Monday, March 12, 2012

Reading the Signs

Yet another incident where a parent gets nationwide attention - and significant accolades - for treating their child in a way that is overbearing, rude, and ineffective. Great, just what we needed, another "hero" for parents who refuse to fight with all of their strength to find a way to treat their kids better.

In this instance, a son got some bad grades and was acting up in school, a fairly common occurrence given the facts that school sucks for most kids and one of the strongest influences on teen behavior is a need for attention and affiliation with other people. In this case, the Dad made him stand on a street corner with a sign that said "I got three Fs . . . blow your horn if something's wrong with that." The other side of the sign asked driver's to honk if the saw something wrong with him being a "class clown."

Here's what I like about this. The parents were paying attention to their child's behavior and performance. They stayed with him while he wore the sign, to ensure his safety. They seem genuinely concerned for his well-being overall, and they obviously love him. And the boy seemed genuinely contrite and apologetic.

Today.

That's the problem really - that an action like that can start from a good place, with loving parents, trying to help someone succeed. But then it quickly devolves from such humble beginnings into something humiliating, exactly the wrong correction for someone who likely just needs the acceptance of his peers. It quickly devolves into something that may achieve conformity, exactly the wrong reaction to someone who's spirit may soar by being independent. It tries to teach respect by being disrespectful. It tries to teach hard work by being simplistic. It tries to teach the value of excellence by being mediocre. 

Will it change his behavior and performance? Yes, probably, at least in the short term. After all, who would possibly want to be so publicly humiliated, not only on a local street corner but in the living rooms of everyone in the US via the nightly news? But parenting for the short term is a dangerous game for so many reasons, not the least of which is this simple fact - as a parent, you're less responsible for raising a child than you are for facilitating the development of a young person into someone who is healthy, happy, inquisitive, positive, and filled with love. An education is important, I get it - whether in school or out of school, formal or informal, with or without curriculum and goals and measured outcomes.

But education is only a part of the whole. Education imports knowledge, but knowledge can only be used with inspiration, motivation, spirit, desire, passion, love, interest, and a host of other qualities. All parent have the opportunity to help their children develop these qualities so that they can take this goodness with them for the rest of their lives. I can't tell you how to do it, because our families and our lives are different. It starts with love, trust, engagement, and a willingness to cast off your own baggage and work at understanding what kind of parent you want to be.

While I cannot tell you how to help your children develop these qualities which are so important to their long-term well being, I can tell you how to make it harder. Shoot their laptop. Send them a poem telling them that you'll stalk them and be their worst nightmare. Humiliate them in public. You might win the battle, but you've lost an opportunity to help your kid in the long term.

1 comment:

  1. Right ON.

    This story just broke my heart. I mean it really shut my heart down for days.

    Back in February, I wrote a rebuttal to that horrible "I am your parent" manifesto that was going around. I don't wanna be a blog pusher, but here's the Pinterest link to it.

    I think you'll get it.

    http://pinterest.com/pin/147070744051471462/

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