Crying wolf isn’t so bad

The Way Kids Are...
July 1, 1998

The Way Kids Are

Who are these kids of the `90s? How do they differ from children of other generations? ‘The Way Kids Are’ is a regular series of columns in which we invite readers to help us understand kids. Each column examines kids’ actions and what this teaches us about children today. Submissions can be made by contacting West Coast editor Virginia Robertson by phone: 213-966-4500, fax: 213-852-0223 or e-mail:

For Shannon’s fourth birthday party, the prizes in the obligatory goodie bags were intentionally of the gender-neutral variety. After all, we all know you are what you play with. After a riotous, outdoor afternoon of games and cake, the goodies were distributed and families began to make their good-byes. Lindsay was crying. ‘Sweetheart,’ I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ Thinking she was upset because her mom hadn’t gotten there to pick her up, I was totally unprepared when she held out the little plastic car she had gotten in her goodie bag and said, with obvious disdain, ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’

Ah, the best-laid plans . . .

We work so hard as parents to guide and protect our children. We set limits for TV viewing, snack eating, bedtime and after-school activities. We monitor the films they watch and the books they read. We teach them to take turns, to not be selfish, to stand up for their own beliefs and values. We have family meetings and go on educational outings. Yet, even as we strive to provide positive and diverse role models, they still know every word to The Brady Bunch theme song.

As you know, that’s OK. In the long run, the most important message we can communicate through our constant, and hopefully consistent, presence in our children’s lives is that they are important and valuable members of a loving family, and that we care about the choices they make. Our strong love and good opinion are more important to their futures than protection from the occasional PG-13 rating. We may not always hear in return from our children the exact content we communicated, but valuable lessons about good judgment, creativity, caring and humor will truly stand them in better stead.

In his recent book, Fred Rogers wrote, ‘As parents, we need to try to find the security within ourselves to accept the fact that children and parents won’t always like each other’s actions, that there will be times when parents and children won’t be able to be friends, and that there will be times of real anger in families. But we need to know, at the same time, that moments of conflict have nothing to do with whether parents and children really love one another. It’s our continuing love for our children that makes us want them to become all they can be, capable of making sound choices. . . . What a wonderful thing it is to see children dealing with their own inner struggles in their own creative ways.’

Sometimes, those sound choices and creative ways may still reflect a philosophy we don’t agree with. But with patience and love, we can acknowledge the resilience they exhibit.

Five-year-old Ian was outside playing with some older children in his neighborhood one day when he marched back into his house and announced, ‘Mom, I need a gun.’

‘No guns, Ian. You know that,’ he was gently reminded.

Undaunted, Ian headed off to his bedroom.

He was heard ransacking his room, understanding the rules but intent on finding a solution. A few minutes later, he emerged, his right hand raised in victory-problem solved. As he walked past the kitchen, his hand was covered with the puppet of a tough-looking wolf, a gift from his aunt and uncle. He turned and announced with pride and resolve, ‘It’s OK, mom, I’m gonna scare `em to death.’

Here’s to dealing with inner struggles in creative ways. Long live the wolf.

Kathy Quattrone is the executive vice president and chief programming officer of PBS Programming Service.

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