Where do they learn those things? 

There has been a lot of concern expressed lately about the attitudes of today’s children and we must ask ourselves where they learn the behavior they are displaying. If we are honest, we must admit that almost every one of their attitudes are coming from the adults in their lives. We can’t blame television, the Internet or the “bad kids down the street”. We must blame ourselves.

Children start learning attitudes and behaviors before they can turn on a TV set or get on the Internet. They understand what they see and as they get older, they mimic what they see. Then they start to interpret our behaviors and apply them to their own lives. Here are some examples.

When you park in a handicapped zone or fire zone, you are telling your children that the law does not apply to you nor is the safety of other people any of your concern. Your convenience is the only thing that matters.

When you exceed the speed limit, you are telling them that the law only applies if you get caught.

When your mother invites you to dinner and you give an excuse that is “just a little white lie”, you are telling them that respect for their parents is optional.

When you throw trash out the window of the car, you are telling them that respect for the property of others is none of their concern.

We are told to bring up our children in the way we want them to go so that when they grow up, they will go in the direction we want them to go. Then we teach our children, by example, to be selfish, lie, ignore the rights of other people and seek self-gratification. Is it any wonder that children have no respect for anyone or anything?

But not all of the lessons are given in the privacy of our own homes or vehicles. Many are given publicly. Consider an illegal strike. What is the message to the children? Even a legal strike by schoolteachers sends a message of disregard for the students.  The strike always is designed to get the attention of both parents and school administrators by interrupting the school year and threatening the education of the kids.

Why should the children have any respect for people who simply use them as pawns in an attempt to obtain the union’s demands? Then the unions have the audacity to claim that their action is for the benefit of the students.

Businesses are just as guilty of teaching negative attitudes, as are the unions. When the price of gas goes up for the weekend and back down on Monday, children learn it is acceptable to take advantage of people for their own gain. When an advertisement misrepresents an article, the technicality is lost on the child who sees only the lie. When shoddy merchandise is sold, the child learns that carelessness is acceptable. When the clerk is rude, rudeness becomes acceptable.

When the parent responds with rudeness or profanity, these actions become the standard for the child. After all, every child wants to be like mom or dad.

Churches are not exempt from the negative lessons. Children learn the story of Jesus entering the temple and throwing out the merchants using the sanctuary as a place of commerce. Then they see the yard sale in the parking lot or the bingo in the church hall. Children do not make the distinction, valid or not, between the church, the hall or the parking lot. They simply see their church doing what Jesus said was wrong.

More recently, children have heard of the abuses that the clergy perpetrated upon children both in residential schools and churches. They hear about the sexual and physical abuse that took place over a period of many years and they wonder whom they can trust. If kids can’t trust the pastor, whom can they trust? And now, some churches are attempting to receive special consideration in making restitution because of “financial hardship”.

Many parents are the unwitting bad examples for their children. Dad is so busy with work that he has no time for his son’s ball game but he has time to golf with the guys. Dad needs his relaxation. Mom has no time to color with her daughter but there is time for the soap opera. Mom needs to relax. The child quickly learns how unimportant she is in comparison to her parents’ comfort. 

Frequently, gifts are the compensation for the parents’ lack of time with the children, particularly if the children can make the parents feel guilty, usually by misbehaving. Bad behavior is rewarded while good behavior is expected. A tantrum can get the desired toy or candy bar or other treat. The children learn to get attention by being bad.

But what can I do to help children to have more positive feelings about themselves and to behave in a more socially acceptable fashion?

The answer is really very simple. I can start to behave as if every child would learn attitudes from me. I can treat every person the way I want to be treated. I can show my respect for other people, including children. Before acting, I can ask, “What will my grandchildren learn when they see me do this? Is that what I want them to learn?”

David Drane
July 2000

WOW Peace Education Project


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