Teaching Etiquette: The Time I Called My Kid a Dick

Originally published March 2014

Yeah, I went there.

Before the Internet flogging ensues, let me start by acknowledging a good parent would never call their own child a dick. It was not my finest moment. I just couldn’t help myself. There he was, sitting next to me in all his teen self-righteousness, knowing, owning the fact he knew more than I did. And it just slipped out.

“You are such a dick.”

It took all of a nanosecond to realize that was a horrible—HORRIBLE—thing to say. No matter how angry you get with a kid, there are things that just cross the line, and that was one of them. I simply found myself with an empty toolbox. The Parent Effectiveness Training I took part in during my boys’ preschool years just didn’t cover what to say when your kid is being a dick, and “You are making sad choices” just doesn’t cut it after a certain age.

Which leads to a much larger question. For anyone who has taken a parenting class, you’ll know all those key phrases and terminology, the rhetoric, the psychology of parenting the tot lot. Happy vs. sad choices, using “I” messages, reflective listening … you know. You know. But after kids reach, say, middle school age, using that kind of phraseology sounds a little ridiculous. I still remember being teased by a friend when I was talking happy and sad choices with my then-8th grader. So, the question then is this—are we lacking the terminology to parent today’s teens, or if I had parented properly when my kids were younger, would I even need to worry? (I’m pretty sure my kids would be on track for Nobel prizes had someone much better than I swiped them from the hospital upon their births.)

And then I came upon this one day—”How Not to Be a Dick: An Everyday Etiquette Guide,” by Meghan Doherty. Amen!—a parenting book for crummy parents like me.

It’s not so much a parenting book, per se—no, it really is an etiquette book. But the tone and language used is straightforward and speaks to teens and young adults in a manner that they understand. And all that stuff you learned in parenting class? It’s back, and much more applicable than you thought.

My oldest child (not the one I called a dick) really struggles with social language and interpersonal relationships. This book covers so much of what he has difficulty understanding, and in such a way he doesn’t have to work hard to grasp the meaning. And more importantly, Doherty starts the book off with a note about yourself, with the first rule of not being a dick—and that is, to not be a dick to yourself.

“If you’re a dick to yourself, you’re probably going to be vicious to others, and if you’re vicious to others, other people will be vicious to you. So don’t walk around hating yourself or being a Negative Nancy. That doesn’t help anyone.”

This book covers the gamut—Relationships (with yourself, friends, the young, the elderly, etc.), Conversations (personal space, eye contact, active listening, etc.) At Home (Finally! Something that tells my kids to put the seat down besides me!), At School (cliques, gossip, bullying, stress) The Office (Ha! Don’t dress like Carrie Bradshaw! Ha!), On The Internet (Trolls suck-don’t be one! And watch out with the sexting!), In Transit (There is a proper way to sit on a bus), and la piece de resistance, a Typology of Dicks—a field guide, if you will.

The book is rated for 18+, but honest to God, I’ll let my 12-year-old daughter read it. There’s nothing inappropriate in terms of language or subject matter, I think, for middle schoolers, and frankly, that’s where the seeds of dickishness are usually planted. You just need to get over the “dick” thing.

Do I recommend calling your kid a dick? No. No, no, no. Again, not my finest moment. But as I sit here typing this, my teen son who was on the receiving end of that comment strolled by and said, “The Time I Called My Kid a Dick? Don’t you mean TIMES?!?!”

Busted. If there’s a Parenting Hall of Shame, I get top billing. But I do love him. And he knows that. I hope.

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