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I Got Another Puzzle For You*

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Software has been developed to assist school principals in policing the online behavior of students; online behavior outside of school facilities and hours that is. Pointing out the folly of such a pursuit or the obscene waste of resources of such an endeavor is disheartening. As our public education system is eroding in rigor and well roundedness, do we really need yet another distraction? At what point are we Willy Wonka warning of yet another bad decision with hushed weary intonations of; “No. Stop. Don’t”?

The notion that a child’s behavior outside of school is the school’s business/problem is absurd. Unless the school is part of an orphanage it is not the school’s problem. The very idea that there could ever be any software program that could police all the children, in all electronic realms is simply science fiction. Children do stupid stuff. Kids can be mean. How they do this stuff is beside the point. Generations ago principals did not police finished basements, railroad tracks, bowling alleys and soda fountains. No doubt some principals at some point have cleaned graffiti off a bathroom wall, but they didn’t crouch in a corner ready to pounce upon the scribe (or at least I hope they didn’t.) Most of us of voting age were either bullied, a bully or a mix of the two at one point or another. It’s what kids do. Siblings torment siblings, classmates tease classmates, and kids terrorize neighbors (Boo Radley anyone?) It’s not nice, it’s nothing any adult is proud of, but it is part of growing up.

The issue is how children and the adults around them respond to such goings on. Bullying and extreme response to bullying both come from the same place; insecurity. Children are trying to find their way in the world and to feel some sense of control. A bully feels better about him or herself when they lord over someone. Being bullied feels crappy but should not feel like the end of the world. It becomes the end of the world when the bullying is unrelenting and perpetrated by many OR when the bullied is fragile. Fragility can take many guises but should be recognizable to parents. A fragile child does not have close (age appropriate) friends, reacts disproportionately to disappointment, and demonstrates excessive anxiety or (inward or outward) rage. Children who have trouble connecting to their world around them can be devastated by the sense that their world hates them. Children, particularly fragile children, are best served by having their world expanded. Multiple social networks (e.g., scouts, dance class, religious school, relatives, etc.) are an insurance policy against ostracization. Feeling good about one area of his/her life can be the light at the end of the tunnel for a bullied child.

The very idea that a principal should spend money and time trying to police the (often elusive) behavior of children is absurd. If there is that kind of time and money available perhaps we could get the arts back into the school? For decades arts, particularly theater, has been used with vulnerable populations to explore issues of empathy and self-esteem. Prisons and juvenile detention centers have changed lives with their theater arts programs. Children engaged in writing or visual arts projects learn about each other and find common ground. A school experience not based on physical agility or extroversion creates a more realistic environment for children. (Few adults have to make their way through every weekday by being popular.) Bullying and extreme response to bullying is about a response to lack of control. Adding more external control (which has no hope of being effective) completely misses the mark. Strong children are not built with surveillance systems. Strong children are built by a sense of accomplishment and mastery. Schools can play a part in that but to do so they need to focus on education not on in loco parentis.

*Oompa Loompa Song (1971) – Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Childhood, Education

 

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Mom and Pop Cop

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Nobody wants to (or can) police his or her child. From the moment they’re born children discover how to manipulate the world around them. The first thing a human discovers is that crying often results in having one’s belly filled. As children get older they (hopefully) learn more sophisticated means to get what they want. From a very young age they determine which parent is good for which needs. They also learn what information to hide to avoid unwanted repercussions. It is a very useful and normal developmental process. However it takes a crafty and confident parent to oversee such goings on. Children should be allowed their privacy and some secrets. It is only when there are signs of harm to self or others that all bets are off.

Hiding dangerous behavior is normal but not acceptable. Kids wrestling with eating disorders will go to great lengths to hide the effects and the behavior. Rarely will a kid come home and announce; “Guess what new drug I tried today?!” The same is true for proclamations of; “I totally humiliated a kid in gym today!” No, as we discussed above, kids are pretty savvy in getting what they want. And what most of them want is to not get in trouble. There’s no kid in the world (save a diagnosed sociopath) who does not know that being mean is bad. But kids are human and adults in training and as such are very susceptible to temptation. That is why they will drink (at all or too much), engage in dangerous stunts, sniff household products, develop food issues, etc. The world can feel out of control and very big to a child. Engaging in myopic behaviors is a way to gain control and shrink one’s world. Bullying is one harmful way to do just that. Bullying, unlike other alarming behaviors is not about self-harm. Bullying is a means of controlling one’s world. The bully lords over a created contained reality. There are leaders, followers and victims; and the players often change roles with lightning speed. There is no way that all parents can know what their children are doing at all times. Even parents glued to the side of their child cannot know what is going on inside their little heart and soul. No teacher or school administrator can know what is going on with every child at every moment. The first step is simply to accept this.

