Hidden Messages

Danny The Disrespectful Kid Excerpt

Danny walks in the door after school the way he usually does: muddy footprints, abandoned backpack, half-eaten lunch, and jacket trailing him on the floor. His mother looks up at him, making that “tsk” sound that only mothers can produce quite that way, followed by a weary sigh. “Geez, Danny, why do you have to come in like a tornado?” Danny mocks her the way he always does when she makes this comment.  Whirling around, he knocks several things off the counter on the way to his first destination, which is, of course, the refrigerator.

As his mother picks up the first wave of his debris from the floor, Danny busily creates another as he roots through the refrigerator, knocking over yogurt containers, spilling juice out of a pitcher, bruising apples, and leaving leftovers uncovered. This messy expedition yields a muffin—and a complaint that his mother never buys anything good to eat. He devours half the muffin in one bite, scattering crumbs all over the floor with a cough. As his Mom reaches down to scoop up the crumbs, he sees she’s none too pleased, but that doesn’t bother him as he carelessly rains more crumbs down on the floor.

She hates this piggish behavior, hates that he, sated by his muffin feast, will turn up his nose at a dinner she spent all day preparing. “Danny! Can’t you see that I’m making dinner?” she asks. “I wish you wouldn’t eat a bunch of snacks right now.”

Through a mouth filled with muffin number two, Danny mumbles something that sounds like “Whatever.”

“Honey, did you get the book you need for your book report?” Mom asks.

Ignoring her question, Danny asks, “Did you get me new shin guards for soccer?”

“No,” his mother responds. “I haven’t had time to get to the sports shop.”

Danny looks disgusted. “Geesh, Mom, whaddya DO all day around here? Watch soaps? You better go now, ‘cus I need those shin guards.”

His mother glances at the clock and shakes her head. “It’s too late now, but we can go after dinner.” He takes another bite of yet another muffin. “I asked you not to eat anything else!” she tries to grab the muffin, but Danny dances away from her, holding his muffin high. They both know that his recent growth spurt put the muffin way out of her reach. “Danny, stop it!” his mother complains.

“Danny, stop it!” he mimics gleefully in a grating singsong voice.

Heaving a resigned sigh, she decides it’s not worth a fight and ignores it. Instead, she picks up the so-called conversation where it had left off. “So, did you get the book?”

Danny peels back the muffin paper. “I already said ‘yeah.’ Whatsa matter—hearing aid need new batteries?”

His mother answers this rude remark the way she answers all of them. “Watch your mouth!” Especially disturbed by his recent desire to find humor about her hearing aid she adds, “You know I don’t appreciate you talking to me like that.” The only sound in the kitchen then comes from Danny, who is absentmindedly rumpling muffin papers.

Danny looks up at his mom. “Yo! I could use some milk with this…”

His mother glares at him, the unspoken words hanging in the air. “What do you say?” She can’t believe that at his age she would still have to remind him to say ‘please’.

Danny’s smart enough to read her warning sign, but not wise enough to understand the social impact of his rude manners. A sarcastic and belabored “Plllleeeeeease” spills out just below his wrinkled nose. Mom brings him a glass of milk, napkin, and plate. “I only asked for milk,” Danny grumbles. He tosses little muffin paper basketballs across the room toward the trashcan, decidedly blowing the three-pointers and littering the floor. As his mother cleans up crumbs and papers, she looks over at him and suggests, “Why don’t you start reading the book until dinner’s ready?”

Danny sighs and rolls his eyes. “I just got home. Gimme a break here.”

His mother takes a deep breath and shakes her head. “But, honey, you’re already behind on it…”

Danny gives her a look that says he thinks she’s stupid. “Would you shut up with the book already?”

Shocked and finally, deeply humiliated, his mother’s eyes widen with the sting of her son’s meanness. “Don’t talk to me that way, young man. I want you to sit down and read some of that book. I don’t know why you always wait until the very last minute to get started on your projects. Then you stay up ‘til midnight trying to finish, and you end up rushing…” She glances up to see Danny’s back as he’s walking out of the room.

On his way out, spoken in a very loud voice obviously for her benefit, she hears “Yadda, yadda, yadda,” followed by the din of the TV.

