How many times have you flipped through the pages of a magazine or newspaper and seen images of children with captions like “Brats, " “Bullies, " or “Mean and Selfish"? Unfortunately, these are common occurrences in today’s media. For some child advocates, these images serve as a call to action: We need to do something to help America’s so-called “out-of-control" children. The problem is, while these negative images are a wake up call, they are not doing anything to help troubled children. In fact, they only add to the problem. By labeling children brats, bullies, or mean and selfish, we are imposing the very same behaviors on them that we teach as being wrong.
In Robert Shaw’s book, The Epidemic: The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children, he asserts that “Our culture no longer offers what children need to truly thrive. " That is, some children are so unruly because society has unknowingly taught them to act this way
Getting Down to the Root of the Problem
The “epidemic" that Shaw discusses is a result of a deeply rooted social system called Authoritarianism, which is a system of behaviors that manipulate and control through pain and humiliation. These behaviors include blaming, shaming, preaching, moralizing, accusing, ridiculing, belittling, evaluating, labeling, threatening, judging, and punishing – all bullying behaviors. These behaviors disrespect, discourage, and devalue the person to whom they are directed. When such authoritarian behaviors are imposed on children, the end result is usually a loss of dignity and self-respect. Instead of helping them overcome their problems, these methods only make children feel worse about themselves, causing them to react by displaying the same authoritarian behaviors.
Authoritarian behaviors are so deeply rooted that even professional advocates who speak out against bullying resort to using the same tactics. For example, on an episode of his TV. show, Dr. Phil McGraw interviewed a teenage girl who was being verbally and physically abused by other girls at school. Since the accused girls refused to appear on the program, Dr. Phil delivered a message to them by looking and speaking directly into the camera. When he began to ridicule the accused girls and call them names, the audience immediately applauded and cheered with approval. Both Dr. Phil and his audience were advocating the very same behaviors that he was speaking against. Bullying is so deeply rooted in today’s society, that it now seems reasonable.
Adding to our trouble, our nation as a whole has a reputation of being a bully because of our authoritarian behaviors. In fact, The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran an article entitled “9/11 Reminds Chinese of America, a Global Bully. " In the article a student at the Beijing Institute of Science said, “America is a bully, so when someone hits back, it feels good. " When bullying is directed at children, the cycle continues. Many bullied children end up being bullies themselves because “it feels good, " causing others to feel like victims for much of their life.
It’s Time for a Behavior Check
The fact is that children learn from modeled behaviors. While it is true that some children are, as the media says, “out-of-control, " they did not end up that way by themselves. Children are who they are because of their environment. They learn how to act by watching the people who are closest to them. The behaviors they see are the behaviors they will take on. This being said, if we truly want to help a child make a change for the better, we must first take a closer look at our own actions and behaviors. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What kind of behaviors am I displaying in front of children?
- Are these the same behaviors I want them to show toward others?
It is Up to Us
Fortunately, alternatives to authoritarian behaviors exist. We are not powerless in our struggle for social change. Many child advocates not only speak out against these behaviors, but they also offer effective solutions that create physically and emotionally healthy children.
World-renowned experts and authors such as Alfie Kohn, Beyond Discipline, From Compliance to Community; Roger Schank, Coloring Outside The Lines; and David Elkind, The Hurried Child are social heroes of our time. They have been speaking out against the injustices of our system for many years, and their wisdom is bringing about a social change we desperately need.
The problems with America’s children may seem overwhelming at times, but there are proven solutions. By changing our childcare practices and behaviors, we can restructure our nation’s intellectual, economic, physical, political, moral, and emotional values. Children are at the mercy of the people responsible for their care. Instead of speaking out against our children, we need to be friendly with them, and speak up for them. It is up to us to make a difference in their lives.
About The Author
Dawn Fry is the founder and CEO of Helping Our Children Productions, a publishing company that provides educational CD’s giving practical help to families and childcare professionals. Ms. Fry has more than 60,000 hours of professional experience working with children.