Saturday, September 17, 2005

Lazy Parenting Has Negative Consequences for Children

I had really not thought, that when I signed up to volunteer at Cub Scout Day Camp, that I’d learn anything. I thought that I’d help the Scouts have fun and help them learn things. I had no idea that the experience would be so eye-opening for me. I learned a lot about group dynamics of children, specifically, boys aged 7 or 8 who are going to enter third grade this fall.

The thing I learned was that lazy parenting has negative ramifications for children. This was an area that I just never knew about or thought about before. Well, I have heard that these children may break the law when they are older, refuse to follow authority as teens and adults, and things like that. I had never realized that even young children face negative consequences from the people they interact with.

I have heard Dr. Phil say that a parent’s job is to socialize our children; that children need to be taught how to act and behave in our society. He speaks of this on the shows centered on parenting issues which show children who are doing any number of negative things, for which the parents are looking for a solution.

I have heard parents say that the role of school is to socialize their children. Or that other group activities (paid classes or sports) serve to socialize the children to teach them to listen to the authority figure. I believe that socialization starts in the home and should be taught in the home. Whatever they learn from outside sources should be extra. There are many flaws in leaving socialization to same-aged peers, but that is another discussion entirely. And coaches and teachers don’t have enough time in their day to fully instruct an individual child in what they need to know in order to be properly socialized!

On several shows, Dr. Phil has commented that overindulging our children, or “indulgent parenting” is the worst form of child abuse. He explained that giving a child everything they want teaches them selfishness and a sense of entitlement. For example, if a four year old throws a tantrum or even physically lashes out against a parent because they want a new toy purchased for them, and the parent gives in, it teaches the child that it is alright to act that way, hit, or whatever, and their negative behavior is rewarded and reinforced by the parent who does act on the child’s demand. I completely understood this.

However I never thought about the ramifications about how the child’s peers would treat them as a reaction to their behaviors. Perhaps this is because I have never seen how kids act in large groups when they are apart from their parents. The environment I was in was most closely matched with a school classroom’s environment. One step worse is what the school bus ride is like. I don’t think what I saw was like sports events (i.e. Soccer, Little League baseball) because at those events the children are highly structured in a game situation and also the parents are at least present if not watching closely.

I witnessed negative ramifications by peers over and over last week. Since we were in day came for the same length of time as a child is in school each day, it really makes me wonder what goes on in school, with group dynamics, when elementary grade students are around the same group of children for 180 days in the academic school year! I now see from an outsider’s perspective how children can have their personalities affected by their experiences in school. I witnessed shunning of the troublemakers by the rule-followers. If I saw how a child was shunned by day three, I can only imagine what goes on in the same group of children who are together for 180 days!

The first day of day camp was chaotic. None of us knew where each station was, or how long it would take to get there. We didn’t have a sense for the flow of the day, having started off unorganized and without a schedule for a while. We didn’t know what the activities would be like, etc. None of us knew the personalities of each other at all that first day, but we were learning! Even I, as a Leader who had attended a two-hour training session for this day camp, felt unprepared for some aspects of the job. The training also could never have taught me in that classroom environment, what would really go on with regard to group dynamics and children’s personalities and behaviors.

I also was not prepared or used to being around kids who I didn’t raise. I have taught my own kids things which I think are the right way to act and behave. I really don’t have a lot of information about how other people are raising their kids and really was shocked at the horrible behavior, rudeness, lack of knowing how to follow the directions of an authority figure, and other negative things that showed me that some children were definitely “not socialized”. I also had to deal with bullying behavior, verbal and physical, and also kids intentionally doing things to endanger others (throwing rocks, large sticks, etc.) at other people.

By the start of the second morning, I could see that the children already had an awareness of the personalities and traits and issues of the other children. Here are some examples. Some of the boys, at the first chance, began doing very physical things such as suddenly running around and trying to get others to join in on a running game. Another example is that some boys seemed unable to restrain themselves to walking while on a hike, they wanted to run. Well, both of those things were against the rules and dangerous. This was a real safety issue. I noticed that a couple of boys were the leaders; the others would not start this activity. The followers waited for the leader to begin, and no more than one second later, the followers had joined in. Still others didn’t want to break the rules and would not follow the leader if the leader was breaking a rule.

The boys who didn’t want to break the rules, or didn’t want to get me or the other instructors angry, made sure to stay away from those boys, they physically distanced themselves from them. They began to watch their misbehavior and back away. They began to separate themselves from these boys at all times of the day, carefully selecting who they sat next to for lunch or during the sessions, for example. At first, I thought this was “clique formation” but it was not forming of cliques for the sake of finding friends or excluding others intentionally in a bad way, it was more like protecting themselves, by banding together with like-minded boys who would also protect them. For example, it was as if the “rule followers” wanted to cluster together to make sure that they were not erroneously thought by the adults, to have been associated with the trouble-makers.

