Parents Always Siding with Authority Figures

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Aspie1
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15 Jun 2013, 1:56 pm

I'm putting this in the Parents' Discussion forum to get other parents' perspective. And also the perspective of other adult non-parents, a common (possibly unintended) group in the parents' forum. For as long as I remember, my parents always took the side of authority figures: my teachers, my sports instructors, and more recently, my bosses. (They never interacted with my bosses directly, but they took their side when I told them about problems at my job.) Here are some examples.

In grades K thru 3, I went to a private school that offered an accelerated curriculum. They put me there because they "knew I was smart". The teacher I had was the very mean to students, and downright cruel at times. She'd yell at students and artificially lower grades. To avoid retelling bad memories, I'll just say she acted like Ms. Trunchbull from the movie Matilda. But when I told my parents what she did, they'd day "Your teacher is an adult, and the adult is always right. Even when she does something you don't like." They even punished me for those artificially low grades (e.g. a C that's really a B). When I told my grandparents about my teacher, they took her side too.

In grades 4 thru 8, I went to a public school. The teacher there were mostly middle-of-the-road: not super-nice, but not blatantly mean, either. They'd give praise when it was due, and dole out punishments when deserved. Once or twice, these teachers gave the entire class F's, and of course, my parents were furious at me for getting the F. One time, a less-than-nice teacher canceled a field trip the day of, just to assert her power. My parents said the class deserved to have the field trip canceled.

In high school and college, I told my parents only the bare, highly generic minimum of what my teachers did. For example, "this teacher is very strict" or "this professor gives a lot of work". They'd say he/she is doing the right thing, of course.

At my jobs, I got exploited constantly. My only fault is choosing to go into IT, an exploitation-intensive field. One boss constantly made me work overtime as late as 9:30 PM, with the start time being 8:00 AM. Another boss kept me (and no one else) on call 24/7/365 for many months (until I took legal action), and had people call me in the middle of the night twice a week. I told my parents about it. Their reaction pretty much was: "He is your boss. He is the boss! Whatever he wants, he gets!! ! Understand?" I, in turn, took the matter to my state's labor department, while being represented by a lawyer, and got that boss fired. Knowing they'd disapprove of my "disobedient" act, I never told my parents about it. Now, when they ask me about my job, I just say "good", "OK", "meh", or "sucks".

So, all this brings me to my question: just how common is it for parents to always side with authority figures and never with their child? When I was growing up, I though it was as normal as a bear sh__ing in the woods. After all, since parents are the ones with authority, it's only natural to take the side of someone who also has authority, rather than someone powerless (a child). But is it, really?



Fnord
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15 Jun 2013, 2:20 pm

[opinion=mine]

It depends on who is right and who is wrong.

It is right to obey authority, unless it can be proven that those in authority are being abusive or repressive.

It is wrong to rebel against authority, unless the rebels are being abused or repressed.

It is not abusive to insist that a child does his homework, his housework, and any similar obligations before letting him have fun.

It is abusive to cause physical or emotional harm to a child, but if yelling at a child is the only way to (1) get his attention and (2) motivate him, then it might be justified -- but only as a last resort!

[/opinion]

Just wait until you have children of your own...



sacrip
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15 Jun 2013, 2:31 pm

Without knowing the teacher directly, parents will usually side with the adult over the kid because the odds are in favor of the adult being in the right and the child not seeing the issue from the right perspective. A mean teacher/boss isn't, in their opinion, enough to complain to the school about since mean people are everywhere and it's impossible to protect you from them. Kids, unfortunately, do complain about things at the drop of a hat, so parents will tune out most of the complaints until it involves physical injury.


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Aspie1
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15 Jun 2013, 2:52 pm

Fnord wrote:
Just wait until you have children of your own...

Meh.

At this point, I'm pretty much decided on never having children, or getting married, for that matter. I'm wondering if I'll have kids, if I'll be tempted to assert my power over them. Namely, forbid them to engage in innocent mischief, always side with the "mean" teachers, dictate every aspect of their food and clothing, demand nothing but straight A's in school, enroll them in sports lessons that take place during their relaxation, instill super-early curfews, track them via GPS, and basically control their lives in every way I can come up with. Hey, cut me some slack; it's all I know (except the GPS part).

I'm expecting some angry reactions here. So I feel it might be best if I never had kids. Especially considering that little children make me very uncomfortable; I talk at length about it in the "Discomfort around little children" thread. Plus, I love my adulthood freedom too much.



Last edited by Aspie1 on 15 Jun 2013, 3:07 pm, edited 2 times in total.

