I have been working with children and their families for approximately 30 years. One theme that occurs more often than I want to hear is that “They (children/adolescents) have to learn to respect us (the adults). We won’t show them respect until they show it to us first.” Where are they (children/adolescents) supposed to be learning this respect for others? From the adults in their lives, of course. Unfortunately for many children and adolescents, they have never seen it modeled and if they see it at all it is in the form of fear of others that lead to following rather than relating.
This style of interaction has roots back to the times of Colonial America when most parenting was called Authoritarian, meaning that children obeyed due to love and fear of their parents. Blind obedience was expected or else they would receive the wrath of the belt or switch. This form of parenting is still used although child services frowns on it since we now provide children and adolescents with protection from physical punishment, which includes belts and switches. This then leads to a verbal equivalent where the child is repeatedly torn down emotionally to then be built to be an unquestioning follower. Some children, those who have temperament profiles that need to understand “why”, are frequently victims of repeated emotional abuse because they can’t simply do what doesn’t make sense.
This style of adult-child interaction is also seen in many schools, with examples being the Zero Tolerance policies where there is not room for understanding what led a child to respond or react in a certain manner. Frequently there are very valid reasons, which left unaddressed result in a much worse outcome down the road, when this student decides to get vengeance on those who punished with no regard to the torture he may have been receiving from others until he finally stood up to them.
Look at the child abuse statistics from one year ago (1/2/2014). 30% of children who were abused became abusive parents. If you asked children in school how many of them felt that they were verbally and/or emotionally abused, I would expect the number would be high, although they aren’t seen as a significant part of the statistics listed on that site. The abuser may be their parent or parents, but it is just as likely to be a teacher, administrator, or another student. These interactions influence and model for the child how to interact, if not with all others, at least with children, thus keeping the cycle going.
2015 for me will be a time for increased speaking for children. I will continue to travel the country explaining the hows and whys of children and adolescents in the hope of creating change in adults who influence children. Help me do this. Share my brochure with others to bring training to parents, teachers, administrators, and others who routinely come in contact with children and adolescents.
Thank you and Happy New Year.