The teachers and I often get questions about dramatic statements that kids make at home. Parents may know they’re not true; some parents may be worried and have questions about these statements. Some of us may even buy into them for a while. Mark Twain said that every feeling, if sincere, is involuntary. Usually these dramatic statements feel true to the kids, but that doesn’t mean that we parents should respond as if they are factually correct. Dramatic but inaccurate statements are not lies, so much as they are vented emotions or disappointed hopes/expectations.
“Everybody else does!” is another one of those phrases kids use a lot but is rarely true. Whether everyone in their class has phones, attends (or does not attend) an event, drinks soda, or has a Snapchat account, when a child uses this phrase, he/she is applying social pressure on you as his/her leverage. The implication is that you don’t know what you’re doing, that you are waaay off, or that you are responsible for loneliness, isolation, and/or deprivation.
What Kids Usually Mean
When the comment is emotionally sincere, kids mean that “everyone whose opinion they care about does this” (even if it’s only one or two people), or that “everyone who is judging me” does this. At its worst, they just really want something and are grasping at any way to pressure you, so a small number can be exaggerated so that you feel like the odd man out. “Everyone is probably doing that… I think… maybe.”
What Can You Say
You have two options broadly speaking in this situation. The first is for when you feel strongly about the principle behind your decision. One of the biggest gifts you can give your kids is “We don’t need to do everything like everyone else.” Sending them any sort of message that they have to fit in or that you feel that you have to fit in sets them up for all sorts of vulnerability when they eventually have to make unpopular decisions in their lives. The only way for them to build the strength to stand up for what they believe is by actually doing it… including surviving it when you require them to do it.
The second option (only for when there is no deeper principle involved) is to take their comment at face value and research it a little. Maybe you want to call their bluff about the number of kids who are truly allowed to eat an all-dessert lunch or play Fortnite before their homework is done. When you call your child out on it and they can only honestly name two, you can help them reflect on the dependability and logic of their reporting and persuasion tactics. Or if you are truly curious about what other families do, ask for a list of “everyone” and reach out. You can get some feedback from other parents, help your child feel that you are taking them seriously, and then re-evaluate your decision.
Hear a phrase all the time at home? Send it to me and we’ll talk about it. If it’s a common one, I’ll add it to this blog series!
Head of School