However once an adult does know what is going on it is the adult’s problem. Quite simply preventing a child from harming him or herself or others is one of the reasons parents (or guardians) were invented. By now we’ve all heard stories of parents of bullies or bullied who knew what was happening and did not take draconian measures. No doubt they intervened in some manner, but they did not stop it. The most glaring examples are those that involve cyber bullying. To not confiscate devices and disable accounts is tantamount to doing nothing. A Florida sheriff agrees, in theory, with this premise. Sheriff Judd did a little arresting. He grew so outraged that the parents of two bullies did not confiscate devices but instead insisted that their children’s accounts had been hacked, that he arrested them; the children that is. And that’s where Sheriff Judd and I would disagree. I’m not sure anyone in this very tragic case (the bullied killed herself) should be arrested. But if anyone should be legally held accountable it should be the adults who knew of the behavior and tried to cover it up. It’s a bit blithe to declare that “kids will be kids,” but there is some serious truth to that adage. It is not an excuse it is an explanation. Children do really stupid things, it’s how they learn and grow. It is also why they are assigned adults.

There is something terribly chilling about the long arm of the law stepping in for lax parenting. Maybe there is an explanation as to why these girls were allowed to be typing vitriolic Facebook posts taking credit for their (7th grade) classmate’s suicide. It’s difficult to imagine what it would be but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t exist. The sheriff was not interested in any explanation (understandably.) His primary concern was the of the children’s lack of remorse and their potential ability to continue victimizing. He rushed into arresting the (12 and 14 year-old) girls before completing the investigation. It is a very unfortunate means to an end. What these kids need is some empathy training based counseling and aggressive parenting. Neither of which is going to happen while locked up. Couldn’t a more sophisticated penal system order the parents to confiscate all devices and accounts and attend parenting classes? A judge could threaten parents with incarceration if they did not comply. Arresting children is rarely a solution for anything. They’ve been charged with stalking which would suggest that the parents of bullied children everywhere should/could be filing restraining orders and accusing bullies of stalking. I don’t know if anyone wants that to happen, but it’s good to have options. There is a mighty fine line to not cross when it comes to blaming parents for their children’s behavior. But there are also very clear-cut cases of parents being complicit in their children’s wrongdoing. We are sophisticated enough to discern between the two. Kids will be kids and hopefully parents will be adults.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2013 in Childhood, Well-Being

 

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Stick ‘Em Up!

davy

Every so often a new study posits the link between media violence and real violence. The theory most often is that children exposed to violent themes and games become inured to real violence and thus more likely to commit violent acts. There is a certain logic to the premise but is it really that straightforward? Hasn’t violent play always existed?

People raised during the earlier days of television were exposed to far more violent images than their moving picture going or radio listening ancestors. A child growing up in the 1950s was immersed in cowboy-shoot-em-up imagery and play. Cowboy and cowgirl costumes (replete with guns and holsters) were not just Halloween costumes; they were toys. Television, movies, books, comic books and creative play was rife with shooting. Even Superman (the television show) had people shooting (and killing) people. Toy soldiers, G.I. Joe and war games have been a part of child’s play since the advent of war. But all of this happened in a distinct child’s world, in which an adult (related or not) was always at the ready to impose adult order. The world belonged to adults and children knew that. They were ever conscious of their place in the adult world and the distinct delineation between being a child and being an adult. Children engaged in unsupervised play and then returned to the structured adult world.

The adult world demanded marked different behavior than that of a child’s world. The language (e.g., slang, profanity,) manners, appearance and attire requirements in the adult world were different from that in the child’s world. Adults maintained the boundaries in various ways. There were many subjects that were not discussed in front of children (little pitchers have big ears; what in the world does that mean!?) Adults socialized without their children and enjoyed other privileges of adulthood (e.g., choosing which television shows were watched, what foods were eaten, which clothes were purchased, etc.) The rigidity of home life was countered with the wildly independent social life of a kid. Play was unsupervised and free-range. Children engaged in activities without parents. They played sports, danced and sang without their parents witnessing every single moment. They were in their world and they were just playing.

Children flourish when they can explore the world safely. Knowing that adults are in charge and are sure as shootin’ gonna tell them what to and not to do, is very comforting. However, if a child is left with a feeling that the adults are not in charge, or worse yet, the child is in control, that child can grown very frightened and insecure. The same child who senses that “no one is the boss of me” not only has a fuzzy sense of fiction and reality (which is an inherent part of childhood development and why children need parents) but also could possibly be left to immerse themselves far too often in violent games and play. There is nothing about holding a plastic gun and aiming it at a screen that is more violent than holding a Davy Crockett pistol against a friend’s head. However there is something numbing about playing alone and obsessively. An interesting treatment in these “violence studies” would to be to have one group of children “Go Outside And Play!”

This dance of control in which parents involve themselves in a child’s world and children are given equal footing in the family may not be the most effective formula for growing strong children. Children flourish when they are given limits. They want to grow up when being a grown-up looks better than being a kid. While there is nothing positive one could say about violent video games, it is short sighted to think any imagery in any form has the power to change collective behavior. Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, and childhood and adulthood is much more likely to affect change. If in fact the exposure to violent imagery (in games, film, video, etc.) has risen and violence in children and young adults has risen, that is indeed correlation. But to suggest (yet again!) causation and wag our finger at the media makes us look silly and a bit irresponsible.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Childhood, Media/Marketing

 

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The Mulching Of Minors

AnneGeddes_Wallpaper1280_168

A father shared this observation of a friend’s 9-year-old in a restaurant; “She sat there for two, no three hours! In her seat, eating and being quiet!” This observation was jarring not for its narrative but for its delivery. His face and tone suggested he had seen a blue moon during a total eclipse of the sun. It’s always a wee bit awkward to be on the receiving end of something you don’t understand. It’s difficult, when you can’t relate or perhaps even understand the message to know how to respond. If you are graceful and socially adept you might smile and lightly yet rapidly change the subject. If you are somewhat more like, well like me, you might just let something wildly inappropriate fly from your mouth. But enough about me.

