Sunday, April 6, 2008

How We Shape Children

I was at Sugar's school the other day having a conversation with two staff members Miss Teacher (named so because in a school where pretty much everyone goes by first names alone, she enjoys the formal respect of the Miss before her name) and Aria (named for her beautiful singing voice). We were talking about how some of the children are just amazingly rude and disrespectful. Both the Miss Teacher and Aria felt that this is the result of poor parenting. That the kids speak to teachers, staff and other adults the way they do because they are allowed to speak to their parents (or guardians) that way at home. They were certain that it is simply the result of a lack of discipline.

I was somewhat inclined to agree with them. But I also tend to think these things are rarely that simple. Honestly, after spending the morning with a group of kids containing an inordinate amount of rude children (on a trip to the museum with Sugar's class) I was rather shell-shocked and could barely form a coherent thought. But I do tend to think that kids are very sensitive to the consequences of things. They need to know that their behavior will affect other aspects of their lives and they need pretty immediate proof of it or it means next to nothing to them. So the idea that these rude kids were not living the repercussions of this behavior at home certainly seemed plausible to me.

The next morning I was up at school again (I always allow myself to get sucked into projects) and there was a kid in the office who looked to be in 3rd or 4th grade. This boy was the epitome of the kind of kid we had been discussing the day before.

The principal was explaining to the kid that since he had been rude to both his teacher and herself, and had refused to speak to his mother on the phone that his father was going to have to come to school. During the conversation the kid spewed out the choice phrases - "I don't care," "So," "Whatever," "You're not my mother," and "I don't have to." Nothing the principal said to this kid elicited a response that was even vaguely acceptable.

Those of us who were in the office couldn't seem to stop ourselves from watching this spectacle, though we did our best to behave as though we were going on with our business. Aria slid over to where I was talking to another parent and said, "See, this is just what we were saying yesterday. I wonder who in his house lets him get away with that talk."

The other parent I was talking to and I just nodded in agreement.

But then another parent, Lioness (dubbed so for her big roar and her bossy nature that tells her she must rule all) walked up and said almost exactly the opposite. She said that she thought when kids acted like that it was because they were SO locked down at home that they let it all out when they got away from it.

Again, I could see the truth in this - and yet, again, it wasn't completely ringing true for me.

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