Sunday, April 19, 2009

Are US Children Well-behaved?

I've met with some world travelers recently who say that children in other countries are undisciplined. I heard a story yesterday about children running around willy-nilly in Europe with no parent in sight to reprimand them. Some native Europeans recently told me that American children are perceived as very compliant and well-behaved to natives of other countries. They believe our children behave nicely, in school and at home.

I find this line of thinking difficult to understand, especially in light of how our children are depicted in the media. For example, several years ago, I would often see a popular fast food commercial where a child at dinner is about to dig into a bucket of chicken.

"Mom. I don't DO fried!" the child announced as the mother explained that this particular chicken was dipped in batter with secret ingredients and was therefore the best chicken ever fried.

I sat there watching that commerical and thought about what would have happened to me if I had made such an announcement to my own mother. I would have been dipped and fried myself.

Currently, another commercial has hit our air waves that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I've watched numerous times in the past couple of weeks as an adorable little girl gets sassy with her mother for serving her "minced fish."

She says, "What is this, minced? You feed me minced? You ever catch a minced fish?!" Her mother sweetly serves her the name brand of fish, saying, "Here you go, Honey," and the little girl snidely announces, "That's more like it!"

Are you kidding me? Are we allowing our children to talk to us like this in America? And if the answer is yes, then what are teachers supposed to do with those sassy children when they come to school? Answer to their every whim? Look the other way when they are blatently disrespectful?

Let's just say that parents aren't allowing this disrespect, and the media is misrepresenting the behavior of our children. Why are we supporting a media that puts those types of behaviors on television for our children to emulate? Teachers already deal with enough bad press as we are often depicted on movies and television shows as buffoons (think Ferris Bueller's Day Off.) Are we going to continue to let our children and grandchildren be influenced by such negative advertising?

I, for one, am not. I once wrote a letter to People magazine and then to a pharmaceutical company that sold medication for ADHD. The magazine ran an advertisement in 1998 that had a picture of a middle school aged boy with the word FREAK stamped on his forehead in inch high letters. In small print under the picture were the words "Why would anybody say that?" in tiny letters, certainly tiny enough to be considered "fine print."

I immediately wrote the company and explained that while I understood the concept behind the ad, I wondered how I would explain to my middle school son, who had been taking medication for ADHD since kindergarten, why a company would insinuate that someone would consider him a "freak." I certainly had never treated him like he was different. We had an issue to deal with, and we did. Plain and simple.

Thank goodness the editors of People magazine agreed with me and pulled the ad from the next issue. I received apologies from them and from the pharmaceutical company - the President wrote to tell me that "someone lost a job over this."

I now am on a mission to help folks in the media understand that they are encouraging our kids to think that being nasty is cool. And I'm starting with the fish folks. You can, too.

Write to:

Mrs. Paul's Consumer Affairs
P.O. BOX 91000
Allentown, PA
I, for one, will not be eating fish out of a box any time soon. Minced or otherwise.