Walking away from the obligation to discipline
Parents and schools have abandoned one of their most crucial responsibilities.
Originally published in the Moultrie News.
Kids seem to be worse behaved than ever. I volunteer at my daughter’s school, and so many kids are rude to adults and hateful toward each other. In public, kids are the same way even if their parents are around. I don’t remember kids being like this before. What’s happened?
One thing that’s happened is that parents and schools simultaneously stopped instilling discipline. Everyone is familiar with the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” For a few years now, the village has walked away from one of its most crucial obligations.
When I started in education, parents were generally proactive about teaching children to act appropriately. They addressed and corrected misbehavior with techniques like grounding, taking away privileges, or spanking. Today, such methods are giving way to nagging, negotiating, and medicating.
Repeatedly admonishing a child without any accountability behind it doesn’t work. In conferences, I hear students curse at their parents. The parents respond with an ineffectual, “Language!” It doesn’t stop the cursing.
“No” used to mean “no,” but for today’s kids, “No” is the opening offer in a negotiation. When parents attempt to take away a child’s cell phone, the child immediately initiates a discussion of terms to get it back quickly, terms the parents fecklessly agree to.
Should nagging and negotiating fail to elicit a passable level of behavior, a growing number of parents consult doctors who can prescribe pills to help control the problem. This could be a signal that pharmaceuticals are becoming a preferred contemporary alternative to old-fashioned methods of discipline. A recent American Family study found that more than half of adults 45 and older think spanking is sometimes necessary, but barely over a third of those 18-29 agree.
Parents can still help elicit positive behavior by teaching important character traits. But do they? Today’s parents place a stronger focus on achievement and high grades than on qualities like respect, honor, and self-control.
You might think that if parents don’t instill discipline and high character, schools will. But for a variety of reasons, schools don’t do that anymore. The U.S. Department of Education hasn’t mentioned character in its strategic plans since 2007. Schools now emphasize mental health and something called socio-emotional development.
Concurrently, schools have stopped holding kids accountable for the most basic behavioral expectations. Penalties for poor conduct used to include work detail or discomfort for the student. The toughest penalty today’s schools offer is to sit on a computer in a room down the hall.
If displayed often enough, bad behavior is assigned privileges, not penalties. Repeat offenders are endowed with federally-mandated “behavior plans” that allow them to break rules they don’t like, leave class whenever they want, get snacks whenever they feel like it, and visit favored staff members any time of day. Instead of deterring disrespectful behavior, schools actively reinforce it.
This dereliction of duties has resulted in parents and schools adopting an attitude of submission toward bad behavior. They don’t try to change the kids; they change themselves — avoiding, adapting to, or simply coping with the misbehavior. This empowers children to continue on a dangerously impulsive path.
It’s easier that way. Teaching children proper behavior requires continual reinforcement and correction—praise for doing things right and penalties for doing them wrong. With kids, the batteries of responsibility are rarely included. They must be installed by parents and recharged by schools every day. Who has the energy for that anymore?
Thankfully, many. Most parents and teachers still believe in disciplining children in a loving, intentional way and they get it done even as the village’s support for their efforts decays.
We teach children how to behave by the behaviors we allow them to exhibit. When the dominant influences in their lives stand by and watch them treat people and rules with disrespect, we are openly training them to be the individuals we privately hope they never become.
Read the original column here.
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