Monday, June 27, 2011

Double Standards

I experienced an odd juxtaposition of double standards recently.  Strife between parents and their teenage son for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the youth is under 18 and, reportedly has gotten his 21 year old girlfriend pregnant.  Secondly, because the father grounded the youth for stealing weed from the father's stash.  Interesting, no?  Relationship repair is going to be difficult here because of the father's "do as I say, not as I do" policy in parenting.  The other double standard is a societal and legal one.  A law enforcement friend, who knew the details of this case noted: "I don't know whether to advise the parents to pursue sexual assault charges against the 21 year old girlfriend because, frankly, the cops probably won't do anything because it would never go to trial, because he's a boy.  It would be different if a 21 year old guy was having sex with an underage girl."

Double standards. We experience them when we have a sense of unfairness or unjustness occurring.  However, the idea of a double standard is dependent on a sense of equality.  Gender equality, class equality, social equality.  If you asked a peasant in medieval times if he was aware of the double standard placed on his life, to be ever toiling but never benefiting from his work, while the tribute for his work and labor went to a nobleman who never worked or understood his condition, he would likely think you were crazy for even talking that way.  He accepted his lot in life as what it was and didn't quibble about equality.  Add the idea that everyone deserves equal treatment under the law and suddenly, you have to deal with issues like why women can't serve in combat; why mothers are more likely than fathers to gain custody of children in a divorce; the effectiveness of affirmative action, etc.

We often hear the phrase, "Well, life isn't fair..." as a way of taking into account the double standards we experience and can't change or influence.  Because, you know, "you can't always get what you want" and "Sometimes you're the windshield and sometimes you're the bug."  But you know, we all fall victim to double standards when we don't apply the same perspective to ourselves that we do others.  There is an old joke that highlights how we tend to see what is happening to us in a different perspective than we do when the same things happens to another: A recession is when a friend of yours loses his job.  A depression is when you lose yours.

I bring this all up because, as a parent, I believe that I often foster a sense of unfairness in my kids because of how society tends to push this idea of equality to be applied where it doesn't make sense to apply it.  For instance, how many times have you heard an exchange similar to this:
Dad: It is time for you to go to bed.  You need a good night's sleep.
Kid: I don't want to go to bed yet!  My show is still on.
Dad: I don't care, it is time for bed, so get a move on!
(Dad sits down to watch the rest of the show)
Kid: How come you don't have to go to bed?  Don't you need a good night's sleep?
Dad: I'm the adult, don't argue with me, now get to bed!

or how about this one:
Kid: We learned at school today the effects that alcohol have on a body.  They showed us a video of how it impairs your judgement after just one drink.
Parent: Well, I don't drink that much, you know that.
Kid: Well, if it isn't good for you, how come y'all drink every weekend with your friends?  I want to do that, too.
Parent: No, you're not old enough to handle it.
Kid: (sulking) You always tell me that I'm not old enough.  It's not fair.  I'm 16.  My friends are already drinking and nothing bad is happening to them.

Obviously, comparing a child with an adult is not comparing two things that are similar enough.  As adults, it makes sense to us that the comparisons are dissimilar enough that there is no real basis for comparison about a developing child's need for sleep and structure and an adult's ability to manage their own schedule and get adequate sleep, or cope accordingly.  As adults, it makes sense to us a 16 year-old's cognitive reasoning and judgement (which are still developing, until about age25) aren't adequate for handling the effects of alcohol (and even then many adults probably shouldn't drink for various other reasons, but it remains a popular pastime).  However, society is pushing kids to think of themselves as adults, with capabilities and privileges accordingly.  If kids think of themselves as adults, then a lot of their angst makes sense.

I worked with a kid not long ago who described a teacher who sent him to detention because he had a water bottle before school.  Now, I don't know what situation in the past prompted the school to have a rule that kids couldn't have water bottles out in public as they waited for the school day to begin, but they did.  This youth was instructed to put it away.  It had one swallow of water left in it and he drank it before he went to put the bottle in his backpack and the teacher claimed that he defied her and so he spent the rest of the day in ISS.  Could it be that he was rude to her and said something to her that ticked her off?  Sure.  Could it be he was a repeat offender who was just looking for a fight?  Possibly.  Whatever the exact reason, I doubt that this situation was about a water bottle.  It was about power and authority.  The teacher issued a directive.  It was not answered with an acceptable level of cooperation, so she used her power in a punitive way.  If it had been another teacher who was sporting the water bottle, would that teacher be made to follow the 'rule' or be so harshly treated if they failed to comply with another teacher's directive?  Probably not.  Unfair?  Double standard?  Only if teachers and students are equal. 

Anyhow, double standards bother me.  Not because they exist.  I can deal with that.  It bothers me that we tend to deal so poorly with that concept.  I think that the real problem is that people, in general, lack humility.  We lack the ability to look beyond ourselves and assess a situation from other perspectives.  Would our parenting be different if we saw our children as people instead of as pests or trouble makers when they got in trouble?  When they are reacting to what they see as unfairness in our actions or attitudes, instead of working to justify our actions, can we see their perspective and address the situation as someone who understands where they are coming from?  I don't mean we have to agree with them, or cater to them, but if, in humility, we can understand them... would it make a difference in how we respond?

So, to be a better parent, I need to not only respond to my children's sense of unfairness with humility, I need to teach them properly how to discern between unfairness, injustice and just not getting one's own way.  They're not the same, but I hear people, especially teens, use those concepts interchangeably.  I need to model for my children what fairness looks like when they see me interact with others and I need to model how to cope with unfairness when it occurs to me.  Humility is harder than it looks.


No comments: