Is obeying rules too difficult?

2010-06-04 00:00

MY eight-year-old daughter came to me upset by something that happened at school.

“It’s not fair, Mommy. When we have computers, I always have to share with someone else, because I always get there last. I get there last because I’m the only one who walks to the computer room, like we’re supposed to. Everybody else runs.”

Oh my goodness, the righteous indignation, the angry face.

My first thought was simply to comfort her and say that maybe it wouldn’t happen next time. Then I realised it wasn’t the computer-sharing that was the problem. The real issue for her was the injustice of constantly coming off second best when she’d done the right thing.

A juicy parental quandary to pep up a boring Tuesday evening. So what to do? Tell her if you can’t beat them, join them or it’s okay to ignore what you’ve been asked to do, because it’s not a big deal and everybody else is doing the opposite? Or tell her to keep doing what she believes is the right thing, even if it means she misses out?

Some carefully worded questions later, she figured out that even if nobody saw her run and she didn’t get into trouble, she’d still know she did wrong and that would destroy any good feeling she got from getting to the head of the queue.

Ja, okay, so running in the passage is not the worst thing you can do. It’s not necessarily the first step down the slippery slope of juvenile delinquency. That’s not the point. I could forbid her to run and tell her to behave correctly or else, because I/God/the Tooth Fairy said so — also not the point.

The point is that she must develop her own sense of what’s okay and what’s not, and not rely on being kept in check by teachers or the threat of eternal damnation. She must draw her own line. It’s much more difficult to break your own rules than somebody else’s.

When those running kiddies get caught, they might feel bad for a bit, while they’re being punished. But not bad enough to stop them next time. They either don’t understand why they shouldn’t be running or they understand but don’t care, because that would interfere with their own immediate desires. That’s understandable and normal behaviour when you’re four, but not so much at age eight or 15 or 35.

Sticking to what you believe is right is hard, when all around you it seems evident that it doesn’t pay. There are times when the unfairness makes you so angry, when it doesn’t seem worth it and you just want to scream: “Screw you all, I’m running in the damn passage.”

Maybe for some, it’s worth it and the end will always justify the means. I know I’m not one of those people. My internal line just itches too much when I step over it, and I always wish I hadn’t. I know there’ll be those who disagree and say it’s all about survival of the fittest and I’m raising my child to be weak and second best. To those people, I’d say something rude. My child is not the one with the problem. Why should she change because others can’t behave?

— Parent 24.

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