowance - Does It Really Send The Right Message?

Author's Note: Before I discuss my views on allowances let me go bar my front door, pull my shades, and shut off all my lights. I need to hide from those who will want to tar and feather me.

Ok - here goes:
I don't believe in allowances, and I don't believe kids need allowances in order to learn the value of money or importance of managing it wisely. In fact, particularly today, I believe that too much money when kids aren't old enough (or willing) to work for it can create problems that would not otherwise have arisen.

Does An Allowance Really Send the Right Message?

When my kids were young I dealt with the money issue the same way my own parents did: Parents covered all necessary expenses, school events and needs, special occasion needs (like birthday gifts for parties) and a limited amount of entertainment expenses (the occasional movie or tickets for a trip to an amusement park, baseball game, etc.). The entertainment expenses were kept limited, and parents explained how only so much money could/should be spent on entertainment. Aunts and grandmothers often sent money at birthday times, and children could save. Sometimes grandmothers would hand a grandchild a couple of dollars just because they thought it was a nice thing to do. School promotion time brought cards with a few dollars in them. Kids were encouraged to save up their money to buy something worthwhile, and for some reason that's what usually happened.

Christmas and birthdays offered the chance for kids to have "one, big, gift" and a bunch of smaller ones. It was always made clear to kids that they should choose their "one, big, gift" wisely. During non-special times of year adults would buy the occasional small item for children just because it’s kind of nice to get a little toy or activity that's new and different, but kids understood there was a limit to the number of toys/activities bought in any one week and a limit on the amount spent.

Kids were told, "We'll cover the basics, but if you want to do something to earn a little extra spending money we'll help in any way we can." It was generally established that even before a kid gets to be of working age there are often little jobs s/he can do. At eleven I went to the store for neighbor-mothers with babies and was given fifty cents each time. There were also times when the young mothers would give me fifty cents for pushing their baby (in a carriage) back and forth near the house for a while, so they could get some work done. I was thirteen when I began babysitting.

Because I was a reliable and sensible babysitter more and more neighbors requested my services. It wasn't long before I had a monopoly in the neighborhood, and there was one, particularly special, family who moved but came back to pick me up so I could still sit. (I sat for them until I was 19, and their kids were big, even after I began working at 16.)

Newspaper routes were a way kids could earn money. My own eleven-year-old son earned the money to buy his first Nintendo system and was very proud of having done that.

In general, the way my family has always done things, children haven't felt particularly deprived because parents covered as many expenses as they did. Young children don't really need much more, and it isn't until a kid gets to be thirteen or so when the wish to have more spending money starts to get really strong. A kid that age can often find a way to earn some extra money, but if s/he cannot s/he will only have to wait a little while before being old enough to find a "real" part-time job. Thirteen to fifteen or so tend to be ages when kids are at high risk of getting into a little trouble, and I think the limitations of having little money can often keep a kid home at a time when too much out-and-around time isn't always good. Once kids were old enough to become employed it was understood that if they wanted extra spending money they needed to work for it. If they chose not to work they would need to live within parents' budgets when it came to spending money.

Our family had the general attitude that family members are supposed to help other family members at times - not because they'll be paid for services but because that's what families do. My belief (like my parents' was) has always been that it is the parents' responsibility to cover the expenses of childrearing, and providing for adequate social and entertainment activities is part of normal childrearing. "Adequate", however, is very different from "all the socializing and entertaining you want". In general, the idea always was that younger children's extra spending needs are fairly limited. Once teenagers get old enough to want to get a car, go out eating, and do things that require more money their "extra expenses" become a little higher and require a little pitching in on their part.

I've never believed I needed to hand my children money that was under the name of "allowance" just because they were my children. My kids had plenty of things and somehow had learned to be very careful with all those dollar bills and five-dollar bills they had been given at birthday time or upon accomplishment.

To me, it didn't seem like such a bad idea to let them know that dependence on others is for children and that a fixed weekly income comes when a person is willing and able to work for it. I wanted them to know if they needed anything they had me (and their father) to provide it, and when it came to things they wanted we'd provide as much as we could. My parenting was, to me, not a business arrangement. Somehow offering an allowance and getting into a whole, big, formal, arrangement as "allowance-payer" wasn't my idea of how things should be done. I wanted a less formal arrangement as provider, but it was also important to me that my children learn that when all is said and done people who want more money or stuff than they already have must work for it. To me, learning that there are limitations when one must be dependent on others helped children realize that part of being grown-up is working and earning a little more independence as a result of it.

At eleven years old I was proud that those young mothers trusted me to get exactly what they asked for from the store or to push their babies. I'd save up four of those quarters and use them to buy Barbie outfits, which at the time were usually about two dollars. All those neighborhood babysitting jobs (that earned me about $50 a week decades ago) made me feel as if people (other than my parents) saw me as a trustworthy, capable, individual. When I got a job as a supermarket cashier a couple of weeks after turning sixteen I was not only able to buy an ugly suede jacket for myself, but I learned how to overcome shyness and be friendly toward strangers, as well as overcome it enough to use the paging system. I made a lot of new, different, friends at the store as well. Most importantly, perhaps, I learned what it feels like to have a reputation as "one of the best and reliable cashiers".

Having one's "own money" is very different from being handed money by one's parents.
Parents can obviously teach their children about money in the way they sit fit, and I don't think allowances are the worst thing in the world. Its just that I don't think an allowance is always the best way to teach the value of money and good money management, and there's at least the chance the offering an allowance can blur the line between "providing for" and "own money". There may also be the chance that kids who are handed a fixed amount of cash each week could actually miss out on learning some of the ideas about money that most of us hope they will learn.

Ok. There, I've said it. If nobody with tar and feathers shows up by tomorrow I'll assume I'm safe.