There are about 1.2 million attorneys in the United States, but I’m not sure even one of them could hold a candle to a nine-year-old these days because America is raising some of the best ‘Little Lawyers’ around. These pint-sized prosecutors bring forth their cases and complaints with new-found fervor, telling–not asking– their parents when they are going to do something, or not do something, and why it will be done with or without permission. From the commonplace argument, “I will not share my iPod with my little sister because I do not want her to download any of her baby songs” to the extreme version of, “I will not go to school today because I believe I can learn much more at home”. Granted, there are some rational explanations given by these little ones (more advanced than my excuse of “I don’t want to eat my vegetables because they’re gross!”) but at what cost?
As a person who finally learned to love her veggies and ended up graduating from law school with a ton of litigation tools in her belt, I recognize my fellow jurists in the eyes of Confident Caleb and Persuasive Penelope, sharing their calendars during lunch as they confirm playdates that have not yet been discussed with Mom or Dad. They know they can make plans, deciding what their schedule will be at the expense of other family members’ time and energy because they have figured out the key to getting what they want: negotiation.
It’s a Hostile Takeover!
The problem is not that children today are so good at negotiation, as this is a skill that should be learned in due course. Rather that we, as the adults, have taken a lesson from their playbook instead of our own. We find this method of persuasion to be cute, endearing, and as a society we believe this helps to cultivate independence instead of uniformity. What kids today are really doing, however, is engaging in negotiation tactics instead of trusting Mom or Dad to make the best choices for them. They’ve caught us off guard because we never expected to listen to such rational explanations of why bedtime should really be at 10 instead of 8 and homework should only be completed if they didn’t understand the assignment in class. It’s a hostile takeover and no one, except the child, is saying “No”.
Cookies Turn Into Curfews
When this happens, we’ve lost sight of the fact that kids are just that–kids. Put aside the lack of frontal cortex reasoning development during childhood and think back to your own decisions as children their age. Did you make the best choices when you were seven, ten, or thirteen? America’s children are inundated with the latest and greatest at a rapid speed and sometimes it’s hard for those of us who just don’t move at that pace to actually follow this chain of command. It is, therefore, even more important to provide structure and boundaries to help them develop the lifelong skills of reasonable decision-making and delayed self-gratification. Today it’s cookies and playdates but peer into the future a little ways down the road and it’s car privileges and curfews. If the boundaries are not built when they’re little, it’s lost upon them when they’re big and that’s when it really gets nerve-racking. We must learn to say “No” to the non-negotiables.
Chief Justices Mom and Dad
So I ask you parents and caregivers: Who is the Chief Justice of your home? If it’s not you, perhaps the verdict handed down should be one of less negotiation and more expectation to rise to the behavior level set forth by “The Supreme Court of Mom and Dad”.
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