Monday, December 19, 2005

They will not grow out of it!

One of the phrases you will often hear if you deal with children to any great extent is "It's just a stage they are going through." I have even said it myself on occasion.

However, I am now inclined to think that it is an incorrect phrase, and one that has the potential for lasting damage. I think this is because the phrase implies that it is actually a mere valley the child is riding through at the moment and that, if we are patient, the child will come out of naturally.

One need only listen to conversations at work, or drive 10 minutes on the road, or stand at a service desk at Walmart to get another view. We meet people everyday who never grew out of that "stage". The pride, impatience, manipulativeness, stubborness, bullying, or any of dozens of horrid behaviors we find in adults, with a little research, could probably be traced right to their childhood. John's selfishess at 36 can probably be traced to Johnny's at 6. Perhaps some of it's rougher edges have been worn down, but the core of it still radiates smartly.

The danger for the parent is the assumption that the child will grow out of it. I now believe that there is little to no chance of that happening. Entropy applies: without work, a system will move towards disorder. Why do we think that a child will lose a negative trait and develop a positive one with no intervention?

Lewis commented in Mere Christianity that it is not damning to be on a wrong road, but one's redemption relies on moving to the right one. One can correct a flawed math problem by going back and reworking it... not by simply going on.

There was boy in the park this summer who had no concept of sharing. Sharing his toys that is, he felt other children's toys should be group property. The boy was very loud in his stance, and the mother finally blushed and anounced to the other moms present, "It is just a stage he is going through".

The mother did her son no service that day. That teachable moment could not have been more ripe. But her personal embarassment, or perhaps laziness, won the day. Social pressure may cause the boy to settle down a bit over time, but he is not learning from his parents that the behavior is wrong - and this at a time when his foundations for right and wrong are being laid.

One thing that being a teacher has taught me over the years is that very little learning occurs where there is not explicit instruction. Children are intelligent, but they are not sophisticated. They have too little background knowledge to develop a proper ethos through everyday observation. There are too many mixed messages. Modeling good behavior in the home is not enough. Good behavior must be taught.

1 comment:

N Smith said...

First off, good post; I agree that character and fair play need to be reinforced by parents, not just passively modeled by them. The mother in your example SHOULD have done something about her childs behavior other than just be embarassed.

But, the statement that makes me bristle is the suggestion that "very little learning occurs where there is not explicit instruction." That may be true for some learning types, but I'm an autodidact, and as far as I can remember, always have been one. For behavior issues, I still say that positive example by role models is most important, but that positive and negative reinforcement need to be used actively to point the child in the right direction.

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