31 January 2014

What Happened to the Good Old Days?

“Children don’t respect adults anymore.”
 “I never talked back to my parents when I was little.”
“Kids don’t do what they’re told these days.”
Sound familiar?  Maybe you’ve heard or said similar things, and often with the question: what happened?  It’s a good question.  Gone are the days when a teacher could expect silence and obedience in a classroom, or when all Dad had to do was give a stern look to keep the children in line.  So, why do kids behave so differently in this day and age?
In her book, Positive Discipline, Jane Nelsen offers two explanations.  First, the human rights movement and societal rebellion against authority in the 1960’s fundamentally changed the submissive model that we used to give our children.  Women used to obey their husbands, or at least appeared to because it was “the culturally acceptable thing to do.”  Thanks to the feminist movement, this is no longer the case.  Dad is not the boss by default anymore.  And Dad changed, too, along with everyone else who was tired of doing what he or she was told at the cost of his or her well-being.  In other words, people started demanding to be treated with dignity and respect.  This is now the model that we give our children, even if we aren’t aware that we’re doing so.  “Children are simply following the examples [they see] all around them.  They also want to be treated with dignity and respect.”  (Nelsen 2006)
Authoritarian, controlling methods are no longer effective.  Children want their voices heard and they want their feelings and ideas to matter.  When adults aren’t receptive to this, they tend to see more misbehavior, backtalk and disobedience.  If parents insist on using fear and shame to control behavior, they may see what they think is obedience, but in reality these children rebel in a different way, by 'acting in' instead of acting out.  I’m not suggesting permissive parenting.  Rather that it is possible to set limits while still acknowledging and responding to childrens’ need for belonging and significance.  This brings me to Nelsen’s second explanation.
In ‘the good old days’ children were put to work at a young age and were a part of a family’s economic survival.  They had many opportunities to learn life skills, develop a sense of responsibility and feel important. (Nelsen 2006)  Thankfully, we don’t need children to work for us anymore.  We encourage them to ‘just be kids.’  Personally I think this is a great thing to encourage, but left unchecked, it can lead to permissiveness, over-praising for little effort and rescuing.  No wonder some children grow up with a sense of entitlement!
Although we wish it were the case, love isn’t enough.  If we don’t want children to feel entitled, that the whole world exists just to please them, then we need to give them opportunities to feel capable.  And yes, you can help children develop responsibility without sending them to work at the nearest shoe factory.  How?  Here are a few suggestions: 
  • Ask them to help you with a task or chore, making sure to give clear and specific instructions on how to do it.  Asking rather than demanding shows children that they are needed (significant and important).  Also, children are more likely to comply with a request.
  • Don't do things for children that they can do themselves. 
  • Notice and comment on accomplishments, task completion and areas of talent.
  • Set limits that are both kind and firm, and follow through consistently.
  • Be a good role model for responsibility.
What are your thoughts about raising children to be respectful and responsible?  Please share your comments below!

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