Enduring Obnoxious Children is no Day at the Beach

Advice from Marybeth Hicks

Advice from Marybeth Hicks

To: Marybeth
From: Bracing myself for obnoxious relatives

Summer is coming, and that means it’s time for our annual family reunion, a full week at the beach where I will once again spend several days surrounded by some of the worst parents I know.

I say this lovingly — these terrible parents are my own relatives! Even though I love them and get along well with them, I am always stunned by their mediocre parenting skills. When their kids were little, this meant putting up with noise, misbehavior, whining, temper tantrums and general fussiness (did I mention whining?) everywhere we went, because no matter what their kids did, these parents simply ignored them and never stepped in with discipline or direction.
Now their kids are tweens and teens, and the result is about what you would expect — young people who are very rude and self-centered and do pretty much whatever they want while their parents say and do nothing. I don’t see these kids often enough to have a close relationship with them, but I’m not sure I can put up with another week’s vacation enduring the thoughtlessness and annoying behavior of my relatives’ children. Should I speak to the parents or put up with it as I always have?

To: Bracing
From: Mb

It’s not politically correct to acknowledge that we don’t like them, but let’s face it: There’s nothing worse than being forced to endure other people’s obnoxious children. These days, it seems like they’re everywhere.

Case in point: While enjoying a visit to the rooftop-dining patio of our favorite Mexican restaurant, my daughters and I spent a good portion of our evening enduring the noise and antics of the children at the next table whose games included “Drop Tortilla Chips and Ice Cubes Onto the People Below.” Meanwhile, Mom and Dad chatted as though their children were not pelting innocent passers-by from above.

Begging the question: How could you not notice your children throwing objects at other humans? More to the point: Why would you not stop them? Why would you sit there and do nothing?

But nothing is exactly what those parents did, and everyone else at the restaurant suffered because of it (not to mention the folks walking around with tortillas in their hair).

You have to wonder why some parents are so passive when their children are clearly misbehaving. It could be a reflection of parental guilt — folks with busy work lives and stressed out schedules tend to cut their children too much slack because they want what little time they spend with them to be pleasant.

Some parents treat their children more like friends and don’t assert authority over their behavior. Still others simply don’t know what to do to get their children to “listen.” (I’d start by using the word “obey” instead.)

Then there are the parents who seem to have an uncanny ability to tune out their children’s misbehavior and believe the way to solve the problem is for the rest of us to tune out, too. Unfortunately, if you’re the one with salsa on your head, that’s easier said than done.

Your situation is sticky because you obviously want to maintain positive relationships with your relatives, but you also don’t want to endure the annoying and rude behavior of their children.

Since the kids are getting older, I think it’s fair to speak to them courteously and directly whenever they do something rude or thoughtless. Don’t attempt to get the parents to behave differently, since that’s unlikely. Instead, help your young relatives by giving them the sort of direction that makes them more pleasant to be around. Children often respond to other adults more willingly than to their own parents, especially if they’ve grown up with weak disciplinarians.

Have a question about parenting in today’s culture? Email marybeth@marybethhicks.com.

Copyright 2013 Marybeth Hicks


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  1. Mary Beth

    You don’t want ot be too judgemental as you own kids can also misbehave. I have a son with autism who looks quite normal but can chuck real wobblies as tantrums so you also do not know if some of the misbehaving kids have other issues in the mix


  2. I would also add that sometimes parents refrain from disciplining children in public (or in front of other relatives) because they are worried they’ll be criticized. It seems EVERYONE has an opinion on the “right” way to raise/discipline kids these days and way too many folks aren’t afraid to voice it, even to a complete stranger.
    It’s also possible that the children don’t always act the way they do on vacation. I know my own kids are different beings depending on where we are (and what time of day it is – ALL of my kids take after their parents and are VERY crabby when they’re hungry, i.e. waiting for a meal to arrive). There’s a big difference between being crabby and pelting passersby with chips, tho!

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