I work in the field of public education. I spend 7 1/2 hours a day with the eight to ten year-old demographic. At this point in my life, I’ve overcome my bashfulness about critiquing/criticizing parenting. Yes, I am aware I don’t have any kids. However, I spend a lot of time with kids and feel confident in my ability to teach the academic as well as the social curriculum. (Editor’s Note: Someday, if I have children of my own, I give anyone permission to remind me of this blog.)
I have seen it all, my friends. I’ve seen parents do things that would make you sick to your stomach. I’ve also seen parents that are so absolutely amazing that I think they should be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize (I’m talking about you, Mr. and Mrs. Kulikowski!).
"I'm so well behaved I have feelings of remorse and shame. Thanks mom and dad!"
One thing I’ve collected from all my time working in collaboration with parents and children is that there are a lot more parents like the former and not enough like the latter. Oh, I know, I know. Parenting isn’t easy and everyone has their jobs and doesn’t want to lose their social life and is tired, yadda, yadda, yadda.
I’d like to point out to everyone that parenting is a responsibility. When you chose (or accidentally) have a child, you’re taking on this life-long responsibility.
I absolutely cannot stand when I listen to people talk about their kids and the topic of why they decided to tackle the challenge of parenting comes up and I hear responses like, “Well, I wasn’t getting any younger,” or “I could feel my biological clock ticking.” That’s absolutely insane! What, are you kidding me? Children are not layaway items. You don’t go get one because you’re worried that if you don’t, you might not get one later. You should have a child when you’re ready to invest every moment of the rest of your life into teaching someone how to be a constructive, compassionate member of society. It’s not a responsibility that should be taken as lightly as it often times is. A large number of parents treat their kids like fashion accessories and are more worried that their daughter’s Hannah Montana book bag is the coolest one in the school instead of teaching them some kind of ethical or moral accountability. Unfortunately, a lack of accountability in marriages in our country is a ridiculous contributing factor as well, when you consider that the US Census Bureau projects about 50% of marriages to end in divorce if the current marriage/divorce trends continue their crash course of ineptitude. (Page 18 is where things really start to get interesting.)
"Oh, look, honey. Aren't they absolutely darling? They match the upholstery perfectly!"
Anyways, I could go on a rant for hours about the shitty things I’ve witnessed parents do and how they adversely affect their kids. Instead, I’m going to do something constructive and offer some advice to people who may not understand how to make sure that their kid’s teacher doesn’t hate them.
Set Up Routines and Procedures
Every time I ask a kid what time they have to do their homework at night and they shrug their shoulder and mumble, “I don’t know,” a little piece of me dies. Kids are just like real people, only smaller and not as funny. If you don’t make a child feel like they have a purpose in life, they’ll do what real people do when they feel like they don’t have a purpose in life. Nothing. They will literally sit on the couch and do nothing if you don’t set up some kind of structured schedule for them. I’m serious about this. Write a schedule for your child so that they know what it is they have to do when they come home. Maybe it’s watch a half hour of TV before they do their homework so you can have some time to unwind too. Whatever it is, post it somewhere, practice it, and don’t shy away from it. Kids are very manipulative little creatures and will do whatever it takes to get out of doing something that they don’t want to do, like cry, say no, or pretend to be sick. Which is why the next most important thing is
Setting Up Logical Reinforcements and Consequences
If you have a child with avoidance behaviors or is blatantly defiant you need to have, gasp, consequences. This doesn’t mean letting them sit down and watch SpongeBob and think about what they did. This means that if they don’t do what they need to do that something happens to them. We call this, in the realm of Psych 101, Operant Conditioning.
Reinforcing children’s behaviors ensures that behaviors happen with more frequency. For example: “When your homework is finished, you get to watch TV.” Finishing homework = Watching TV. If you like TV, you’ll finish your homework.
Punishing unwanted behaviors will ensure that unwanted behaviors occur with less frequency. For example: “You didn’t do your homework (unwanted behavior), now you don’t get to watch any TV (punishment). If you like TV, you will not enjoy the punishment that results from not doing your homework.
However, note that if you have a schedule for your children to follow so they know what they have to do when they come home, this step gets a lot easier. Now, here comes a tough one, which is
No, I’m not telling you to enter your children in beauty pageants all across the land. If you think about it, you have your children for four or five entire years before you send them to school. For that length of time, kids watch what you do and what you don’t do and then they learn from their observations. Kids learn behaviors through four different processes called: attention, retention, motor reproduction, and motivation. This means:
1. Your kid watches what you do.
2. Then they learn and remember what you do.
3. Then they do it themselves.
4. Finally, they have to be inspired to perform the behavior they’ve learned.
This means if your kid watches you sit your fat ass on the couch all night, every night, never opening a book and seeing mommy bring you your Schwan’s TV dinner over on a tray so you don’t have to move… well, if you’re reading this, you can apply those above steps and figure out what will happen. However you choose to show your child how to behave is how they will behave. If you choose to model behaviors that may be considered uncouth, your kid will learn those behaviors. Now that’s not saying if Mother Theresea and Ghandi had a kid together and showed it how to behave that it’d necessarily turn out super-awesome, (although I bet it probably would) but that kid would have an easier time displaying appropriate behaviors because of the modeling they witness.
Yes, this may mean that you actually have to read in front of your kids. For long periods of time. Actual books. You may actually have to read to your kids. You may have to do things other than watch television with your kids so they don’t grow up thinking the apex of their being is a flat screen full of mythical people. You may have to use appropriate language and be civicly active. I told you, parenting isn’t easy, didn’t I?
It’s just that your children may be mildly disappointed later on in life when they’re working at McDonald’s because they can’t come up with a coherent, independent thought and are socially maladjusted.
Contrary to popular belief, this does not constitute parenting.
As previously stated, I am aware that parenting isn’t easy. If it was easy, I’d recommend that everyone try it out. I think parenting, however, is like the high dive: Just not for everyone. You wouldn’t throw yourself off the high dive unless you were well trained and highly qualified. And children are a lot more serious than a diving board.
So, in closing, I’d to address society. Please, take the time to read a book, talk to other parents, or to do something constructive to add to your repertoire of parenting skills. Parenting isn’t something that’s static; it’s constantly changing. Which means that you need to be fluid and flexible as well. You need to make those tough decisions and help your child challenge themselves to achieve to their maximum potential.
Do this please, so I can spend more time teaching.