Getting kids to behave has long been a struggle for many parents and teachers, and the struggle has been getting more and more difficult each generation. I know I could be a challenge as a child and I’m sure my teachers and parents had fits about my antics every once in a while. I know Mr. Keith had a conniption when I got into a paint fight with a girl while painting the sets for a play. He sent us to the principal’s office, which in those days was a big deal. If you found yourself in the principal’s office, you could find yourself on the long end of a paddle or waiting for your parents to pick you up. Today’s kids, however, don’t seem to fear the principal anymore. In fact, they don’t seem to respect any authority figure anymore.
I was on the receiving end of a principal’s phone call a short time ago and had to deal with several problems that I never created for my parents. I found myself dealing not with a kid in detention or Saturday class, but rather talking to police and attorneys. As a society, we can bemoan over-reaction by school systems in choosing to prosecute kids rather than use the discipline of old, but it is not really their fault. Parents have taken school districts to court too many times for perceived slights against their kids, or for what the parents (and unfortunately the courts) think is excessive disciplinary tactics. The paddle is all but gone from the principal’s repertoire of disciplinary tools.
Now, in order to protect themselves from potential litigation, school districts have attorneys making policy and overseeing disciplinary issues. Principals and teachers now have to spend time and resources documenting all manner of behavior so that they can face a potential lawsuit brought by an unhappy parent. Psychologists warn that any negative action may damage the child’s fragile self-esteem. If their self-esteem is damaged, they may experience any number of social ills like becoming a criminal or worse, failing to find their true potential.
The whole issue seems to stem from parents who are still rebelling against their parents. When I was in school—even elementary—we walked to the bus stop on our own and rode to school. If we were paddled for misbehaving, we faced a spanking at home too. Our teachers and parents worked together to mold our behavior and get us to perform in class and at home. Now, there are always exceptions, but most of the kids I knew are not crime lords or serving time in prison. We grew up just fine. Yet, some of us seem to think that our childhood was too hard. Perhaps their parents were too hard on them. Perhaps their teachers were unfair to them and their parents didn’t take their side.
These parents want to ensure their kids have a better childhood than they did, so they always believe their kid’s stories of how the teacher is unfair, or how the assignment is too hard or the principal doesn’t like them. I was once one of these kids. I have met these kids. I have these kids. Kids lie. They really do. Yes, even yours. It is the parent’s job to know when the kid is lying and when he or she is not and—more to the point—when to listen to the teacher and administration. The schools are not out to get your kids. They have bigger considerations. They have to teach them. They have to meet state regulations (and that is another issue). So instead of teaching your kids, they now have to worry about prosecuting them.
Our society has evolved to a point where in more than 95% of home both parents must work or it is a single-parent home. Parents don’t get to spend anywhere near the amount of time with kids as they used to. Parents rely on daycare centers or nannies or babysitters to take care of their young until they are old enough to get into school. Once in school, they have after school programs or—as happens in most situations—the kids go home after school alone. The result, kids have to entertain themselves. Kids turn to other kids to learn social skills. This is a clear example of the blind leading the blind. If society were run by children, anarchy would reign as the country would be run by sociopaths. Kids are not born knowing right from wrong. They are not born with the understanding of fairness. They only worry about themselves.
A one-year-old is playing with a toy. He is entertained and parents find delight in watching the child play. Another child toddles up and takes the toy. The first child grabs it back and screams; the second child struggles to keep the toy and screams just as loud. This may look cute to the parents, but it is a social lesson that both children are learning. The parents need to think about that when and if they intercede. What message will the child learn from this? How to share? Right of property? First-come first-serve? Possession is nine-tenths?
We as parents have our work cut out for us. We have to teach the kids how to behave in society. We have to teach kids how to get along with others. We have to teach kids a work ethic. We have to teach kids everything. And we are not doing a good enough job of it. This is a big reason why our teachers are struggling in their jobs of trying to teach our children.