There were some boys who liked to back talk and mouth off in a rude and disrespectful manner to me, the other adult volunteer instructors and also to the teenaged volunteer helpers and instructors. Some boys were only back talkers, while others were both back talkers and physically more aggressive. Some of the back talkers like to challenge everything, every rule, every policy, and every little thing. All I can say is that dealing with this back talking is exhausting. And receiving verbal abuse from a child is very insulting and disrespectful and is not good for the other children to see. Not dealing with it teaches the others that it is alright for children to disrespect adults. An adult who accepts verbal abuse from a child is not respected by the other children.

Still others were neither back talkers or physically aggressive, being what many adults would label as “good boys” or “angels” or “easy”. Those boys followed the rules, stayed away from the troublemakers, not wanting to associate themselves with them lest they get disciplined. If it were not for some boys being “easy”, I could have been driven mad! (I can only imagine now, what teachers go through.) However, these “good boys” also were almost completely ignored throughout the week, by me and the other volunteers. This was not intentional; it was just that if I have to be addressing the problems all the time, the non-problem children are ignored. By the morning of day three, I realized this and didn’t like it. I wanted to give praise to the boys who were being so well behaved. I was able to do it some, but it was difficult to fit in. When I was not on “damage control”, dealing with boys who were physically hurt due to their physical aggression, or getting physically aggressive boys to stop doing what they were doing, stopping the rock throwing and stick throwing before someone was injured, I was happy for the calm and quiet. For example if an instructor was trying to talk to the group and I had to get one boy to stop doing whatever, we needed the rest to be quiet to listen. This was not the time for me to also interrupt the instructor to give verbal praise.

I also realized by day two that the boys were watching me keenly. Some specifically watched me to see when they could do something to break a rule. I saw this out of the corner of my eye. If they thought I was busy or not noticing them, they’d begin doing whatever bad thing they chose to do. I also saw that when a boy did something wrong, some of the others would look to me and watch to see what I did or when I’d do something about it. If I didn’t address it, more children joined in, and bedlam soon ensued. It was unbelievable to me, how things could go from calm to chaos at the drop of a hat. They key to this was to keep the boys busy, and keep them having fun.

What I did was begin to watch my body language. I made sure that when I was happy that they were behaving properly during an activity, that I watched the “class” being lead by an instructor, rather than walk off to take a breather (which I was allowed to do during these classes). I smiled and made eye contact with some of the boys instead of staring off into space and daydreaming which I was tempted to do as I was having a moment of peace. I tried hard not to nag them and I tried not to have my only verbalizations be about dealing with problems. I definitely was not singling out certain children. I treated them all equally. If one child was doing things wrong continuously, I followed the Scouting discipline plan. I actually was a bit more lenient such as giving them more chances before I sent them to the Camp Director (akin to sending them to the principal’s office). If I had done that, the boys would have been most likely, sent home, which was the final step in the discipline schedule.

When we walked from one activity to another I made conversation with the boys. I thanked them and expressed gratitude when I had time and the opportunity. I did this for both the “angels” and the boys who had broken rules. I also privately praised boys who were acting great but formerly had been received consequences for breaking rules. My heart nearly broke when one boy said to me, “Am I still doing a good job?” after I asked him to not throw rocks while on a hike. He was very disappointed in the idea that he had been doing a good job but had now ruined it. This showed me that he really did care about wanting to do the right thing or perhaps he wanted me to be happy with him. There were a couple of boys who continued breaking rules but seemed to not care at all, and seemed to have hatred in their heart for any of the camp staff who tried to enforce the rules they wanted to break. This also broke my heart--to see hatred in their eyes. I wondered what had happened in their short 7 years of life, to make them so angry and hateful.

Oh, and there were also a couple of “policers”. These boys wanted all the rules followed, all the time. They were upset with their peers who didn’t live up to this expectation. They were also upset with me if I didn’t address every single thing. Some took things to an extreme, tattling to me that during a sports game, someone bumped into them, when it was truly an accident. The reality is that it was impossible to address every single infraction. I tried to stick to the rules and do the disciplinary action in the manner and format per the written policy given to me by the Boy Scouts of America staff. Some of these “policers” also had added their own, more strict rules and wanted me to deal with every single thing that personally offended them, even if it was not against the rules. Those things, I felt, the child needed to deal with the other boy directly. Example, a boy wanted to trade a snack with another child and the other child wasn’t interested. Children really do need to learn to communicate with each other and negotiate. Adults shouldn’t do it all for them.

Anyway, the most shocking thing to me was when the group dynamic shifted. There were two boys that another volunteer had warned me about as they were in his Scout Pack and he knew them well. I was surprised at one boy he pointed out as in the first two days I thought he was “an angel” and I didn’t see any of the problems. However, days three through five proved difficult with that boy. However, the other boy broke a lot of rules, severe safety rules, right from day one. For example, throwing a rock larger than the size of my fist right through a group of boys as they were walking up a path. Now that is dangerous, against the rules, and was not ignored by me. To ignore this behavior and to let it continue would be putting the other boys at risk of physical injury which is not acceptable.

