This is going to be a blunt blog post, and it may even offend some people (although since there are just about ten people who read my blog, perhaps I’ll be able to avoid that J).
Our society is going down the shitter.
I’ve had this blog post in my head for over a week now, and I kept debating whether or not to share my thoughts, but hey, it’ll be a good change of pace from just posting adorable pictures of my offspring. What sparked my bold thesis statement actually took place in church.
I started volunteering about a month ago at our church as a Small Group Leader with elementary age children. (In the past, I’ve served as a Storyteller, acting out the weekly message from up on stage. While I enjoyed that position very much, I asked to serve as a small group leader this time because I desired a more personal relationship with the kids.)
It’s a simple set up. Each Sunday, a co-leader and I share a group of girls – anywhere from say seven kids to the largest group has been fifteen or so. When the children arrive, there’s an activity to keep them entertained until it’s time to go to “big group” where we worship together and listen to the Host and Storyteller do their thing on stage.
To avoid a long, drawn-out story (because I never tell stories that way, right :p) I’ll provide the Cliff Notes version of what happened, in succinct bullet points to boot:
*when it was time for the warm up activity to conclude so we could go to big group, my co-leader asked a child to put up her word search and come to group. The child replied, “No! I’m going to finish this.” Upon being told to come to group, she continued to say no. The word search had to be taken out of her hands.
*during large group, two children continually kept pulling the other on top of their laps.
*one child kept performing the “crab crawl” back and forth across the sidelines of the stage.
*two children kept talking to one another, engaging a full discussion throughout the Storytelling time.
*after big group, it was time to play a game called Bible Smack! While I was trying to explain the instructions, the same two kids who were giving each other lap dances during group were doing that again, and then one child proceeded to tell me that the way I was explaining the game was wrong. I believe her words to me were, “No, you’re doing that wrong.” And it was not in a cordial, I-think-you-may-have-it-wrong way.
*one child was performing cheerleading jumps, literally right in front of me, as I was looking into her face and speaking to her.
*the ‘word search’ girl flat out refused to join a team for the game. (I told her she a welcome to watch the game from the sidelines.)
*after a not-very-successful game, I tried to gather the girls together for a closing prayer. Out of eight children, only one child would join me for that. After asking the other seven children – who were literally running around in circles, or doing cheer leading jumps again- I just said a prayer with the one child who was sitting next to me.
Now, before I go on, let me say I do acknowledge that my background as an elementary teacher makes me quick to want to snap my fingers at disobedient, rude children, and perhaps I have higher expectations of young children than some other adults may do. And I believe that church should NOT be school and should most importantly be fun! That being said, I was horrified at the lack of respect shown by the children toward the adults. My background aside, I think these behaviors are unacceptable. And I think any adult should feel the same frustration I felt. (And speaking of frustration, I went home in tears because I was so frustrated at the experience I just had AND fearful on a personal level; I have seen hints of defiance in my own children. Most of my tears were from fear that my children might one day behave like some of these children had. That simply will not happen; I won’t allow it.
I’ll tell you my plan of how I’m going to try to combat that ever happening, but first a quick sidenote that illustrates why I think our society is – how did I put it? – oh yes, going down the shitter…
It was finally time for pickup. The parent of the child who refused to come to large group and participate in the game came to collect her daughter – who, ironically, had a guest with her that morning; a little girl who had spent the night last night for a slumber party. The mom asked her daughter if she “had been a good hostess to her friend?” (A good concern to have, I agree.) When the daughter shook her head, no, the mother looked up to me, seemingly asking for more details. So, I responded, “Well, so-and-so didn’t have a great morning here. She was disrespectful.” Mom’s eyes widened, and she crouched down to her child’s eye level. The child walked away. The mom stood back up, focused on me, and – with a shake of her head- said, “Yeah, we had a sleep over last night; little so-and-so isn’t quite herself.”
Do you catch the hidden message here that is the source of why this young generation of children are so poorly behaved????
Mom: “We had a sleep over last night, said child isn’t quite herself.”
Translation: Because my daughter had a sleepover, my expectations of her behaving well this morning were very low. Fault lies with the sleepover, not with the child.”
I was floored. Parents are so quick to let the circumstances excuse poor behavior. It makes me think about how, as adults, we’ve learned – and hopefully – act on the knowledge that we can’t always control our circumstances, yet we can control how we behave in those circumstances. You’d agree, right? Well, why aren’t we teaching our children – those who are old enough to understand it, and I’d argue 2nd and 3rd grade is old enough – this same lesson. The lesson that, despite the circumstances (involvement in an activity that you’re not fond of; having to do something a teacher tells you to do, running errands with your parents to stores you don’t like going to, etc.), you are expected to behave in appropriate ways.
I mean really, when you’re stuck in a work-related meeting where you have to listen to your boss go on and on about something you already know, or you have to sit through boring PTA meetings, or perhaps you just get stuck having to listen to a really annoying person at a dinner party, do we walk out of the meeting, begin exercising at the PTA meeting, or start browsing the web on our mobile phones during the dinner (hopefully not all you “phone junkies”! J)? Of course not.
I believe that it is our job to raise our children to be polite, responsible, capable, and productive adults. (if you don’t want those things for your child, then by all means, ignore everything else I have to say.) And I argue that, when we make excuses for our children, and teach them, by example, that they are not responsible for their actions, we are making it very unlikely that they will, in fact, be polite, responsible, capable, and productive adults.
