If a parent or person in authority has said, “No” to a request for something, to ask for it again is disrespectful. It communicates disbelief, disregard, and hubris; not very classy character traits.
I heard a report of Scarlet’s behavior when Mommy was visiting someone the other day that lead to a lesson on what it means to be classy. Scarlet approached one of my wife’s adult friends and asked if she could have something. Being an only child, Scarlet has no shortage of toys. We buy her what she wants, as well as purchase things she hasn’t even dreamed of wanting. So, for Scarlet to ask someone outside of the immediate family for something was unnecessary, awkward, and therefore inappropriate.
I like the idea of Scarlet feeling comfortable speaking with adults. And, I even like that she feels confident requesting things, but soliciting other people’s property is just wrong. “If Daddy were hungry,” I explained to her, “And he saw someone eating a sandwich, would it be okay to go up to the person and ask for it? Of course not!” That would be weird. Additionally, it puts the person being requisitioned in an awkward position. If she says “No” she won’t look very polite, and if she says “Yes”, but doesn’t want to give up the item, she could feel bitterness toward you.
One of Scarlet’s new sayings is, “That’s not fair.” Erika Watts, of Dorky Mom Doodles, shared a handful of New Year’s Resolutions, recently. One that cracked me up used a metaphor of Sauron’s all-seeing eye from “Lord of the Rings” to explain that she normally could not touch a candy bar without her kids knowing it. The Dorky Mom writes that this year she resolves to eat a candy bar by herself. Good luck, Erika! Is it fair that Mom should eat an entire candy bar without sharing? Guess what, honey. Asking mommy to share the candy bar isn’t fair to mommy.
This lesson was more than a one time, fifteen minute car ride discussion. One afternoon, Scarlet asked if it was classy to beg. This threw me for a loop. I hadn’t used the word “beg” when discussing with my daughter the inappropriateness of asking others for things. I remembered my own childhood, a million years ago, when we would say, “You beggin’!” to our friends when we didn’t want to share something that they were requesting.
I always try to answer my daughter’s questions as truthfully as possible. Also, I want to prepare her for life, by educating her on potential scenarios that the world might throw at her. If a kid told Scarlet that she was a “beggar”, what would she think that meant? What should she think of beggars? Is begging classy?
These are tricky questions to answer. Begging has negative connotations, but is begging wrong or bad? In my class and this blog I use the word “classy” because it is funny, cheesy, and denotes having manners. I do not use it to promote classism. It seems to me that a poor artist can be much classier than a wealthy person who treated others badly to attain riches. Additionally, homeless people and panhandlers do not all come from the same stock. Some people, John Bird among them, dismiss beggars as drug addicts, people with drinking problems, or mental health sufferers (Branigan, 2002). Bird was homeless for a time, and began the magazine “Big Issue” to help homeless people, but his life is only one annotation on the issue. His callous dismissal of these people isn’t helpful.
A book that provided a paradigm shift for me is “Far From the Tree” by Andrew Solomon (2013). This book presents several types of people that society marginalizes and controversies surrounding their situations. Deaf, dwarf, prodigy, parents of criminals, and children of rape victims are just a few of the categories that Solomon writes about. And, each one was explored and explained far beyond my prior knowledge. The one that was the most foreign to me, and therefore presented the most new information, was the chapter on schizophrenia. Movies make light of multiple personalities, but Solomon made it real. His book contains thorough stories and lengthy interviews with people who live with the condition. Solomon’s mission is to help regular people feel and understand what it would be like to live life through the lense of someone who has to deal with these maladies on a daily basis. It is easy to dismiss homelessness as a byproduct of mental health deficiency, but “Far From the Tree” (Solomon, 2013) spells out the difficulties in helping people with schizophrenia. Neither medicine nor counseling help people who hear voices in their head, completely. There aren’t enough funds for these people to be housed by expert facilities. It was through reading this text that my view of homeless people completely changed. I no longer saw their situation as a choice. In some cases, begging or asking for help IS the classiest thing for a person to do. Alternatives include self-medicating, wasting away, and completely losing one’s mind. Just writing this makes me want to give to panhandlers.
Before getting carried away, Ole Moen makes a compelling point in “Don’t Give Money to Beggars” (2012), published in Practical Ethics by The University of Oxford. After dispelling the typical cases for giving money to panhandlers, Moen presents the argument that when someone gives money to a panhandler, they are taking money from someone who may need it more. He argues that panhandlers in America are not as bad off as those in other countries and parts of the world. Moen calculated the typical charity shown to the typical beggar on the corner of a busy intersection as about $50-$70 an hour. Not begrudging these people, but suggesting that this money might be better spent furthering a reputable helper of homeless people in the worst part of the world, Moen suggests people donate to charities that do more good than the tiny feeling of giving a guy a buck. He is not calassed. Moen is calculated. This counter-intuitive idea would be tough to sell to my seven-year-old, but it is one that I can mull over. If Scarlet and I consciously gave some of our funds to a few organizations that help people in need, and if we also checked on these groups to see what our money was doing, I can picture her understanding why we don’t give to beggars on the street. It isn’t that we don’t want to help them. We do.
Kate R. wrote an article for Grand Rapids Kids, “How to Talk to Your Kids About Panhandling and Helping to Those in Need” (2014), after her 7 year old daughter witnessed a man with a “Hungry” cardboard sign on the side of the road. The daughter asked her mommy, “Why doesn’t that man have any food?” Kate R. used what she calls the “Santa Approach” in dealing with this and many other tough questions. She told her daughter, “I don’t know, sweetie. Why do you think the man doesn’t have any food?” This launched a discussion where the mom could correct some misconceptions and educate the daughter on some of the hardships adults face.