What happened was that the entire group began shunning the biggest troublemaker. No one wanted to be with him. They didn’t walk with him, his buddy for the buddy system complained about having to be his buddy and he wanted to change to a new buddy. At lunch no one sat with him. He was ignored and not talked to. No one clamored to sit near him when he’d sit at for one of the sitting-down activities. By the fourth day, I noticed he had dropped back to always be the last child walking anywhere. Perhaps it was easiest to take the last seat available then to pick one of the first seats and have to see that no other boy wanted to sit by him. This saddened me.

It dawned on me on this fourth day that lazy parenting really does children a disservice. Children must be taught to obey authority, to follow rules (and laws), and to be respectful to others (peers). Permissive parenting, being lax about teaching rules, or intentionally teaching a child that the world revolves around them rather than teaching the child that they are a part of a society and they must conform to certain societal rules cheats the child. Is this fair to the child? I don’t think so. Don’t the parents realize this? I don’t think so. Why don’t they realize this? Because perhaps a lot of the negative stuff happens out of their line of sight, on the school bus, at school, or at drop-off activities such as paid classes or sports. They may see their child misbehave at home, and they think they can deal with it, “take it”, ignore it or whatever. I don’t think they are giving much thought to how others outside the home will treat their child when the child is apart from them.

This is one thing that a homeschooling parent can’t get away from. Not only do we have full charge of the academic content of our children’s education (unless we pay others to do this vis a vis paid classes), but we also have to socialize them. They are with us nearly all the time and this means we see them not only at their best but at their worst. It can be draining at times to constantly “be on duty”. It is hard to have a balance of rules which are necessary but not so numerous that they are overbearing for the child, to decide an effective yet non-harmful method of punishment (some call this discipline but I call it punishment), and even harder to be consistent about dealing with broken rules.

The very fact that we are with our children so much and must parent them all the time is draining. I have found that it is cyclical and changes over time. I also know that diligence pays off. All of a sudden, the issue is fixed and the behavior on that topic is wonderful and life is great for everyone.

The thing is, though, that there is always some type of parenting issue going on, and over time the way in which it is difficult changes. I don’t think parenting is ever an “easy ride”. While it can be hard to deal with a baby who wants to be in mothers’ arms all the time, it is also difficult to keep watch over an active toddler to see that they don’t unintentionally hurt themselves in their efforts to learn to walk, run, and climb stairs. Next up is learning to follow rules and to use words instead of acting out physically. After that comes a host of things, one that I am dealing with now is trying to raise children who have a real childhood and have a period of innocence—not pushing them to adulthood and maturity before they are ready; I am fending off the ills of society from encroaching into my children’s minds and changing who they are as people.

Is it right to essentially not teach the child how to act and behave, when the ramifications are that their peers will shun them? Given that the problematic camp boy goes to school, he WILL be affected by the way others treat him. What person wants to be the one that most or all people dislike or hate? What person wants to be the last one picked to be on a team or not invited to sit with them on the bus, at a lunch table, or whatever? No one does! Would any parent really want their child to be the looked-down upon child? I don’t think so! However, I wonder if the parents who fail to teach their child basic socialization skills or don’t teach the child to obey authority or to obey rules realizes that they are really making life difficult for their child. They may make it easier on themselves, to not be diligent about doing things such as having rules in the home and having discipline in the home. They may not be consistent about applying consequences, perhaps that is the issue.

Parenting is not always fun or easy. It is not fun for the parent to see a child not happy while receiving verbal discipline or while receiving a negative consequence punishment. But these things are necessary in order to guide and teach our children basic socialization skills and rules (and laws) of society.

I stand strong in my opinion that the parent is the adult and they are responsible for their child. And no matter what a pain in the neck it is or how inconvenient it is, it is in the best interest of the child for the parent to stand up, grasp their responsibility, and be the parent! And by the way, their peers, teachers, members of the community will be grateful now and in the future. And the child will benefit from this (although they may never know or realize all the work that went into their upbringing).


Wanda said...

Very interesting observations! I found this fascinating to read, and wish it could be read by all parents currently 'in the trenches'.

me :) said...

You rock girl! With a 3 and 4 year old (3 is an active boy) I work constantly on shaping their behavior. I agree with your comments - I want them to be well behaved for me, yes, but in the big picture it's essential for their success as people. My goal is to raise kids of character - leaders who are poised to do the right thing regarless of the influences around them - and your post is such a great remminder to stay on task. Ugh - someone has markers that shouldn't... THANKS FOR SHARING!!!

fetching jen said...

I remember events as you described while chaperoning field trips when my son was in grade school. Some kids were just monsters. It was apparent that the only attention they ever received was negative and obviously for their bad behavior.

Even with my son in high school, parents send their kids to school for babysitting. They are too lazy to make the tough decisions, practice tough love or risk disappointing their kids. My son and I are good friends because of his boundries, but first we are mother and son. And whenever he forgets that, I quickly remind him. There's plenty of time to be friends down the road.