The magic word “no”

Children need clear, strict, and consistently enforced boundaries. With limitations and forbidden areas, they learn politeness and respect, get to know their place in the society (which in a healthy society is not on a pedestal, it is much lower than that), as well as stay clear of accidents and injuries. With proper enforcement of the boundaries, kids are able to learn all this at a very young age, more or less together with learning to speak their first language. In responsible societies, parents, relatives, siblings, and other people teach and enforce the boundaries using the magic word “no”, which seems nonexistent in kid-obsessed America, to the detriment to the kids, but also to the society as a whole.

American kids do not know what “no” means because most of the time they do not hear this word from their parents. If, however, a parent occasionally says “no”, he or she does not enforce it. This leads to two situations: the child does not learn what “no” means or it knows the meaning of the term but without proper enforcement grows in an atmosphere of impunity.

The best example from kid-worshiping America is saying that children throw food around as if it was an inherent characteristic and allowing them to do that not only at their everyday meals, but also in front of guests or in restaurants. Actually, kids do that only when their parents fail to teach them basic manners, and the society fails to enforce these manners in public places. It is very easy to eradicate the bad habit of throwing food. It is enough to grab the child’s hand, strong enough that it feels the adult’s power, but light enough that it does not get hurt, and say: “no”, “don’t”, “don’t do that” in the first second when the kid starts throwing it and every time it attempts throwing anything. It is not necessary to repeat the trick many times, twice or three times is enough for the child to kiss the bad habit goodbye. Kids are much smarter than Americans think. If proper teaching and discipline are instilled in them in their early toddlerhood, they will never forget it, just like riding a bicycle. It will become as natural as breathing air. I practiced it many times, at many occasions, all the relatives and neighbors as well, and millions of people all around the world do it too, successfully. There is no reason for Americans to be excused from using the magic word “no” in relation to the kid.

The same problem exists with obnoxious kids running wild and screaming in restaurants, stores, banks, or offices all over America. When in respectful and responsible societies, any attempt of this kind of behavior encounters a strict and firm “no”, Americans let their kids do whatever they want, no matter how offensive it is towards other customers or how much it disrupts other people’s work. Part of the problem is the parents’ obsessive fear that their spoiled precious snowflake will not love them unconditionally, but part of it is simple laziness and disrespect for all of the other users of the public space. It is very easy and effective to say: “no”, “don’t”, “don’t do that” in the first second when the unacceptable behavior starts, grab the kid, and strictly enforce it. However, American parents fail terribly to do it. Even if they occasionally mumble a faint “don’t run” when their spoiled brat nearly bumps into a waiter with hot drinks, they fail to enforce it. Instead of grabbing the kid and putting it on a seat to show it what “don’t run” means, they let it continue running wild, and the child does not even learn what “don’t run” means.

There are many, many situations in which American parents totally fail to say “no” and prevent their kids from offending other people, exposing other people to germs, disrupting somebody’s work or rest or from damaging somebody else’s property. They let their kids slobber on the produce in supermarkets, they let them take a bite of food from a buffet container and put it back for other customers to take, they let them destroy goods in stores, or let them yell and scream wildly on public transportation, to name just a few examples. They also buy tons of useless toys the deity kid requests that will damage our common heritage – the environment by ending up in landfills. They even damage their kids’ health by buying whatever junk food the kid wants, just because it wants. Saying “no” and enforcing it would not only stop the behavior but also teach the kids not to attempt it in the future. It would teach them that they are not alone in this world and that other people around them have to be respected. Unfortunately, without hearing “no” whenever necessary, American kids turn out totally rude, entitled and self-centered, unadjusted, and unable to live in a society without disrespecting it.

In all these and similar situations American parents use the excuse that they are trying so hard, while their actions (or rather inactions) show that they are not trying at all. They do not use the simple word “no” that would easily curb all kinds of disrespectful and undesired kids’ behavior as soon as it starts.

But it does take a village. It takes a parent to discipline a kid, but it also takes a responsible, participating society to enforce the rules and, if necessary, in case of a child’s transgression of the rules or a parent’s failure to impose order, to strictly require a parent or guardian to use the magic word “no” in relation to a disrespectful, disruptive kid. People offended by an unacceptable kid’s behavior should not be afraid to intervene whenever necessary. When the parents fail, the society has a right and duty to take action.