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Why do we assume children are incompetent, helpless morons?

As a parent I am starting to really notice commercials where adults pretty much assume children are helpless idiots.

It starts with commercials or articles that say things like:

“So when your kid loses his jacket for the second time this winter, you’ll be able to replace it on the cheap!”

“If your daughter loses her stuffed bunny because she forgot it on the bus, you’ll be able to soothe her with a replacement.”

“When your teenage son smashes your car coming home from a date, ____ insurance has you covered.”

This is my face throughout these commercials:


Who are these kids losing things like backpacks, winter coats in the dead of winter and smashing cars?


Neither did any of my siblings.

You might think this is incredible but it’s true. We kids knew the importance of things like making sure our backpacks were zipped up, our mittens and hats were always placed in our pockets after taking them off, and we never lost a single article of clothing or anything of true value to us.

Know why? Because my parents were not interested in our sob stories.

When I had a teddy bear I couldn’t live without, I hung on to him for dear life because I was scared of leaving him anywhere. You pretty much had to pry him out of my death grip while I was sleeping to be able to wash him.

(I still have him.)


I never lost a winter coat, winter boots, hats, mittens or anything important to keep me warm because .. I just didn’t.

Why would I?

I NEEDED those damn things to stay warm while walking home, or else I’d freeze.

I always checked to make sure I had my hat and mittens before I left school, and before I left the home. If I forgot it, I .. just froze until I could get home or to school to try and find out where I left these items.

Maybe I was just a particularly detailed and OCD child in this respect, but I never had to ask my parents to replace anything unless it was well and truly broken and ripped.


That just never happened in my family.

First of all, no one dated openly. If you brought home a guy or a girl, you better be on the verge of proposing or marrying them because they’d get grilled as if that were the case.

Secondly, my parents did not lend out their car to their teenage children to impress their dates. If you wanted to date someone, you found a way to date them without the car, even if it meant taking the bus or the subway to go meet them.

Thirdly, my parents did not pay for car insurance for their kids. I was actively encouraged to NOT get a driver’s license because they didn’t want to have a discussion of borrowing cars and paying for me to be able to drive said family car.

Luxury-Car-Exotic-Car-Show-Toronto-2013 (NOT our family car. This was from the exotic car show in Yorkville)

I didn’t get my license until I was 25, and the first car I ever owned, I paid for in cash and bought it only because I needed it to get to work (no subway service out in the boonies).

Fourthly, if you (hypothetically) had the use of the car to go out on this (non-existent) date with another human being whom you’ve managed to keep hidden from my parents, and you came home with the car dented, smashed or in otherwise NOT its original, pristine condition, you were never allowed to even look at the car again without supervision.

In fact, sitting in the car as a passenger would be the extent of your rights until the end of time.

My parents would probably remind you well into your 40s of the time you brought the car home with a dent in it.

Oh and it goes without saying that you’d be paying for all the damages, taken off this hypothetical car insurance (if you were ever put on it in the first place).


Now if my children were less conscientious about keeping their things and making sure that they didn’t lose anything, and lost a winter coat, I would definitely replace it, but I’d teach them a lesson while replacing it.

I’m wavering between buying the ugliest replacement coat possible to wear to teach them a lesson to never forget a winter coat again, versus another tactic which I have yet to come up with.

Maybe something along the lines of not buying or paying for something they were promised, and using that money towards a winter coat instead.

So if for instance I had promised to pay for tickets to some event, I’d take that money and buy a winter coat instead, while explicitly telling them why they won’t be going to said event because of their carelessness.

Parade Watchers

Let’s say they forgot their favourite toy on the subway and are inconsolable.

Assuming we have gone through all the channels of calling authorities and going back to the scene of the lost toy and so on, as traumatic as it seems for a child, it is a non-essential and I’d probably refuse to replace it.

I certainly wouldn’t be buying a boatload of other toys to make up for this lost one. It’s a futile endeavour because how can you really replace a toy of such sentimental value anyway?

It’d be a good time to teach them a lesson about taking care of things they care about, and eventually, they’ll get over it as all children do, but they will never forget that lesson of the day they left Mr. Bunny on the seat.


When I buy my kids something, I am planning on telling them that it costs money, and therefore my time and hard work to purchase said items.

