…What’s the matter with kids today? A great song from a great musical!
Kids have not changed, probably throughout human history; certainly not as much as people would have us believe. The world around them has changed, technology has changed, the definition of family has changed, economics have changed, the experiment called “education” changes constantly; but kids? Not so much.
With their bodies and brains growing and developing in fits and starts, at lightning speed or at a snail’s pace, kids are doing what they have always done: working hard to make sense of the world around them, and working hard to find their place in it. From the earliest time of their lives, they watch what the adults are doing and saying. Then when we are not looking, they imitate us. They play house, school, doctor, cops and robbers, dress-up. I love to spy on kids playing pretend! Sometimes they nail our foibles in endearing or hysterically funny ways. And we hate it; the mirror is not always kind. Last year at our talent show, the fourth graders performed a skit as their teachers. Their caricature could have been shown on a television show- they demonstrated an almost scary knowledge of their teachers’ idiosyncrasies. If you think kids are not monitoring your every facial expression and response, you are kidding only yourself. When I was growing up, my father used to say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Yeah, right.
Kids are born impulsive and curious. And there is little we adults can (or should) do to make them stop this any earlier than they are ready for. Electric currents are running through them every waking moment, and they really cannot help it. I know each child is different, and I won’t generalize by saying which gender seems to have more electrical current, and I know plenty of kids of both genders who are quiet and well-behaved and cooperative. And I wonder what’s wrong with them. I actually feel a bit sorry for those little ones, like they are missing out. I want to say to them: Get up, jump around, get in a bit of trouble! I guess you can tell I love the live wires. Kids are funny as hell even when they are behaving like rotten little rats. Kids need to run, jump, scream, climb, slide, tumble, laugh and cry. When it starts getting to me (because, after all, I’m old), I say to them: stop acting like kids! This is more for me than for them…
Kids need to play! We need to encourage play as much as possible and for as long into their lives as possible. They learn so much through this type of interaction. Think of puppies, kittens, lion cubs, elephant calves: what looks like playtime for them is actually survival training. They learn pecking order and manners; self-preservation and meeting their own physical and emotional needs; how to communicate and survive and thrive as part of a community; problem solving; decision making; negotiation; socially acceptable behavior and rules; dealing with consequences. Human kids are doing the exact same thing. They need an enormous variety of play in order to learn what they will need as adults: competitive games, cooperative games, games with adults and games unsupervised by adults. We do a huge disservice to children when we limit their playtime. Through play, they learn who they are and who they aren’t.
Self-esteem is a learned and earned thing. We need to stop with the empty praise and trophies for all. Competition is healthy and necessary on many levels. I’m not talking about adult-type of competition, and I believe we start children on sports teams and competitive dance or gymnastics way too young. What I am saying is that children know when they are not good at something, and telling them they are wonderful at everything they do leads to some unforseen consequences. They stop trying: why bother when they will get praise for just showing up? They do not learn their strengths and weakness; personal knowledge about strengths and weaknesses is what motivates us and helps us choose career/life paths. Fostering a false sense of self esteem also can unwittingly support bullying: if a child truly thinks she is good at everything, it can open her up to teasing she will not be prepared for nor understand.
Sibling rivaly and fighting/arguing with other kids is normal! Once again, we may cause actual damage when we, because we cannot tolerate the noise and emotions, stop children from bickering or intervene and make a judgement as to who is right and who is wrong. I am in favor of letting the kids work through their issues, as long as it does not come to blows. Later, when all are calm, is a good time to discuss ways to solve problems, and the fact that many times one person feels she or he “lost” or “won” the argument. Fact of life, and again, a survival skill for the future.
Many times when I have family conferences, I have to tell parents about some negative behaviors that their children are exhibiting. I tell them how it is affecting our class and our learning. I tell them the strategies I am using to aid their child’s healthy development as a part of our learning community. And then I tell them how this particular behavior will probably be an asset to their child as an adult. The bossy kid who wants to be in charge of all decisions and always want to be first? This child will one day be a leader who others look up to. The kid who never stops talking? This child is developing incredible verbal skills and hasn’t a shy bone in his/her body- this child may someday command a roomful of peers. The argumentative one could easily become a lawyer; the caring one, a great parent and maybe a teacher or doctor; the quiet, non-social one may become a researcher. The idea that each child is developing important skills that are uniquely her/his own, and the fact that I don’t hate or dislike the children no matter what they do (since my job is to know my learners and my resources and put them together to help them make their next steps) can relieve parental anxiety and make the family trust me as a partner for their child’s education.
So what’s the matter with kids today? Nothing. Really. If anyone has a problem, it’s us; the adults. We should know better, and we had our turn, and now we need to step up to the plate and help the kids become adults that are productive,constructive and caring. Kids are puppies and kittens; let them enjoy it while they can.