There are a multitude of lessons to teach the kids as they move on through life and it’s a good thing to have a brief descriptive tagline that, after you explain it originally, you can fall back upon as a reminder when the need arises. And in this household, one of the taglines is the phrase pig wrestling. The term is an old one and applies to the lesson that when you wrestle with pigs, they just love it and you just get dirty. It was a phrase that’s been used repeatedly in this household as the kids learn to deal with unpleasant people who simply enjoy stirring up trouble for no other reason than to sit back and enjoy the resultant fireworks.
But the phrase’s most recent use came upon relating a story to the three kids at a recent meal. I related that I’d been sitting at a fast food place enjoying a cup of coffee when a mother and her two late ‘tween daughters entered and sat at the next table. One child was silent almost the entire time while her sibling put on a brat show worthy of a failed Nick Junior pilot; the mother took the orders from her children and went to the counter while they sat and the Princess proceeded with the show. She spoke with a stereotypical brat whine and refused to even look at the menu board, easliy visible from her seat, requiring the mother to read the menu to her loud enough that the entire dining area could hear; a peripheral glance allowed me to see that her vision was fine since she was nose deep in her iThingy. When her coffee was delivered without sugar, she made her mother – the woman actually responded to her daughter’s peremptory order – return to the counter with the coffee and add the sugar for her, She even openly insulted the staff on some point not to her satisfaction. My comment to my kids was that I wanted to reach back and pop her, Gibbs-style, across the back of her head and when Middle asked why I didn’t at least say something to the girl, I could only shake my head and say pig wrestling. My wife nodded and explained that this type of person would only complain and it was likely that Mom would feel compelled to come to the brat’s rescue; my real options were to leave or stay and marvel at the show.
The sad fact that most adults know is that there are people who simply don’t care how offensive they are or how they alienate others. My own parents’ lesson to me was that they should simply be avoided whenever possible and engaged only when absolutely necessary; protesting their behavior and commentary was simply a waste of breath since these people often also enjoyed provoking others for their cheap entertainment.
While kids today also have to learn that lesson, it’s also more difficult than it was two or more decades ago for two reasons. The first reason is the insidious effect of the gangsta culture that’s been propagated through American society via the mass media. One of the prime tenets of the gangsta culture revolves around the notion of disrespect; any instance of perceived disrespect has to be remedied immediately, even to the point of physical violence or death. The two older kids have related stories from their middle and high school years in which being dissed was a prime component of potential violence amongst teens in a hallway. One of these tales was even tagged with Eldest’s startling remark, Dad, it’s not a real fight until there’s a knife… The second reason is the simple fact that the prevalent electronic devices and sites – Facebook, Twitter and the like – mean that rude or threatening comments are no longer simple verbal, but posted with an indefinite lifespan to perpetuate the real or perceived insult and rub salt in wounds of pride. When the prevalent youth culture is influenced by the gangsta vibe, the foundation is laid for real violence. Even if you tell your kids to avoid the Twitterverse, some lunkhead can save a screenshot and pull it out at the lunchtable to share.
You might not think it at times, but the kids will listen to you and what you advise. The immediate response to proffered advice might be dismissive but there’s a decent chance that they’ll actually think about it and heed it. But for this to happen, you have to pay attention to what’s going around both you and them. You have to be able to set aside your own activities when you note even a potential issue and you have to also pay attention to those electronic forums in which they’re engaged. You have to have an ongoing dialogue about daily events and be willing to dig when the circumstances demand it. You also have to understand that there can be contention as the kids hear and process what you say, seeing how that advice can run against the grain of the tween/teen subculture. And when the circumstances require it, you’re going to have model the pig wrestling mantra, letting meaningless slights roll away. The kids are watching you and the lessons take on greater meaning when they see them taken to heart.