“Danny!” Mom calls, “Don’t sit down in front of that TV yet. Come set the table!”

“Why do I always have to do it?” he yells to no one in particular. And that is the end of that.  From the volume he’s turned up on the TV, it’s obvious to his mother that she’ll be setting the table again tonight, and that all discussion on any subject is over. Mom roughly grabs a pile of plates off the counter and slams them on the table, complaining (to herself, I suppose), “I don’t know why you can’t be more polite and helpful…”

The Hidden Message 

“You can be as disrespectful to me as you want; you’ll suffer no consequences whatsoever. I’ll do nothing to influence you to change your behavior, so we can continue on this way for the rest of our lives.”

Think About It 

It’s offensive to hear a child act in such rude and disrespectful ways towards a parent. But the sad fact is that even good kids pick up this behavior from their peers, movies and TV shows. Many parents today are distressed at seeing this behavior in their own children, and they mistakenly believe themselves powerless to change their child’s behavior.

Most parents start off on the right foot—teaching toddlers to say “please” and “thank you.” Over time, however, tedious reminders and busy schedules interfere with continuing lessons. A few rude or disrespectful remarks slip by uncorrected, and soon a very unpleasant pattern emerges—a pattern that gets more difficult to break as the child ages. It’s like a smudge on the wall; if you walk by it often enough, you cease to notice it. And the longer it stays, the harder it is to remove.

The startling reality is that the disrespect itself is not the problem here, but merely a symptom of a much greater difficulty: on the child’s part, a failure to understand expectations and the hierarchy of authority…and on the parent’s part, a failure to communicate those expectations.

Changes You Can Make 

The first step to correcting this disagreeable situation is to establish a firm and proper hierarchy of authority. In other words, it’s high time to let your kid know you’re the boss! To do this, first believe it yourself, and give yourself permission to be in charge. Absorb the truth that, for your child to grow into a responsible, civil, and successful adult, you must train, guide, and direct him during his growing years. You have just a few short years to establish a foundation upon which he will build his entire life.

Once you have decided to take control, begin by establishing clear expectations and rules for your child to follow. As Danny so painfully illustrates, if you have allowed your child to be rude and disrespectful without correction, you have indeed established clear expectations—all the wrong ones! Take a few giant steps back to toddlerhood and require that your child—whatever his age—say “please” “thank you” and “may I?” When he doesn’t, avoid that annoying cliché, “What do you say?” Instead, rephrase your child’s request in the way you’d like to hear it: “Danny, what I’d like to hear you say is, ‘May I please have some milk?’” If he doesn’t repeat his request in the way you’ve asked, let him eat his muffin dry. (If you decide to let him keep the muffin at all!) The key is to be indefatigable. Do not let one single disrespectful comment slide.

Let your child know what you’re up to. Admit that you have allowed his behavior to get out of control, but that it stops, and it stops today. Discuss your expectations, and make yourself perfectly clear. “I expect you to be polite and respectful to me and your Dad every single time you talk to us.”

Once you’ve established clear expectations and pleasantly corrected him for a week to two, you can take the next step. Make a list of your child’s privileges—freedom to use the TV, the telephone, and his bicycle, for example. The list can include dessert, car rides to friends’ homes, visits to and from friends, etc. (The list is endless.) Number the privileges on the list, and cross off items with each offense. The key is to then follow through with removal of privileges for the remainder of that week. Start each week with a fresh list, and a fresh start.

Another reason to get a kid like Danny on the right track—he may be acting tough on the outside, but on the inside he’s struggling with the knowledge that he really shouldn’t be treating people, especially his parents, in such rude ways.  Most kids know that what they are doing is wrong, and they may wonder why no one is correcting them. Over time, this voice of conscience will fade, and the child will accept the rude demeanor as normal.

One final but extremely important point: make certain that YOU are using your best manners when you talk to your child. “Do what I say, not what I do” is simply not an effective parenting philosophy. Your actions as an appropriate role model are imperative to correcting this undesirable behavior.

Excerpted with permission by McGraw-Hill Publishing from Hidden Messages (McGraw-Hill, 2000).

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