As parents, we pray for our children to become people of integrity, compassion, and faith; but in our quiet moments, we may ask ourselves if it is possible to help our children grow toward emotional resilience and social responsibility. We often wonder about the best way to guide our children in this contemporary culture that seems focused on self-satisfaction. As we listen carefully to our children and read the news, we face the inescapable and painful knowledge that our children are experiencing abusive behavior from their peers. Furthermore, our own children may be engaging in behavior that singles out others for maltreatment. Surveys given to middle school students real that 40 to 80 percent of these students admit to engaging in behavior that is defined as bullying. We read news reports that adolescents have committed suicide in response to bullying by peers. Tragically, there have been instances of harassing behavior turning into violent assaults that result in injury and death. This toxic behavior makes us anxious about our children’s safety and about the development of their character.
Children are profoundly vigilant and insightful. They are like sponges absorbing the emotional climate they inhabit. As parents, we must face the reality that we have the power and influence to teach our children to become bullies as well as victims of intimidation. If we choose to use corporal punishment with our children, it will definitely hurt them, it will immediately suppress an undesirable behavior, and for the moment, our parental anger may be minimized. However, any time that we choose to use physical aggression, whether toward an adult or child, we are also faced with resentment, contempt, and loss of respect from the victim. Corporal punishment is a direct physical assault on the dignity and self-concept of a child. Children quickly learn to pass this on to their peers. In a similar way, children can learn to overpower others when they are disciplined with strategies that force them into immediate surrender in shame and humiliation. We can accomplish this with just words. Words of contempt and words of disrespect that tell children they are “useless, or lazy, or worthless”. Words are very effective and children easily learn to use them to hurt the heart and soul of their peers.
Fortunately, there are ways that we, as parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors can guide the next generation toward respect and compassion. We can check and monitor our own behavior to insure we relate to each other in a manner that consistently demonstrates the core message of Jesus. If we want our children to learn to navigate through difficult situations, we can teach them to deal with conflict by negotiating the differences and disagreements that emerge in our own relationships with them. As parents, we can demonstrate fair and respectful dialogue with our children. These experiences build character and courage. This kind of parenting will not be easy. Children are still learning the fine points of language and their emotions are large and expansive. They may be initially resistive to the idea of working things out with words; but most things of importance are difficult and take lots of practice. Let your child see you work out your differences with neighbors, family, and friends. Our most powerful tool for raising children of faith is to demonstrate the example Jesus gave us.
Joyce Riddick, M.A., LLP