During my semi-annual trek to the mall a few days ago, I overheard a parent attempting to discipline a little urchin who was screaming, spitting and kicking by telling him, "You're embarrassing me in public and heading for another time out mister."

Oh, say it ain't so.

Imagine how this incident would have played out for you as a child. Throwing a tantrum at any place or at any time rarely happened because of the way it was handled the first time you tried it. The thought of spitting on one of my parents or attempting to kick and hit them never crossed my mind and none of my friends ever acted in such a manner either.

Why? For two very good reasons: First, we were aware of the consequences of such behavior, and second, we had sufficient respect for our parents that it never occurred to us to try such an obnoxious stunt. I have no idea what happened to family values, but scenes such as the one I saw in the mall aren't particularly uncommon and barely draw a notice, except from us seniors.

My only experience with time-outs involved sporting events, and their use was reserved for coaches, referees, umpires or the team captain. Apparently, in today's more parentally astute society, it's commonplace for kids to pitch a fit and "act out" their feelings; it supposedly cleanses their systems and purges feelings of discontent. Crap! My system used to get cleaned out too, and a swat on the butt cleansed me for quite awhile.

I know, that's cruel and inhumane punishment nowadays and can land the parents in court. And I'm certainly not advocating physical abuse and never experienced anything like that as a kid, but I did occasionally get a whack on my rump and some verbal direction that immediately gained my attention.

Back to the mall story: The mom never got the kid to stop acting like a spoiled brat, even after evoking the brutal "time out." Actually, things became uglier to the point of having a department store employee offer some assistance. Unbelievable; mom exploded into a detailed explanation of how she wasn't a parent but rather a "life coach" and her method of discipline would benefit the child in later years. Oh, yeah, that'll happen.

I restrained myself from suggesting to the misguided mom that she slip off one of her Birkenstocks and smack the little imp on the rear end with it. But I had the uncanny feeling that the lawyers would quickly circle for the kill.

I'm not sure anyone enjoys initiating any type of discipline, but it has to occur in order for society to continue evolving in a responsible manner. Fortunately, most of the problem kids manage to become adults, enter mainstream society, and make something worthwhile of their lives. A small percentage of them seems to end up in politics, law school, or sadly, in jail. Their parents, on the other hand, simply get old and attempt to ruin their grandkids.

I'm glad I'm not growing up today, and I don't envy parents. The pressures of "keeping up" are tremendous, material rewards abound, and presenting the appearance of being successful is generally condoned, which opens the door for virtually any form of personal behavior imaginable to become routine.

So, do I have a solution that doesn't involve a smack on the hiney for unruly kids? How's this — Look them in the eye and use the politically incorrect, anxiety-causing word "no." Best case, the kid shuts up and listens, and I've seen it work wonders. The worst case involves therapy later in life, which would likely occur anyway.

Regarding the "life coach" ideology — dump it immediately and become a responsible parent. A good starting point is contacting your own parents, grandparents, or others whom you believe may offer some sage advice about discipline and ways to gain respect in the real world.

After all these years, I have tremendous admiration for parents of my generation. I say with confidence that I never hated mine but was pissed at them a number of times, and that never led to habitual fits of rage or deviant behavior. I gained appreciation and respect for older people, those in positions of responsibility and authority, and I knew the difference between right and wrong.

Sometimes going back to the good old days can facilitate moving us into the future. This may be a good time to test the theory.


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