Like many red-blooded Americans, I used to tune in to “American Idol,” but I always quit watching once they selected their final batch of contestants. For me, the audition process was more entertaining. Simon always had genuine consternation at some of the contestants’ outright boldness in auditioning. He would watch them, mouth open, as they belted out wrong notes with the confidence of Miss America. He would even go so far as to ask them who told them that they could sing. Part of me felt second-hand embarrassment for them, while the other part was satisfied that he, in person, was doing what I was doing from my couch. I honestly could never understand how unaware of themselves these people really could be.
And then I became a public school teacher, and the curtain was lifted.
Even at the high school level, so many students seem blissfully oblivious to how they came across. There are times when I’m tempted to inform a student that he’s annoying one of his classmates, but then I stop. If he didn’t realize he was annoying the classmate before I told him, then no one has let him know how annoying he is before now. “Then tell him!” you’re probably shouting. “Be part of the solution!” But wait. The stakes are higher: the classroom is full of his peers, which could amount to infinite embarrassment; he’s at an impressionable age where these social situations matter; he could look back at this time in his education and develop a hatred for all classroom environments! Then what is the solution?
Parents: tell your kids when they’re being annoying. You. Tell ’em.
You may not agree that your little dumpling needs to be told he’s aggravating. That’s fine. But that also means you can never complain about any other child irritating you. And I’m guessing you’ve done that before. Even if it wasn’t a child who was irritating you–maybe it was an adult–guess how that adult become so annoying: by being an annoying child and never having to face the fact.
Have you ever been in a social situation where a kid was being a little nuisance? I don’t mean something that can’t be prevented–I’m talking about simply irritating? My kids can be pret-ty annoying. It’s like they take a class in it or something. You know how they like to make weird noises? Or repeat the same phrases on loop? Or run through other people’s space? Or try to make something funny that just isn’t funny? Or say “Cha-cha-cha!” during the Happy Birthday song? You know–all the annoying things kids (and eventually even some adults) sometimes do? Well, if it’s annoying to you and you’re the parent, imagine how irritating it is to people who don’t love them unconditionally.
And listen, I get it. You love them. You don’t want to be the bearer of bad news. But the truth is you’re not doing them any favors by NOT telling them. You just aren’t. They need to be aware of themselves and of social situations.
I’m not saying that you have to tell them harshly or yell or embarrass them. You’re the expert of sensitivity when it comes to your kids. I AM saying, however, that maybe when your kid starts singing “FIVE LITTLE MONKEYS JUMPING ON THE BED!” loudly in a restaurant, you can let her know that 1) it’s annoying to you, and 2) there are other people here who don’t want that noise in their ears. (*Bonus for making your kids less egocentric.*)
And please don’t leave it to other adults to be the cruel informants! Teachers, scout masters, volunteers, and youth group leaders all have enough on their plates. And if they tell your kids the truth about their annoying behavior, it won’t be nearly as loving as how you can put it.
But please start telling them. I’ve seen you exasperated at the playground, apologizing for your son’s obnoxious behavior while he runs away, completely unaware. When do you expect him to find out? And how?