What’s the matter with kids nowadays?

I’ve worked with children since 1980, when, to off-set the cost of my own tuition, I started assisting with classes at our gym. I can tell you horror stories from my years in the profession.  I can tell you about behavior from kids that would make the Menendez brothers look like great kids. I have seen kids fight, threaten and tease other kids to the point of tears. I have been afraid myself; after reprimanding a kid for rolling a ball across the tumbling floor and nearly hurting a gymnast, it turned out he had “cousins” in a gang. There are some bad kids out there, and there always have been and always will be.

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.” Who said that? Would it surprise you  to hear that it was Socrates.

Kids are kids. There have always been kids who misbehave and always will be. The grandparents of today were chastised as kids by being thought of as  rebellious ruffians with their rock n’ roll and ways that were strange to their parents.  Parallel that with today. Hey, I don’t get Lady Gaga either but is she really worse than Buddy Holly? (OK at least Buddy Holly didn’t wear a Meat-Suit).

I have seen parents on both sides of the coin.  A few weeks back we were at the Dane County Fair. We had some poor behavior and some good behavior. I had one boy hark up a big loogie on the floor where all the kids were running and I had one kid pushing and wrestling other kids inside the maze and ignoring consistent reprimands from our staff.  But I also had kids helping other kids who were too small to make it through the maze. “Is that your brother?” I asked, “no.” he told me. “He needed some help”. How cool was that kid?  I had bigger kids helping little ones up the climber when they needed a little boost to make that first doozie of a step.  What I saw made me happy.

Our brain chemistry is such that when we see bad/negative things happen a hormone is secreted in our gray matter. Unfortunately it is the same hormone that is around when we make lost lasting memories. That hormone is not secreted when we see good/happy/positive things. That’s a fact. I like to think that is why we remember the worst things we hear and forget the great things we experience at ten times the rate of bad stuff.

When we talk about kids with bad behavior one of the first things to do is take a look at the parents.  At Gymfinity our policy of discipline has one step (in a 5 step process) that brings the parent in on the behavior modification. Will they support the attempt at a lesson for their child or will they be defensive and thus condone the negative behavior.  I’ve seen both. For example; the kids I mentioned above, the spitter and the hitter, were both taken to their parents. The hitter’s dad was sitting and watching the whole time.  His son had a very unique name (oddly enough it was the name of the evil kid in the movie Children of the Corn) and he heard his son’s name being called repeatedly. He sat and watched us scramble to stop this kid from putting the beat-down on other kids for no reason but never got up to help or take his son.  Clearly, discipline was our job and not his. Sad.  The spitter’s dad asked why his son was removed from the activity and I told him what had happened. He took his son (about 8 years old) and they left. His dad was giving him an earful, not in a mean way, but he put, in no uncertain terms, that his child was not allowed to behave like that. He made him apologize to us and they ended up leaving for the day. That dad supported the lesson. The boy made bad choices and got a negative consequence. The hitter, I saw about 10 minutes later with a wad of cotton candy the size of a small car. Oh boy.

We had nearly 2000 kids come through our inflatable obstacle course and most went through, on average, about 10 times. That’s 20,000 shots at a memorable behavior and I could only think of 2 bad ones but I can picture the faces of about 20 kids that were making their parents proud.  Adults see the world as adults and often forget that kids behave and misbehave until they find the lines and boundaries for societies expectations. They find them by trial and error, just like you did, just like your rockin’  granny and just like the children in Socrates’ time.

If we, as parents, understand that bad behavior happens but is not acceptable then we’re doing OK. We have to allow kids to discover their boundaries, when they do they understand better than if we just shouted them into place. I can tell you stories of kids from very strict parents who go CRAZY in college, the moment they are out from under the Sargent’s gaze. If we allow kids to give us behavior tests we can help them to define the concepts of right and wrong. Those lessons last for a long time with children.

We always think that modern kids are worse now than when we were kids, they’re not. Ask your own parents how you were. The moral structure of society isn’t broken and the whole world isn’t collapsing because this little guy spit on the floor, that kid loves freaky rock singers and that kid over there wants to dye her hair black. For me it was 3 earrings and long hair (yeah, not funny now is it?) But my mom told me as long as I buy my own jewelry and keep my hair clean that it would be fine. “When people call you a girl, you can’t be upset.” I learned to be responsible and that some of the things I might do could cause me some ribbing. I learned my place and what I was and wasn’t  OK with. I still have earrings, I can’t say much for the hair.

We are scared into thinking that this generation of kids is the worst we’ve ever seen. The worst since Socrates, we think the sky is falling for every generation, yet tomorrow the sun always comes out.

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