If you’ve never seen modern parenting in play, you know, like if you lived in a retirement community or a convent, you could still learn a thing or two by listening. Parents love talking about their children, just like gardeners love talking about their flowers. Even when they’re not talking about their own, or posting 35 photos of “dropping Madison off at camp” on Facebook, they’re sharing their parenting perspective. Take the stunned observation of the (above) father. If his own children sat nicely through a meal he might not have noticed the 9-year-old. If he felt it was valuable to teach a child how to be an enjoyable dining companion, he would simply assume that all children (who are old enough to be in a restaurant) know how to behave.

The point of parenting is to grow decent and strong adults. There are many diverse roads to that end. The values, perspectives and traditions of the parent should guide the journey. Being indoctrinated with parents’ political, social, religious, and ethical views is what gives a child roots. Structure, limits, expectations, and critical feedback are what makes a child blossom into an adult.

Typically a child of 5-years-old can sit still and understand the difference between public and private behavior. (That’s why formal education begins at age 5.) It’s a crucial part of a child’s socialization to expose them to the larger world. Keeping in mind the age appropriateness of the activity of course (bringing an 8-year-old to the ring cycle is endangering the welfare of a child.) The point of taking a school-age child to a restaurant (beside feeding them) is to expose them, in a controlled way, to the adult world. Teaching a child to; speak clearly to a waiter/waitress while looking him/her in the eye, ask for items to be passed, thank servers and observe adult conversation and financial transactions is the point of dining out with children. The child, learning and feeling confident about the adult world grows strong.

Learning that the adult world is something to aspire to, is how we fertilize children. Creating a world that is completely child-centric is not only a frightening burden of power but also an utter disincentive for growth. Children need to be heard and given the space to express themselves. But they need to do this in the protective environment that comes from stronger older people who know a thing or two about making a garden grow.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2013 in Childhood

 

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Texting While Parenting

phone brady

Technology is altering the very fabric of society and eroding the parent/child connection!! At least that’s what you’d think by scanning media. Phones: smart, cell, land, and rotary have changed everything about how we communicate!! It’s true; you know what also changed communication; the written word, the printing press & going a bit further back; speech. But the children! They are attached to their screen. Yes, as they were once attached to their comic books, and paperbacks. Okay but what of the parents? Parents are often on their smartphones/tablets while in the presence of their child. Shudder. Grown people are actually reading, writing or talking on the phone before their child leaves for college?!

At first glance a parent pushing a stroller while texting or chatting is a bit disconcerting. But that’s more to do with what was once a private behavior is now public. All our mothers talked on the phone. Some of our mothers threatened dismemberment if interrupted. (“There better be a LOT of blood if you’re interrupting me!”) Talking/texting while parenting publicly just takes some getting used to. Like girls styling their hair in a crowded restaurant. Over your food. There’s very little private behavior left. So once we just get onboard with that, what in the world could possibly be troubling about an adult being an adult in the presence of their child?

In this age of parenting as guerilla sport it’s actually refreshing to see a grown person engaged by something beside their child. A parent not utterly consumed by his/her child makes for a much better parent (perspective is everything.) For the child, it is imperative that they experience their parents as something beyond their appendage or magic genie. Learning to do things on their own, even the simplest things is what plants the seeds for strong roots. Remembering to pack their lunch or do their homework teaches competence, responsibility and creates self-esteem. Being left to one’s own devices in social situations not only develops coping mechanisms but also gives the child the freedom to experiment. Attending birthday parties or summer camp with a parent in tow stifles creativity. Children, particularly in early adolescence like to try on new selves. It’s hard to improvise with your choreographer in tow.

So enough with the demonizing technology. Parents do not need to focus on their child every waking moment. They need to be engaged and present which is not the same at all. Teaching a child right from wrong, how to be a good member of society and how to be a functioning adult has nothing to do with being emotionally and physically available 24/7. Seeing one’s parent engage with other adults (outside of a pee-wee soccer match) is important for a child. Being on the phone signals to a child that mom/dad has a life beyond the playground. (This is critical for parents who take their vacations with their children, dine out with their children and/or sleep with their children.) If children do not see adulthood as somehow more privileged or better than childhood, why grow up? So pick up the phone or tablet and read, write, chat. If anyone dares give you the evils or heaven forbid verbally criticize you, have at it. Perhaps you could hold up the tablet & remark; “Such a pleasure to be able to read again! All that smoking & drinking while pregnant meant I didn’t have a free hand!” Or I suppose if you’re a better person than I you could just hold up the phone & ask; “Did you need to make a call?”

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Childhood

 

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