If they lose it, and it is a non-essential, I am not buying it again.

If they lose it, and it is an essential, there will be consequences to their careless actions, period.

If you think that children at the age of 5, perhaps even 3 years old can’t understand this, then I think you are underestimating how smart your children are.

Children understand a lot more than you think.

If you assume that they’re incompetent, flighty, forgetful little people, they’ll act to your expectations and not care about losing mittens, forgetting homework at school and so on.

If you assume that they’re smart, responsible little people who make mistakes that they can learn from, they’ll act to your expectations.stock_teddy-bear-toy-old

As for taking the car out to go somewhere with friends or on a date, I wouldn’t be adverse to letting them do that, but they would need to have proven to me long before the time comes to let them take the car out alone on the road that they are responsible, smart kids who know better than to drink and drive, and will be careful on the road.


  • Corianne

    Why would I lose my coat as a kid? ? Even if I had done, my parents would NOT have been happy about it and only replace it if necessary (like maybe I still had a different season jacket that would already work I wouldn’t need a new coat…) but I can’t imagine I would have lost it in the first place. They always taught me to take care of your stuff.

  • Whitney

    I also can’t remember forgetting anything as a child (not sure if that sentence is reliable, because I don’t remember our first dog ever pooping either…). I think much of it was that my parents were fairly frugal, living right at the edge and needed to stretch their paycheck, so “keeping up appearances” wasn’t ever a thing — it helped we were homeschooled, so I didn’t have a lot of people to compare myself to and thus, things to want/miss. I had a coat; it was mine to use, and I disliked being cold, so… I kept my coat.

  • Linda

    When my kids were 8 and 5 years-old, they were sloppily putting board-game pieces back into the box. If looked probable that one or two pieces would remain on the floor to become a lunch for the vacuum cleaner. I cautioned them that if they lost a piece, the game would be unplayable. My MIL chimed in “Well, then we’d buy them another.” I was so upset that she was undermining my authority. All I said was “That would not be happening. They better take care of their things because there will be no replacements.”



      I am of your mindset. I would not be buying new items. I have had to do that to Baby Bun a few times, he was not taking care of something and got upset and tried to ruin it, so I just tossed it away (it was a cardboard box). HE learned quickly how to play with his things nicely.

  • Amanda @ My Life, I Guess

    Although I don’t have kids of my own, I’ve spent the last two years working in childcare, and you’re spot on. The parents that treat their children like morons, have children that act like morons.
    One of my current jobs is with a “philosophy based” organization where they really stress independent learning and free play, especially in preschoolers. It’s amazing what these kids can do! But it always baffles me when a kid is so smart and competent all day, and then they completely fall apart and act like a baby as soon as mom or dad show up.

  • Revanche

    I think commercials do the best/worst job of pressuring us to assume that we’re all idiots (buy a car as a Christmas present! a perfume / cologne will make you COOL!) and to take the easy way out for everything.

    Ideally, yeah, treat your kid like they’re responsible humans, and you’ll probably have a better result than if you treat them like they’re tiny babies who can’t connect the dots.

    But I think it’s also going to depend on both the kid and the adults together. My parents didn’t have money to replace stuff and didn’t rush to buy us things but my idiot sibling still became a selfish, entitled, wasteful fool who did smash up at least one car. If they didn’t allow him to borrow the car, he would just steal it. Guess how I know? I didn’t allow him to drive my car. He snuck the keys behind my back anyway, and cried alligator tears when I found out. It’s not like I could have had him arrested for theft, I didn’t find out until he was back and there was no real evidence he’d used it other than his confession (which you know he’d retract the second he smelled trouble). That lying rat. I chewed him out and still never LET him drive the car again but that didn’t stop him from trying to pull other shenanigans.

    I’m sure it’s even worse when you do get those parents who are too tired to enforce boundaries and let their kids have and do whatever they want, I’ve seen those nightmare kids (and hope never to see them again)!


      I talked to Baby Bun like he was a child / young adult about his squealy, RUDE attitue in the mall and he seemed to understand (he calmed down)… but as I was doing it, I was acutely aware of other people staring at the situation unfold, wondering why I was talking to a toddler like an adult.

      Well.. have to learn some time.

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