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Kids Now Are Out of Control—And I Won't Take It Anymore

Photograph by Twenty20

Last week I hit a low point. In the middle of Sunday School assembly I loudly called out four preteen boys in the back row and bitchily asked if they wanted to leave because of their rude and disruptive behavior. My shocking and unexpected scene was made in front of dozens of kids, parents and teachers in the name of getting control and bringing the issue of "respect for others" to the attention of all who were there. I needed them to shape up right then, because their disrespect was ticking me off and setting a terrible example for the younger kids. And I wasn't even in charge of the day's activities.

Many of us have let our kids get demanding, authoritative and flat-out entitled—all in the name of raising "individuals who intelligently question the status quo." I myself have fallen into the "just let them be kids" trap. This is BS.

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I've had it with out of control kids who don't respect authority. It's not your kids, it's not my kids, it's all of our kids, running around screaming indoors, not listening to adults that might be speaking at the front of the room, throwing a fit if a parent changes the channel on the TV. We should be mortified. Kids are adorable, kids are incredible, kids will be kids. But kids should not be in charge. Period. (I've officially tuned into my Grandpa John, RIP.)

By letting our kids be in charge, we're doing them a disservice. I blame all of us for letting our kids get away with it.

A few steps I'm personally taking to stop this out of control, no regard for authority attitude?

1. If you don't like it, then don't eat it.

And don't come back to me in 10 minutes saying you're hungry because this is it and you're not going to get a second dinner on-demand when I've already made one here. (Yes, I follow through on this and let them go to bed hungry if it gets to that point.) I don't have toddlers anymore, I make tasty food, I don't offer anything that anyone is allergic to or is flat-out gross, so just eat what's given and be thankful that the grown up gave you food. And if you really, really don't like it? Respectfully leave it on your plate and politely ask for more of something else.

2. You pick one article of clothing to wear and I choose the rest.

I remember a few years back, when my older daughter was about 2 years old, I'd give her choices about everything—what she wanted to eat, what she wanted to wear, how she wanted to do her hair. She'd make her choice and then we'd implement it as long as it didn't violate any values, rules or safety issues. I was her personal servant (except I didn't even realize it). Peanut butter and jelly, the purple shoes, side ponytail with a braid, please. No problem. "You're giving her too many choices," my mom would warn. "What's the big deal?" I'd respond. The big deal is that ponytails soon turn into bigger, more significant things that are eventually demanded because the standard has been set to make the child the decision-maker in the house. "I don't like that outfit (that I begged you for and you just bought for me)!" No more.

3. If you can't behave yourself (in the house, at Sunday School, at a birthday party) then I will make an example of you so you remember consequences.

No, I don't believe in posting pictures online of bad behavior, but I do believe in the power of peer pressure when used for the greater good. Did I ever tell you about that time in the fourth grade, when I was at my best friend's house for a swim party and refused to get out of the pool when my mom came to pick me up? Ah. Well, after waiting by the pool for me to get out (which I refused) while shooting me "You'd better get out now, Jill" looks, my mom opted to simply exit the party (leaving me there, all by myself with the host and her parents, wondering where my mom had gone). I was absolutely embarrassed and legitimately freaked out. She returned about a half hour later and picked me up ... making a most memorable example out of me. It worked. (To this day, I'm freakishly guilt-free about saying "no" and throwing Happy Meal toys into the trash after a few warnings.)

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I realize that all kids push boundaries and test authority (mine do all the time!) and it's our job to teach our kids boundaries as issues of respect and authority come up. The problem? I see more and more parents letting demanding and disrespectful behavior be accepted and excused because "kids will be kids."

It's not OK for kids to not have respect for authority, adults or any given situation that calls for attentive behavior. By letting our kids be in charge, we're doing them a disservice. I blame all of us for letting our kids get away with it and I challenge all of us to mom-up in the name of raising respectful people—even if it means calling out kids who don't belong to us. (Yes, I absolutely welcome adults to call out my daughters should they act out of control.)

As for those four preteen boys? They immediately turned back into their sweet, respectful selves after being put on the spot after my Sunday School callout. As we all like to say over and over, it takes a village.

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