“Teach Our Children Well”

The Shreveport Times (2/14/14)     

We shake our heads at the reports of the rising rates of crime on the very same TV channels that feature raw acts of violence and “how to” stories. The mantra for all those who wish to shirk and absolve themselves of any responsibility has become: “It’s the parents’ place to monitor their children’s viewing.” We all know that rating systems have advanced us only so far. 

Research journals are replete with evidence that viewing acts of aggression and violence may strongly predict children’s aggressive behaviors later in life. Indeed, aggression is a natural condition of humankind. And like moths to a flame, we are strangely and undeniably attracted to misbehavior and acts of aggression. As a society, perhaps we don’t do enough to educate our children and youth in why certain behaviors are good or bad or conditionally acceptable—not in a moralizing manner, but rather as “cases in point.”

Conditional acceptance has always been the most nebulous and difficult. Consider boxing, for example. Two persons assault each other with the clear intention of knocking each other unconscious before audiences — and with legal sanction. Outside the ring, however, this very behavior becomes a felony. Is it clearly stated somewhere in the hockey rulebook that players are permitted “x” number of seconds or minutes to beat each other senseless with fist and stick before a penalty can be imposed?  It has become acceptable practice on the rink, and yet such behavior off the rink would land a player in a court of law.

Children, especially boys, are attracted to “action” figures and aggressive acts on television and in movies. Naturally they want to reenact episodes whenever and wherever the urge strikes them. Parents enroll boys and girls in martial arts classes presumably to teach them self-defense. However, history has taught us well that humans (most often males) cannot just sit on their weapons. Sooner or later they use them. This is not to say that self-defense is a dangerous or undesirable goal in itself. It just leads us back to the notion that we spend perhaps far too little time educating children in why and when it is okay to use their skills.

As a teacher for many years, I have witnessed my share of skirmishes and fisticuffs on playgrounds and in hallways. Invariably, it comes down to power struggle and retaliation. It often amazes educators how few children truly understand the reasons for their punishment. They witness countless acts of aggression in their daily lives, everywhere from cartoons to the internet to primetime television—perhaps even in their own families. We have all seen or read the stories about parents engaging in fistfights at their own children’s sports events. Homes that nurture competition as an ideal are faced with even greater responsibility to teach the difference between competing and attacking, leading and bullying.

The cumulative effects are what we can observe directly in society at large. Children who have been taught to size up situations to determine the best course of action for all concerned are our greatest hope for tomorrow. They must understand how to live with seeming ambiguity—to know what, where, when and why contradictory behaviors are acceptable. My nephew was right to ask his dad why it was okay for him to lie to mom about her Christmas present—when he (my nephew) was punished for telling a lie about his behavior in school. My brother used it as a teachable moment to help the child understand the concept of conditionally acceptable behavior. I hope all parents capitalize on such moments.