My Offensive (?) Behavior Post

I’ve been thinking about a few things for awhile now.  Most of my conclusions are probably pretty controversial on these topics, but they make the most sense to me.  They do not reflect the views of my employer and may not necessarily reflect the views of my family/friends.  I apologize if the following post offends anyone.

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I spend 40 hours each week working with the public.  I see them at their best and their worst.  I’ve learned which kids like certain series paperbacks and dvds so that I can almost have the catalog search completed before they approach the information desk.  I’ve learned which adults will almost always ask for “an exception” when it comes to paying their fines.  I know which teens are studious and hardworking, and which teens are only at the library because they don’t have a key to their house.  I’ve learned some tricks to keep the mentally ill regulars calm.  I’ve learned which patrons to watch because they have been caught stealing.  In my 7.5 years working for the library and the 4 years before that working for Sears, I think I’ve learned about people.

I worry about the future of our country.  I don’t worry because of test scores in school or because of the rising poverty levels – although those are concerns of mine.  I worry because of the way I see people behaving in public.  I believe that the way we behave when the world can see us says more about our potential for greatness than most other things.

Children learn how to behave by watching the people around them and through gentle correction.  With this in mind, I’ve looked at adults to see how they behave and (surprise, surprise) the adults who behave badly usually have children who do the same.  Overall, I see a huge number of people who are generally disrespectful, rude, destructive and careless, but who somehow have an unearned feeling of entitlement.  It just boggles my mind that our community leaders think that by focusing solely on education reform they’ll make our country be as great as it once was.

You know, the other day there was a 4 or 5 year old boy who was running and shouting in the library.  I looked for his parents so that I could talk to the child and his parents at the same time, but they were nowhere to be found.  So I asked the boy to stop, crouched down so we could talk without him craning his neck up to me and I said “I know there’s lots of open space in the library, but one of our rules is that we don’t run.  The other rule is to use our inside voices.  Could you please speak quietly and walk in the library from now on?”  I didn’t yell.  I wasn’t rude.  I didn’t touch him. 

About 5 minutes later his mother came over and yelled at the top of her lungs “Don’t you dare tell my child how to behave.  I’m his mother!  You come find me and I’ll tell him!”  I handed her a copy of the Library’s policy on public conduct in the library and pointed out the line stating that children under the age of 7 must be within speaking distance of a responsible adult at all times and that children under the age of 14 may not be at the library without a responsible adult in the building.  I explained that we have these policies because children this young are still learning how to behave in public buildings, and because people from all walks of life come to the PUBLIC library.  While we try to keep everyone as safe as possible, over 2,000 people a day visit this branch and it is impossible to keep an eye on everyone.  I asked where she was while her child was running and shouting in the library.  Can you guess?  On her laptop in the quiet area on the complete opposite end of our 34,400 square foot building.

See, this is my problem.  Kids aren’t being taught how to behave and thrive in our society and when their behavior is unacceptable nobody is “allowed” to correct it.  I’ll be 31 in a few weeks, so I’m not looking back to the 1950s and calling them the good old days.  I’m looking back to the 1980s and remembering the way things worked back then.  In my neighborhood all of the adults could tell any child to get out of the street, to stop riding bicycles on the grass, to stop hitting their sibling and to otherwise behave appropriately.  If they corrected you and you ignored them or were disrespectful they would immediately call your mother and tell her what happened.  The same thing happened at school, except that they called your mom after school.

These adults weren’t questioning your worth as a parent.  They were keeping an eye on the youth in the neighborhood and ensuring that they behaved according to generally accepted guidelines.  So why is it different now?  I’m pretty sure that this is one of the reasons why so many of the people I see at work, on my way home, and in my neighborhood behave so poorly.

I’ve always said that if I ever have children I will never be angry with someone for correcting their behavior as long as it’s done respectfully.  I don’t ever want to be one of those parents whose child acts crazy, ends up in jail or murders someone because I didn’t accept the loving assistance of other people in my community. I just think that it’s time for other people to think the same way for the good of their children, the community and even the country.

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1 Comment

  1. Ugh, this idea that one’s own children can do no wrong is something that terrifies me about the prospect of having children. Will I become like one of these narcissistic people that automatically sides with my child (over the teacher, librarian, law enforcement official, etc. in question)? It’s a scary thought.

    There is a lot of bad behavior on the part of parents today (as witnessed by the hilarious blog http://stfuparents.tumblr.com/) but I’m not sure it’s a new thing. I grew up in the eighties and nineties and I remember some pretty abhorrent parental behavior in my suburban community.


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