I saw this all the time in the classroom. A child forgot to bring their project to school on the due date and they lied about a reason to call home (child said they needed to call home because they forgot their lunch, and that was one of the few reasons a child could call home during the school day, but asked their mom to bring their project to school.) Mom pranced in the classroom half an hour later, gingerly placing the book report on the back table, mixed in with the others that had been turned in on time. (And not surprisingly, mom threw a fit when the graded project was returned home with a 10 point deduction for being turned in late. Mom fought the grade deduction tooth and nail. The grade deduction stood.)
One time, our class was going over tests that had been graded and returned. I wanted to make sure that everyone had the correct answers, so they could understand what the correct answers were to any they may have missed. One sneaky child used white out on his incorrect answers, and wrote down the correct ones as we covered the test material. Afterwards, he marched up to me, presented his test, and informed me that I had graded his test wrong, that he did in fact, have the correct answers written. When I called the parents that afternoon, explaining the child’s deceitful act, they took his side and said that “he’d never lie.” Any parent that has never caught their child in a lie or thinks- mistakenly – that their child will never lie is a fool. We’re dealing with Lucy telling bold lies on occasion right now! (Remember, even Adam and Eve, humans created in God’s own image, lied…and they lied the first time their Heavenly Creator even spoke to them.)
But back to how I plan to combat my children growing up into people who might behave similarly to the poor behavior I saw that particular morning…I’m rearranging my priorities. The amount of free time I have to directly teach my children, one on one is precious and scarce. And instead of breaking out the alphabet books and lined paper for Lucy to practice her handwriting, we’re going to take field trips to the mall and practice things like waiting in front of the elevator door, and letting everyone inside the elevator exit before we walk in. Point it out, be explicitly direct in telling her how to wait for others to exit before you walk in.
We’re going to have more dinner parties with other adults and instead of turning her way when she interrupts an adult when they’re speaking to tell me she has finished eating, or needs to go potty, or whatever. I’m going to ignore her and then when it’s quiet, scold her for interrupting a grown up when they’re talking. What’s funny about my behavior is that while I do scold her when she does that, it doesn’t happen until Lucy has already interrupted and told me what she wanted me to- and I’ve spoken back to her! My absurdity! See how easy it is to miss if you’re not INTENTIONAL about it!?! Well, that’s going to stop.
Another skill I’ve been slacking on: I’m going to teach her how to have a conversation with an adult. That when someone talks to her, saying hello, or complimenting her on something, she doesn’t just stare back at them. A smile in response is inadequate. Do I think so little of her that I think she can’t respond better, returning the compliment with a prompt thank you (notice how often parents have to prod their children to say, thank you? I’ve done it! “Lucy, say thank you…Lucy, thank you!...and so on. Ridiculous!) And when a grown up asks them how they’re doing, my kids are going to learn how to answer the question, and follow up with, “and how are you?”
Interesting side note: Beginning this school year, I made a conscious decision to make Lucy responsible for bringing her school tote and folder to school each day. I was not going to be the one responsible for making sure it gets in the car and in the classroom. She’s perfectly capable of that, and hey, kindergarten is just around the corner; it’s not just the teacher’s job to make sure she’s ready! Anyhow, the first time Lucy arrived at her classroom without her supplies and looked at me wide-eyed, realizing she had forgotten her tote and folder, I shrugged my shoulders at her, and told her she needed to tell her teacher she had not brought her tote to school. I said, “Lucy, you’re unprepared for school.” I wasn’t unkind, I was just matter of fact. I gave her a big squeeze, quick kiss, and told her to have a great day. I saw her walk up to Ms. S as I left the room. A few seconds later, Ms. S peeked her head out the door, and said to me, “Thank you! Thank you so much. You have no idea how many parents tell me it’s their fault when their kid comes to school unprepared.”
I get this one, and I’m working on instilling a huge sense of responsibility in Lucy to take care of things herself, and when she doesn’t “take care of business,” she should suffer the consequences. My two cents: If we don’t let our children suffer consequences – when at this stage, they’re so small and soft, really – we shouldn’t expect them to be able to cope when the consequences are big and harsh. No, I’m focusing on the fact that the hard work I put in now will pay dividends down the road!
But, back to what I was talking about a few paragraphs ago – doing less educational activities with my kids and more activities that teach important social skills. And because I love lists, I’m going to create a list that I think represents what I observe people placing as priorities. (Understand, I don’t think these things are not important or frivilous; on the contrary, I think these are great skills to have. I just think our society has unwittingly transitioned to focusing on these things instead of paying adequate attention to other things.)
By the time my kids begin kindergarten, I want them to be able to:
“Old:” 1. Know their ABC’s and the corresponding phonetic sounds 2. Be able to color in the lines. 3. Play at least one sport 4. Speak several words in a foreign language.
And though it may be hard to believe, I have never had a list like the one above, but from now on, I am going to act more intentionally with my “new list” in hopes that I help my children grow into bigger, “little kids” who are equipped with what I consider, even more important skills.
“New:” 1. Be able to give their undivided attention to an adult who is speaking to them. 2. Properly use “Yes, m’am and No sir, etc.” 3. Ride a bike 4. Complete simple chores without whining and 5. DO NOT INTERRUPT others. (can you tell that’s a big pet peeve of mine with my children!? J)
As for my volunteer position in church, I have been praying for God to grant me patience and an accepting, non-judgmental attitude as I try to help these precious little ones hear God’s Word, receive his Grace, and learn what he has to teach us all – myself included! J
And if you want to join with me in readjusting your parental focus, let me know and let’s hold each other accountable! J We only get one chance with our sweet babies!