DW_a_mom
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15 Jun 2013, 2:59 pm

Since I could probably write half a book on all the things I think could warrant discussing in this area, I think I'll start by answering your last question:

I think, for me, its been about half and half. It depends on a whole host of variables. Or maybe 75% on my kid's side; hard to say, but as I've been writing the below I am remembering a whole lot of emails, calls and office visits I've made ;)

Side notes worth pointing out:

- While it might always sound to my kids like I start on the authority figures side, what I'm really trying to do is get them to see a POSSIBLE explanation from another point of view. From their responses and reactions I can start to assess more of how my child sees it and more of what the authority figure probably saw. To understand what really happened, you've got to go through the full process of trying to see possible reasonable explanations on the other side; the truth cannot be found without that effort. After all that, if I think my child is the one who has been wronged, I will begin to assess what can and should be done about it.

- Real life, one message I do need to send to my kids is that regardless of who I, personally, think is right or wrong, the authority figure more often than not has the authority to be unfair. What we need to evaluate is whether or not challenging that is worth it, for there is a cost to making the challenge. I try to engage my kids in that decision making process, because they are the ones most directly affected. Challenges are most effective when carefully made and infrequently made; part of my job is also to model how to do that. Maybe this is where 75/25 goes down to 50/50; we drop a lot of issues that we see, just deal with them as part of life not always being fair.

- A lot of adults are absolutely terrified of ever making a challenge to authority, because they haven't learned how to do it effectively, or have had bad results the few times they've tried. It is definitely a skill, and I've been lucky, I think, to have learned it more or less. I spend a lot time at every job helping other employees learn to effectively advocate to the boss; I know I had that fear once, but somewhere along the way experiences took it away. I never sue because that cost (including time, effort and emotion) v. benefit analysis rarely works out in my view, and I think you have more leverage long run if you avoid being known as someone who commonly jumps to that step; ultimately I'd rather walk away. Anyway. Usually, what you want is to advocate without losing your job or getting a demotion; you want the boss' respect for you to increase when you advocate, not decrease, and it is a risky process that frightens a lot of adults to death. They carry that into all sorts of dealings with other authority figures, and perhaps your parents are like that. Someone who is afraid of authority and unable to deal with that fear is going to find internal ways to cover and justify it.


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DW_a_mom
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15 Jun 2013, 3:09 pm

Aspie1 wrote:
Fnord wrote:
Just wait until you have children of your own...

Meh.

At this point, I'm pretty much decided on never having children, or getting married, for that matter. I'm wondering if I'll have kids, if I'll be tempted to assert my power over them. Namely, forbid them to engage in innocent mischief, always side with the "mean" teachers, dictate every aspect of their food and clothing, demand nothing but straight A's in school, enroll them in sports lessons that take place during their relaxation, instill super-early curfews, track them via GPS, and basically control their lives in every way I can come up with. Hey, cut me some slack; it's all I know (except the GPS part).

I'm expecting some angry reactions here. So I feel it might be best if I never had kids. Plus, I love my adulthood freedom too much.


You know, while I totally understand and appreciate not wanting kids, you shouldn't assume you'd be all the things you wish your parents hadn't been. You are obviously aware of power issues, and you'd probably bend over backwards to avoid playing them. Until you realized you'd gone too far, of course, and figured out that to some degree kids crave boundaries. Point being, awareness changes the equation quite a bit, so if you find yourself in different mindset in a decade or two ... don't be afraid of it. You'll probably be just fine.


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Aspie1
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15 Jun 2013, 3:54 pm

DW_a_mom wrote:
You know, while I totally understand and appreciate not wanting kids, you shouldn't assume you'd be all the things you wish your parents hadn't been. You are obviously aware of power issues, and you'd probably bend over backwards to avoid playing them. Until you realized you'd gone too far, of course, and figured out that to some degree kids crave boundaries. Point being, awareness changes the equation quite a bit, so if you find yourself in different mindset in a decade or two ... don't be afraid of it. You'll probably be just fine.

Five years ago, even three years ago, I would have agreed with you. But I guess some switches got flipped in my brain; so now, I feel like I'd be doing exactly what I believed my parents to do: look for ways to enhance and enjoy my power. There are many other reasons why I never want to have kids, but they just aren't the focus of this thread, let alone the focus of this forum. And maybe you could be right about having a different mindset in ten years. In the meantime, let's stick with the original topic of siding with authority figures.



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15 Jun 2013, 6:49 pm

With my parents, it depends on the authority figure. They generally trust and respect teachers and to be honest, I never really complained about any teachers to them when I was growing up. If I did, I'm pretty sure they would side with the teacher unless it was obvious that the teacher was a bully (like, if the teacher called me stupid, for example.)

They are working class people and they are both quite left wing, so their attitude towards managers and bosses is that they are generally exploitative. They usually take my side if I complain about a boss.

They generally have a lot of respect for doctors for the same reason they respect teachers - they respect people who are educated and work in the public sector (we have socialised medicine in my country.) They will listen more if I complain about a doctor than if I complain about a teacher, though because even though they respect them, they think that doctors can be a bit out of touch with their patients, sometimes.

