It seems to be so many parents in america have no idea of what raising a child is about. Too many of them seem to fall into one of the two extremes, and neither seems all that appropriate to me.
Let me preface any further discussion by saying I tend to be a strict father. I don't think I'm unreasonable, but I do tend to err on the side of more strict rather than more lenient. Having said that, let's continue.
There seem to me to be two basic camps on parenting, or at least on bad parenting (of which so many people seem to be guilty - well, those with children, anyway). You have, on one side, the 'little monster' camp. They are of the firm belief that children are monsters, and their job as a parent is merely to act as their shepherd. They feed them, they keep them moving in the right direction, more or less, and they keep them from getting eaten by wolves. If they've accomplished that, they've done their jobs. Their children run around, screaming and hollering, raising holy hell all over the place, and they shrug. "They're children. They're like that." No, no, I'm sorry - they're not like that. Children have individual personalities, but they're individual personalities shaped quite dramatically by how you raise them. If you treat them like monsters, they will learn that they are monsters, and they will act like monsters. If you expect nothing good from them, nothing good is exactly what you'll get.
The flip side of the coin harbors a collection of parents that treat their children much like rich old ladies treat their pets. Their adorable little foo-foo is prized so long as it's quiet and trots along behind them without drawing any extra attention to itself, except when they feel like showing them off. These parents expect 100% obedience and abject terror when that fails. Their treatment of their children seems to be halfway between military cadets ("ABOOOOUT FACE! ATTENNNNNNSHUN! SMILE FOR THE CAMERA!") and utter neglect. I think they'd forget about them if the children would let them. And heaven forbid their children actually show some human emotions or some childlike glee. "10 demerits for smiling! No dinner for a week!" Their children DO reflect on them, but I'd like to think a child's existence is not defined purely on how they make their parents appear. They aren't trophies, they're little human beings, who have fears and hopes and get excited and dejected and everything else you can imagine. They're people, just short. Treat them like it.
Why is it so hard to find a reasonable balance? I expect my son to be polite and respectful and kind, both in public and in private, but I realize he's still a child and can't be expected to be perfect. I also don't let him run around like a howling, rabid banshee either. It seems perfectly straightforward to me - expect your children to be good, even demand that they be good, and for the most part... they will. Reward them when they're good! Punish them when they're bad. Pay attention to them regardless. Kids need both discipline and love, and if you give them both in reasonable amounts they seem to generally respond pretty well.
Anyway, that's the end of my rant on parenting. Bleh. I could probably continue, but I have a headache so I'll save us all the pain of listening to me continue. ;)