Without mommies in plain view, the shift in the authority figure somewhat changes so that some kids start practicing absolute authority and enforcing obedience. Whereas some abuse their physical strength to ensure superiority in the playground, others rule with absolute power based on their age, i.e. height, which boils to the same thing. Or they simply think they are right and you can’t make unequal things equal, can you? After all, ‘some animals are more equal than others.’
“Achieving a particular form of political order in any democracy depends on prevailing conditions ‘in which different forms of society cohere’ and different ways ‘in which consensus is achieved’ (Jeffry Ocay). Since a consensus is mainly reached by parents (or teachers or nannies), oppression and cruelty take its place when they’re not around and consequently achieving my kinda order is the goal of all goals, whether there’s a consensus or not. This normally implies the rule of law that all (or most) must obey, using all possible means to accomplish the goal, from open animosity to passive aggression, slamming, crying (with or without tears), punching, pinching, rolling, hiding, blackmailing, stealing and so on.
The sociologist and philosopher Max Weber distinguished ‘three types of authority: traditional, legal-rational and charismatic, each corresponding to a brand of leadership operative in contemporary society.’ He probably didn’t have kids in mind when he coined the terms, but we’ll see that same rules pretty much apply in the playground too.
According to Weber, traditional authority implies ‘the presence of a dominant personality and it is the prevailing order in society that gives him the mandate to rule.’ Parents are dominant because they are parents. On the other hand, children in the play area frequently listen to (obey) other kids who are seen as apt by the majority, and because everyone else already does, so they just follow. I didn’t give my son B. the mandate to rule so it’s only natural that I should bitch when he presides at our home meetings (or elsewhere). A republic/parliamentary democracy is still a form of government that is nearer and dearer to my heart than a monarchy so, despite being my Little Prince, he does not automatically have a hereditary right to the throne. We’re not gonna abolish monarchy altogether, though, since ours is not the absolute, but the constitutional one (thank god). Tradition is tradition, right? Besides, it’s good to be the queen. However, what B. apparently does is copy my behavior and I can tell you he’s damn good at it. Or he just has a domineering streak. Hm…I’ll get back to that…
Second, Weber’s legal-rational authority is grounded in clearly defined laws. ‘The obedience of people is not based on the capacity of any leader but on the legitimacy and competence that procedures and laws bestow upon persons in authority.’ Having this in mind, it seems everybody who wishes to become president might as well do so, however insane, inept and inadequate, because the state institutions and laws say so. And we can’t question them, right? Kids, like adults, often follow not because of what leaders are capable of but because their ‘authority comes from widely accepted impersonal and impartial rules.’ The one who’s pronounced competent by say parents or other kids, not necessarily proving or having to prove their competence, may become the most reliable and trustworthy person to fix, open and close things in the future. As opposed to adults, children are not biased toward one over another. On the contrary, being open-minded, tolerant and anti-discriminatory, they give everyone equal chances to show what they can do and accept suggestions especially when coming from bigger and older guys. Apart from this, they are very practical. I saw you’re more successful and faster; I’ll step back and let you do it/show me. You have to admit it’s time-saving and more efficient in the long run (and intelligent too). After all, it’s all a part of the learning process and more than ok to be second best.
Last but not least, ‘charismatic authority is a trait that makes a leader extraordinary. This type of leader possesses the superior power of charisma to rally diverse and conflict-prone people behind him. His power comes from the massive trust and almost unbreakable faith people put in him.’ In the playground, like in the world of adults, such kids are often likeable, communicative, sociable, confident, charming, and above all popular. However, they might also be or turn into real despots, stingy, antagonistic, controlling, confrontational, intolerant of differing opinions and prone to oppressing their subjects (that is playmates) by for example not allowing them to climb the slide, pushing them down the slide, grabbing their miniature replicas of vehicles and silverware, while not sharing their own, screaming (to the disgust of their parents…or not): ‘It’s mine. I don’t want to share. I’m a miser.’ Weber’s charismatic authority has what he calls Herrschaft or ‘the power to compel people to obey’ so when the leader says loud and clear: ‘I am your voice,’ his supporters cannot but hypnotically nod and enthusiastically and loyally cheer: ‘Build the wall.’ Furthermore, charisma is, in Weber’s opinion, irrational. ‘Like the mystic, the charismatic leader is believed in because his message goes against common knowledge of how the world works.’ Luckily, he concludes, ‘charisma requires perpetual reanimation’ and is ‘temporary because, like magic, its appeal and its efficacy only last as long as it is seen to be successful.’
The bottom line is the whole society plays an active role in shaping an individual. Consequently, every child has the potential to become an alpha. Being a benevolent alpha parent is, on the other hand, quite normal. Being dominant in the relationship implies, among other things, being protective and comforting and should not be confused with being domineering. The alpha in a wolf pack is the one who protects the pack, not the one who bullies and intimidates.
Still, I can’t help but wonder what the childhood of notorious world leaders was like and how their parents acted when their needs weren’t met. So, here are a few tips for (future) parents to try changing bratty behavior, if possible, with an additional request not to judge parents by how their kids behave:
- If your children defend their position by repressive means, tending to control almost everybody at home, rest assured, they’ll, unless you teach them differently, turn into control freaks one day, controlling everything in the state as well, should they show interest in becoming presidents. The question is whether they’ll become absolutists, unjust and cruel rulers, or usurpers, illegitimate ones.
- If your kids show a tendency to be despotic, make sure you satisfy their need to be in charge every now and then by offering them creative alternatives to the bossiness. It’s all a game to them anyway so play along before it stops being funny. The crucial thing is that they get the attention they crave (your way, not theirs).
- Mind how you talk in front of the kids. You can initiate a positive change by changing the tone in which you ask each other to do things around the house (yes, Bojana, you too). Instead of ‘Take out the trash already,’ why don’t you try something like ‘Hun, can you please…?’ It won’t hurt (always). Other times, you’ll probably be too mad to even bark an order, just putting the trash forcefully on the floor in hopes that he trips over it. There, I said it. Now, if you could see our trash can, I’m sure you’d be more supportive and understand why I have to nag. Now, shut up and keep listening.
- Say yes whenever possible. Too many no’s may prove detrimental in the long run. Just as offering alternative sources of healthy foods if they prefer x to y, you should offer game alternatives to choose from. You can’t play with mom and dad’s toys, but why don’t you try this?
- Use positive reinforcement to promote good behavior. Don’t punish bad behavior and failure. Concentrate on the process rather than the outcome. Good job, honey! How didn’t I think of that?
- Anticipate problems by observing your kids, not to say spying on them, especially when they start bringing friends home: who, where, when, how. Someone’s always to blame for their disruptive/unusual behavior. You shouldn’t feel guilty. Look at democratic societies eavesdropping on the rest of the world and learn. If you’re caught red-handed, deny everything. If espionage becomes a bit too obvious, resort to transparency as your obligation to share information, tell your kids it’s for their own good and make the spy-bugs smaller.
- Finally, try being effective democratic parents, whenever possible. Although democracy is not as flawless a system as many western governments present it, do not change it or, even worse, turn to tyranny. It is your duty as a parent to offer protection, love and guidance (discipline too) and promote tolerance and freedom of expression if you want your kid, family and society to thrive. Long-term peace, stability and equality can only be attained when everybody’s rights are respected. Why don’t we start with our children? That being said, we might just stop producing more loonies (than necessary), provided you’re not one, in which case we’re screwed, and electing more tyrants presidents in the future.