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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

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Some rules protect us. Others are just stupid.
Some rules protect us. Others are just stupid. (Photo: shutterstock.com)

The powers that be ... stupid

I'm having a parenting dilemma that is becoming harder and harder for me to ignore and I am very interested to know if anyone else has faced it.

How do I tell my children that some adults are stupid, and some of their rules are stupid, without teaching them to disrespect authority and other people in general?

Sure, we’re all safer if we stop for red lights, it’s a good idea to cover your mouth when you sneeze, and running at the pool is a surefire way to get hurt.

There are other rules, though, that are simply designed to force people to toe an arbitrary line. Several months ago, I waited respectfully while the adults who run my son’s afterschool program went through a disciplinary process intended to get the children to cooperate and quiet down.

After more than five minutes of scolding and forcing the children to start this process over and over each time one of them made a peep, I realized the adults were going through all of this in order to get the kids to settle down before lining up to go to the bathroom. The. Bathroom.

The children had been in school all day. It was warm and they wanted to get outside to the playground. They were ultimately going to the bathroom without any adult escort. The whole thing struck me as nothing more than an effort to let the children know who was really in charge, and it certainly wasn’t the children.

There have been other instances, though detailing them would surely offend someone with whom I need to preserve a relationship.

My struggle is this: I want to tell my children that sometimes adults do and say stupid things. I want to tell my children that some of life’s rules are not worth following.

How do I do that without inadvertently teaching my children they don’t have to follow the rules that make sense? That will surely be a problem because a child does not have the experience yet to understand the difference between a rule that actually protects his well-being and one that is only meant to protect the authority of the rule-maker.

I know I can’t be the only adult out there who thinks this. What do you do when you think the rules are silly? How do you tell your children they occasionally have to bend to society’s norms without breaking their spirit?

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