The other day I popped out of the house for about five minutes to visit the neighbours, leaving Madeleine home alone. I don’t know what it is about the Universe but every time I leave Madeleine home by herself somebody either comes to the door or calls on the phone. If the kids are a home alone for any length of time the rules are Do Not Open The Front Door and Do Not Answer The Phone (or wait until the answering machine picks it up and if you know the caller than it’s OK to answer).
My kids are pretty smart, and pretty sensible. But as studies have shown (heard of the Stanley Milgram experiment?) people – even grown adults – have a tendency to do things they are told to do by people they believe to have power or seniority over them. And? Kids don’t listen to their parents’ instructions. Such a conundrum.
She answered the door to a Door-to-Door Salesman one time, and then opened the locked screen door so he could give her a brochure.
The other day, she answered the phone to a man who told her that her computer was under attack and she needed to shut it down immediately, then restart it, then go to a website and download a program. Madeleine got to the part where she restarted the computer when I walked back in. Distressed, she handed me the phone, I listened to his spiel (“your computer’s security is being compromised over and over a hundred times a day!…”) and then told him, not very politely, that he was full of it.
This is one of those fundamental Life Lessons I am trying to teach my kids. I want them to answer “to exercise my judgement and bullshit meter every single day.” When I look back on my first 40 years, I can see several examples where I took something at face value, only to discover that it wasn’t what I thought it was. Sometimes I realised straight away, other times I realised too late. Sometimes I opened the door when I shouldn’t have.
I want my kids to have the confidence to trust their instincts. They went against their instincts and their better judgement in answering the door, and answering the telephone. But they are kids, and they’re going to make mistakes like that. They’ll make a few when they are grown-ups, too. But the more confident they are in who they are and what they want, the more likely they will start to question things that don’t seem right. Rather than just opening the door to the salesman, they might think “I don’t have to open the door to this person, I can tell him to come back later, or put the brochure in the letterbox. I don’t have to open the door and let him in because this is my house and I can ask him to leave.”
The few times in my life where I have seen or heard something that doesn’t sit well with me – and I have recognised that it is happening, and I have stopped to consider my response before delivering it – I have come away feeling incredibly empowered. There was that time when a younger, male, slightly-more-senior colleague bullied me in front of another colleague, whilst he had his feet up on the desk. I saw him for what he was, I didn’t take offence, and I turned around and walked straight to his Manager’s office and reported the incident. THAT was empowering. I want my girls to know the feeling of standing up for yourself, of confronting somebody who is trying to pull the wool over your eyes, or even just stopping and pausing whilst questioning whether something feels right. I want them to know that they are strong enough to do this.
Meanwhile, we’re getting a silent number. I’m sick to the back teeth of all the marketing calls, and this one was particularly heinous.