Earlier this week I was on the phone with a friend of mine. We were catching up as best we could; we're both stay-at-home-parents. At one point in our conversation I had mentioned that I had been awake quite a while since it was trash day and I had forgotten to set everything out the night before. Just a few minutes later William, my little non-talker, was proudly announcing, "I took out the trash!" He's been doing that 50 times a day ever since. It amazing what kids can pick up.
Years ago I was talking with a friend who had two kids in middle school. We had a very common conversation for people who are growing up, which was more or less how things have changed and what that means for our kids as they grow up.
Many reports indicate that overall, violence in schools has been on the rise since the 90's. I can't help but wonder if it is mere coincidence that the world wide web was introduced in this same time frame. It would make a lot of sense, wouldn't it? People love the heck out of statistics and when you talk about incidents of violence or bullying in schools across the country, you must also take into account that there are more ways to be violent or bully than ever before. Kids today have to deal with a level of controlled evil, that I just don't remember from my youth. I saw social exclusion and the types of mean acts that all kids I grew up with saw or experienced at some point in their lives, but that has nothing on kids today. Kids today are smarter about being mean; they have found ways to be hateful almost anonymously through places like facebook and twitter, and quite frankly this has led to adults becoming generally numb to something that truly is an issue. So it becomes a little difficult to talk about how different kids were "in my day" and not bear in mind that parents back then did not have to deal with these issues on these levels. My mom didn't need to worry about what horrible things were being posted on facebook by kids from my school. My dad didn't need to keep an eye on text messages I had been sending or receiving. Sadly, with all these great advances in technology, we've also invented cyber-bullying, because being a jerk in person just isn't enough some times. This is the world our kids are growing up in.
Now I'm not blind to the fact that things happened when I was in school. My sophomore year of high school alone we had two pregnancies, three fights large enough to require authorities, and an incident involving a girl who brought a gun to school...and ended up shooting herself in the leg on accident. I was a geeky, short kid with bright red hair...of course I had incidents of getting bullied. So while there seems to be a clear problem within our schools, what I don't understand is how little seems to really get done in an effort to fix the issues. It's not that schools are making no effort at all, but I've seen first hand how schools get their hands tied by the most minimal outside pushback.
The other day I think I stumbled on to what I think is really the foundation of this problem. Eventually the bully from your school, grows up and raises some kids.
Recently I got the whole family out of the house to a bit of a gathering. It was one of the first times we went somewhere that we knew there would be lots of other kids, and I was pretty excited about it. I know the boys love to go places where other kids are around, but honestly, it can turn into a bit of a nightmare. Now there was one particular family around who I really didn't know that well. I've seen the dad of the family various times over several years now. We have the type of relationship where I'd gladly say hello if I saw him at the grocery store, but our families won't be spending any Christmas dinners together. We may not be close because we don't find ourselves in enough situations to really get to know each other, or it may be because I've determined during each time I'm around him that he is in fact a jackass. It's not like he's unable to be a nice guy, and I've noticed that if you're on his good side that you tend to not be much of a target for his "funny" little comments and general attitude. Still, he's got this quality (particularly when you first meet him) of massive superiority. Hey, I'm all for self-confidence but that can certainly go too far. So perhaps it should have been no surprise that his children (who are still pretty young) were acting in a similar manner. One even went so far as to stop what he was actively doing to take a ball away from a little girl because it was his. Awsome McCooldad was a little too invested in his beer to bother correcting his son. I really hope that when William reaches this kid's age in another three years or so that he's no longer in the "that's mine" phase.
So this brings me to what I'd really like to talk about. and it was best described to me like this, "bullies raise bullies."
I like the big picture idea there which is more along the lines of "you raise yourself."
Read the little bit at the top again. Kids are perceptive beyond what we give them credit for, and it's easy for someone like me with a child that is not talking every second of every day, to dismiss the idea that he's paying attention to what I'm saying; all based on the fact that he doesn't repeat every little thing he hears me say. Likewise it's stupid to think that Carter, my sweet little man, doesn't take note of the times I get angry versus the times I keep calm and correct whatever might be wrong. The problem is that we as parents spend a huge part of our lives learning to be who we think we "are" or who we "want to be" and then kids come along. Too many parents do nothing or wait too long to adjust who they are around their kids. Kids get their influence from everything around them, but despite this overwhelming stance by parents to point fingers at everyone else in their children's lives, it always starts at home.
So is it wrong to do things like drink, use bad language, smoke, eat unhealthy things, or show forms of aggression around our kids? Is it wrong to partake in anything that might contradict the perfect little angels we are trying to raise? It's probably not wrong, but the question I'm asking here is can't we take some responsibility in how our children react to that exposure? There was a recent video that went at least semi-viral that showed a father driving his kids to school. They all sang along to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and comment after comment was made about how great of a dad he clearly was due to nothing more than his kids knowing the words to a song from a past generation. You know what? He might be a great dad, but isn't it a little dumb to make that decision based on song selection? Would we have seen the same reaction if it was a Marilyn Manson song? Bob Marley? Justin Bieber? Shouldn't the discussion deal with having a great time with your kids during the short drive to school? Perhaps the look of joy on the kids' faces as the sang along with dad during what was clearly not the first time? I hope my kids will judge my parenting abilities by more than amount of classic rock played for them as they grow up.
Psychologists, when dealing with cases of abuse or teen pregnancy, often talk about "breaking the cycle." This idea that these types of situations are genetically handed down seems like total crap, but the truth is that kids learn from their parents. You can hardly make it through the door of a doctor's office before someone is asking about your family history. You can't outrun your family, and your children will never outrun their family. So the most we can do for our kids is to give them a little more "role model" and a little less "idol." Try to be the person that you want your children to grow up to be, not just the cool guy.
So if we are just raising ourselves...
What kind of child are you raising?