Guess it really depends on who the authority figure is working for. This sort of outlook is quite common amongst working class British parents who are from an older generation - they generally have a collectivist outlook which makes them respect public servants. I'm one of the few of my generation to be brought up with this attitude because when I was young, the whole post-Thatcher individualist attitude to public servants was already kicking in. Some parents of the children in my school basically tried to bully the teachers if their kids said anything slightly critical about the teacher.


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DW_a_mom
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16 Jun 2013, 3:15 pm

Aspie1 wrote:
DW_a_mom wrote:
You know, while I totally understand and appreciate not wanting kids, you shouldn't assume you'd be all the things you wish your parents hadn't been. You are obviously aware of power issues, and you'd probably bend over backwards to avoid playing them. Until you realized you'd gone too far, of course, and figured out that to some degree kids crave boundaries. Point being, awareness changes the equation quite a bit, so if you find yourself in different mindset in a decade or two ... don't be afraid of it. You'll probably be just fine.

Five years ago, even three years ago, I would have agreed with you. But I guess some switches got flipped in my brain; so now, I feel like I'd be doing exactly what I believed my parents to do: look for ways to enhance and enjoy my power. There are many other reasons why I never want to have kids, but they just aren't the focus of this thread, let alone the focus of this forum. And maybe you could be right about having a different mindset in ten years. In the meantime, let's stick with the original topic of siding with authority figures.


Last sidetrack, then (although in its own way it is related to the topic at hand): I think it is normal to go through a period of enjoying and playing with power after feeling for a long time that you've had none. It eventually swings back to the middle, in my experience.

Power and authority are interesting things. It is very difficult to feel you have none, and that sense of frustration creates different life approaches in different people. How one has responded to the power and authority around them very much has to do with how they will respond to conflicts their children have with it.


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16 Jun 2013, 3:29 pm

I don't know how valuable my perspective will be to you b/c it may (or may not) be very different from others. I would not assume parents here are going to be as angry as you think. We are not an especially authoritarian-at-all-costs group.

Background:
My family was not pro-authority other than pro their own authority. I was a goodie-goodie, dream kid most of my life, and my parents didn't have reason, nor did they, doubt my account of things. My father did not have a lot of respect for teachers. I am assuming his (undiagnosed) aspie self had issues with them growing up. :)

He went up to school for me multiple times when my mother was not able to make the necessary forceful arguments. Most people my age probably do not have these experiences and have had parents similar to yours. So take that for what it is worth.

Some of my son's teachers have a clue, and some have not. My son is a horribly unreliable narrator due to a plethora of communication/theory of mind and cognitive distortion issues. He blames others, but also takes blame for things not his fault. That said, I am very good at knowing what these issues are. I also think I do a pretty good job of remembering what school was like, what other kids were like and what is likely to be true in most cases, given the type of teacher he has. So I make what I would like to think is a pretty good guess of what is going based on that, and some spying around over there, independent of the teacher's account. Even good teachers have distortions in their versions because they don't see what the kids who are better at hiding their behaviors, do, and obviously have their own biases, as anyone does.

I am also in the process of getting things queued up to get him the heck out of there, and home schooled because even when intentions are good, they are not capable of looking out for his interests at the same time as managing the rest of what goes on in a class. So, again, this is not necessarily typical.

I don't know how many times my son has felt like I have "sided" with authority. I have told him that barring anything unsafe or unethical etc. that he needs to comply and then tell me what happened after he gets home so I can straighten it out for him the best I can. That means me figuring what went on and trying to get an accommodation or adaption, or whatever. I tell him it is for his own protection, because frankly it is. I am the parent, and I am the one who can argue back.

I have told him he needs to control his behavior, b/c they are legally allowed to restrain him when he is physical, and that the only way I can help him is if he doesn't do that. It has have not had good results. Obviously I did not "side" with being physical, but I did advocate as best I could to have him not be put in situations he could not handle, and tried to get better calming options for him, so he would not resort to that. Luckily we ended school recently on a good note, somehow and I intend to home school him come fall.

I do not know if this answers you in anyway,



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17 Jun 2013, 10:00 am

My parents never sided with authority figures over me. They always listened to both sides, and since I generally didn't complain unless it was a genuine issue, they typically sided with me.

In my brother's case, it seems more about 75% siding with him. He complains about things that I'd have had no issue with. Not because he's selfish or lazy or anything, but because he's depressed. Plus, unlike me, he actually has it reasonably good at school. (I'm still scratching my head over why he's depressed - I think if we could figure that out, we could probably make him feel better.) My parents have had to learn that since my brother's depression pushes him to do things that are unhealthy for him (like hide away at home because he thinks he's too ugly to be seen in public) they need to gently-but-firmly push him in the other direction. Whereas in my case, most of the time I was coping the best I could.