Being a Better Parent

Complaints and Compliments: Teaching Kids About Consumer Feedback

The story in the news these days of Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater has me thinking—not just about the straight-outta-the-movies way in which he quit his job, but about the onboard incident that preceded it, when a passenger reportedly cursed at him and cut Steven’s head with her suitcase, mad because she was told to sit down until her arriving plane came to a complete stop.  I wondered if that passenger had children watching.  Yes, we’ve all been ticked off at one time or another at clerks, customer service reps, waiters, maybe even flight attendants—but there’s a right way to complain, and a wrong way.  And especially when children are around, you hope people pick the right way.

My mother, who spent much of her life very much as a “my husband makes all the decisions” kind of gal, was always a hero in my eyes whenever she stood up for herself if she was wronged at a restaurant, store, etc.  I definitely have that same spirit in me, usually much to the chagrin of my kids.  But my philosophy (and probably my mom’s) is that as paying consumers, we deserve to get good service, good products, what’s advertised, and good retailers should want to be held accountable.  Yeah, I admit, I’m that person, the one that they have to do a price check for if my 2 for 1 items are both ringing up at full price, while the line waits.  (But I’m also the person who has waited many times in long lines while others do the same!  Payback is hell, huh?!) I spend too much time making a meal plan, a shopping list, cutting coupons, driving to the store, and remembering to bring in my “eco-friendly bags”, to let the store get things wrong. Especially when I could have gone to seven other grocery stores within a 3-mile radius if I’d wanted to.

I try hard, though, not to be rude or accusational, because often the “front line” person isn’t at fault, anyway, if a cash register doesn’t scan an item right, or if a restaurant cook uses sour milk in the macaroni and cheese.  And, because I don’t want to set a bad example for my kids.  I want them to know that people are more likely to listen to your concerns and act on them when you’re polite.  But right now I can’t make a huge difference with this subject, no matter what I say, because my kids think people shouldn’t speak up at all.  Where do they get that idea, anyway? “Mom, don’t say anything, Mom, it’s no big deal”— they get so embarrassed so easily, and worry so much about what other people think, of anything and everything

I would also like to teach them the value of speaking up when they get good service.  I’ve never involved them in that, at least not that I can remember, but I’ll bet they’d be embarrassed and impatient if we headed to Customer Service to fill out a compliment card, or sat down at our computer to take the survey that’s mentioned at the bottom of just about every retail receipt.    And if I said something to a clerk in person about their good service? Oooh, way too embarrassing. (Sounds like something I definitely need to do more!)   Hopefully, they’ll  at least learn the value of positive feedback once they have jobs of their own, i.e. “the best tippers are usually those who once waited tables”. 

And I hope they never feel so superior, so heartless, that they would ever hurt someone, either physically or verbally, in a fit of “consumer rage”.  That flight attendant ended up being arrested, but the passenger probably should have been arrested, too.

One thought on “Complaints and Compliments: Teaching Kids About Consumer Feedback

  1. Well said! You are referring to what we in the counselor / coaching biz call “assertive” rather than “aggressive” behavior. One excellent definition of assertiveness describes it as standing up for your own rights, calmly and without undue anxiety, without violating the rights of others. By contrast, aggressive statements / behaviors violate the rights of others – usually a complete lack of emotional regulation including expressions of anger, disdain, or disrespect and often based in arrogance or thoughtlessness on the part of the aggressor. Role modeling both positive feedback and assertive communication skills for our children is so important. It demonstrates that we can stand up for ourselves appropriately, i.e. not be taken advantage of or be a victim, without victimizing someone else.

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