Kid Power: Take Charge of Your Safety ran a piece called “Handling Panhandling So Panhandlers Won’t Handle You” by Irene van der Zande (2013). She begins with a story about being 14 in Mexico and having many panhandling children swarm her after giving one of them a dollar. This can be a scary feeling. I remember a time I visited Jamaica. I was walking through an outdoor market. Right after I bought a necklace from a vendor, I noticed I was being followed. It was a lesson on the title “Mark”. I had been marked as someone with money, who was okay with parting with it. I was a target. I love the bit of advice that Van der Zande (2013) begins with: Rather than handing out money or help thoughtlessly, think clearly about your decision and make it a conscious action. When you unthinkingly give time, money, or other resources, you are in danger of being tricked. Also, the author points out that this is simply not safe. The next few bits of advice run along the same line; it is good to have a plan, maintain a safe distance from panhandlers, and don’t get surprised. Be smart. This is a beneficial, short read; I highly recommend it.
It’s interesting writing about begging from both perspectives: How to handle people who are asking you for money and how to get your kid to stop pestering you for stuff. The safety tips from Van der Zande (2013) seem like they could apply to parents protecting themselves from their own panhandling progeny. I can picture Dorky Mom Doodles author, Erika Watts (2019) maintaining a safe distance from her children by locking herself in the bathroom with her candybar;) Probably, we should teach kids that although adults may ask strangers for money, and there are complicated reasons for this, you, learning youth, who have everything that you need, should not practice this.
Amy Morin’s article “7 Ways Parents Can Put an End to a Child’s Pestering” (2012) actually does read like a pamphlet for dealing with panhandlers. As I read about “Never Give In”, the 1st way for ending childhood begging, I remember my experience in Jamaica. If I hadn’t purchased the necklace, I could have feigned poverty, “I have no money.” As far as the vendors would be concerned, I was a poor youth and not worth attention. Once I did show that I had money, however, Morin suggests to “Stay Calm” (no. 2) and “Ignore Ongoing Protests” (no. 3). As I evaluate these tips, I am thinking that a parent could instruct a child (age-permitting) on not begging by teaching how to deal with panhandlers. Morin goes on to suggest to parents that they set firm “If/Then” stipulations that have clear consequences. She ends with the advice of helping kids learn how to deal with disappointment. If parents give in to the begging, we could be training kids to do more of the same.
Finally, Heather Steiger seems to be a no-nonsense mom who preaches against giving an inch in “5 Phrases That Will INSTANTLY Make Your Kids Stop Begging” (2016). These staccato sayings are sure to end all young person’s panhandling practices. The only thing is that they seem to lack nuance. It is like treating every request like an assault on your parenting. “This conversation is over!” may work at getting your kid to discontinue begging, but at what cost? Do you really want to communicate that “One more word out of you on this subject will reap serious consequences”? I don’t know about you, but I am not willing to close the communication door for any reason. I don’t want Scarlet to beg or pester me or anyone else, but it isn’t worth instituting the silent treatment. Steiger’s article begins with her witnessing a child giving a parent a hard time in a grocery store checkout. The mom caved and let the kid get a candy, with the concession that it be eaten after dinner. Steiger saw this as the kid running the relationship. It is tempting to view the checkout line mom’s actions as weak and potentially harmful, reinforcing the annoying activity. While Steiger might be able to get that kid to never beg again, with one of or a combination of her 5 phrases, do we really want our kids to be threatened with loss of love? Check out the article; It’s a very short read; and see if you agree or disagree with me. In my opinion, assuming rigid, black/white answers is rarely classy. It is far more classy to communicate why begging is not classy. Good luck!
I’d love to learn your thoughts on this matter. What do you think? Is begging just part of childhood? How should panhandling be explained to children?
Branigan, T. (2002, December 23). Big Issue founder says begging is bad. Retrieved January 28, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/media/2002/dec/23/pressandpublishing.homelessness
Moen, O. M. (2012, September 22). Don’t Give Money to Beggars. Retrieved January 28, 2019, from http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2012/09/dont-give-money-to-beggars/
Morin, A. (2017, November 10). 7 Ways Parents Can Put an End to a Child’s Pestering. Retrieved January 23, 2019, from https://www.verywellfamily.com/stop-your-child-from-pestering-1094978
R., K. (2014, September 3). How to Talk to Your Kids About Panhandling and Helping to Those in Need. Retrieved January 23, 2019, from https://grkids.com/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-panhandling-and-helping-to-those-in-need/
Solomon, A. (2013). Far From the Tree. New York, NY: Scribner.
Steiger, H. (2016, February 26). 5 Phrases That Will INSTANTLY Make Your Kids Stop Begging. Retrieved January 24, 2019, from https://www.yourtango.com/2015278597/5-phrases-that-will-instantly-make-your-kids-stop-begging
Van der Zande, I. (2013, March 20). Handling Panhandling So Panhandlers Won’t Handle YOU! Retrieved January 25, 2019, from https://www.kidpower.org/library/article/handling-panhandling-so-panhandlers-wont-handle-you/
Watts, E. (2019, January 15). New Year’s Resolutions: The Parenting Edition. Retrieved January 16, 2019, from https://dorkymomdoodles.com/2019/01/15/new-years-resolutions-the-parenting-edition/