Who should be taught?

They say that when someone is dealt a certain circumstance in life, they tend to become much more aware of others in the same circumstances. When Shirley was pregnant back in 2007, I suddenly started seeing a great many other pregnant women trawling around town. When I briefly dated a man who had two daughters, aged 10 and 3 at the time, I began to realize just how many children there were out in public, especially at the malls, which did not bode well for both Shirley and me because they were the kind of children we detested: loud, unruly and incorrigible.

A few months ago, I toyed with the idea of changing careers entirely, which involved shedding my snarky, self-possessed self for a much gentler and more people-tolerant one. In particular, I had to become more child-friendly. Now anyone who knows me knows that this would be a great challenge, because I’m not the fondest of children. This is, however, not a sweeping statement because I quite like babies in general — I loved helping Shirley take care of Aiden after he was born — and I dislike the loud, unruly and incorrigible children solely because their parents failed to teach them any better and to find fault with their behavior.

Nevertheless, in an attempt to align myself with the youngsters for the sake of my career change, I began to observe the children I see in public and try to determine what makes them behave the way they do. And because my awareness of children and their behaviors is now significantly heightened, my findings have been a bit disturbing.

Everybody wants a child who is intelligent and can learn quickly; by all accounts the number of children who aren’t intelligent are few and far between. But I realized that the main difference between a child who, at 38 months, can say, “Ewww, that’s disgusting,” and a 32-month-old who doesn’t seem able to string a full sentence together, is largely in the way they have been taught by their parents. If the universal presumption is that children can learn by imitation from as early as a year old — in some cases even younger — then it’s safe to hope that they would all be holding perfectly coherent conversations by the time they’re 3 years old. And yet, when they have learned to say, “I like blue,” but can’t answer to “Do you like blue?” the conclusion can be that they may have been taught to imitate, but not to implement, probably due to a lack of interaction between parent and child.

Another issue is discipline. The 38-month-old is given a timeout for misbehavior, during which he bawls his eyes out and apologizes to the heavens and his mother, but also learns what he should or shouldn’t do to avoid future timeouts. And yet, the 32-month-old, spoiled and overindulged all his life, now depends solely on ear-splitting screams and tears to get his way, and occasionally has to be stowed away in isolation to teach him a lesson because he is now too far past the point of being taught the difference between right and wrong. And you have the children who have a penchant for running in between tables at restaurants, putting themselves, the wait staff and other patrons at burn risk, yet whose parents do nothing to ensure they remained seated — and, if necessary, chained to their chairs. So it would appear, then, that if they have not been taught any better, is it because their own parents don’t know any better, or they just failed to realize that disciplining their children is one of the most basic ways to show that they care?

I used to think that if I took this career change, I would design the work I plan to do according to the age groups of the children. However, after looking at how children so close in age can behave so differently, I’m considering remodeling my plan to go by mental and behavioral development. And maybe throw in the parents to teach them a couple of things too.

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