- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2007

When I was a child, my parents found fairly frequent reason to tell me that I was a small fish in a big pond. Sometimes, to keep me on my toes, they would tell me that I was getting too big for my britches and if I did not quickly “size” myself to my britches, they would have to “size” them to me.

Those reminders and admonitions kept my self-esteem in check, as they always were delivered when I was acting inconsiderate, prideful and the like; in today’s vernacular, as if it was “all about me.”

I turn 60 this year — hard to believe because I feel just as good as I did when I was 25, maybe even better (having shed the excesses of my youth — most of them anyway). When I reminisce about my childhood with other people my general age, I never fail to discover we all had pretty much the same experiences. We all were expected to do chores around the house. We were not paid for doing those chores, but we were punished if we did not.

Our parents were not “involved” with us, and none of us can imagine anything more oppressive to a child than to have parents who feel the need constantly to be doing something with you or for you. Our parents did not help us with our homework or our science projects, yet at every grade, we performed at a higher level than today’s children. Nearly all of us were told on some regular basis that we were small fish in big ponds and that we were getting too big for our britches.

Today’s children don’t grow up the way we did. They don’t have chores. That’s a shame, because one learns good citizenship first by being a responsible member of one’s family. Their parents are involved, which is too bad because that involvement often is delivered so compulsively that it prevents a child from learning how to swim with his own two fins.

I’m certain that it’s the rare child today who hears, even rarely, “You need to be reminded, I can tell, that you are a small fish in a big pond” and “If you don’t size yourself to those britches, and right now, I’m gonna size ‘em to ya.”

It’s evident to people my age that today’s children are allowed to think it’s all about them. That’s understandable, because if you talk to today’s parents about their children, it’s obvious that the typical modern parent thinks his or her child is not just a big fish, but the only fish that really matters. I have concluded that the reason today’s children wear britches that are absurdly outsized is so they can never get too big for them.

All too many of today’s children are allowed to be rude, inconsiderate and disrespectful, and no one seems to possess the gumption it takes to size them to their britches. This all was brought home to me on Easter Sunday.

Every Easter, after church, Willie and I take our entire family — five adults and six children — to a very nice eatin’ place where most folks come dressed in their Sunday best. As Willie and I were approaching the entrance, a car pulled up and discharged a young teenage girl who looked as if she was mimicking some actress she had seen getting out of a limo at the Oscars.

At the entrance stood a woman who was at least 10 years older than me. She nodded and smiled at the girl in a way that suggested she was the girl’s grandmother. The girl walked up, opened the door and instead of holding it for her grandmother, walked on through. I held the door for Grandma, who managed to hold on to a waning smile as she entered.

Inside, I witnessed at least three children, all old enough to know better (then again, one does not know better unless one is taught to know better) push rudely in front of adults, one of whom nearly tripped and fell. Needless to say, not one “Excuse me” was uttered, except by the adult who nearly tripped and fell.

On all of these occasions, parents stood silent witness to children who were acting as if it was all about them. I suppose they didn’t say anything for fear of lowering their children’s self-esteem. Unfortunately, the best research is clear that high self-esteem is associated with anti-social behavior, of which bad manners are just the tip of the iceberg.

I think the world was a much better place when children were little fishes who dared not get too big for their britches (swimsuits?) but perhaps such nostalgia is the province of those who are about to turn 60.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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