Let me be clear that this post aims not to be "parenting 101". Which I hope is for reasons that are pretty obvious and glaring. I'm not a parent and currently have no concrete plans to be a parent. That being said, I do work with kids. I have studied how people develop. So while I know very little about the requirements of parenting, I do know just a little bit about what children need to grow up mentally well. So go with me on this one for a second...
:I'm not a fan of bad ass kids. BAKs, if you will. I think they need to be strung up by their toes and made to repeat items from an encyclopedia until their ears start to bleed. I'm serious. You don't get to just be bad. And after a certain age, all the things that one might generally use to get away with being a BAK goes down the drain. It's too many motherless or fatherless or homeless or whateverless people out here who are making it work. I guess my point is that I'm not one who thinks that BAKs don't bear a lot of the responsibility for their own behavior, especially after a certain age (usually I go with about 13, but it fluctuates).
All that being said, the most critical time for developing humans is the first year and a half of their lives. If you're not a perfect parent any other time in life, strive for it then. Am I saying that a mistake as a parent means your kid is a hopeless hooligan? Nope. Am I saying that it's realistic to expect an individual, especially one who's never raised a child before, to know what to do every time something comes up? Not in the least. What I am saying, though, is that a lot of parents and children would be helped if people thought enough of child-rearing to think a little bit about what children need and what they don't need.
What a child needs differs from child to child. Some need a lot of attention (positive, of course) and others need to be allowed room and space to explore. What all kids need, however, are boundaries. Every child is searching for boundaries and they're going to push and push until you set them. Yes, some children are just stubborn and want to do what they want to do almost seemingly from the womb and yes, those children can require some unique parenting techniques, but it's not impossible to set boundaries for even them.
One of the huge disservices I believe we do to children is not following through on agreements with them. Over the summer I worked with gifted students doing afternoon activities. Don't let their intelligence level fool you -- there were PLENTY of BAKs in my groups. By the end of the week, several of the other teachers were scrambling to have me as their partner with one particular group of these kids who had become notorious for being problematic. The reason was, these kids listened to me. If I told them to have a seat, they did (some got right back up -- but hey, nobody's perfect). One thing I established early with these kids was that if I say I'm going to do something, I will.
One child had a water bottle that allowed him to mist (presumably) himself with water if he got hot. Of course a 10 year old boy is going to want to mist EVERYBODY but himself. I watched him do it to a buddy of his a few times, and let it go because they both seemed ok. However on the 2nd or 3rd time he misted his friend, I realized he was getting the girl next to his friend wet as well and she was not happy. I walked over and informed him that a)he needed to stop because class was starting, b) he need to stop because he was making a fellow classmate uncomfortable and c) he needed to stop because this wasn't the appropriate time. I emphasized that it didn't matter if his buddy liked the misting, he was still getting an unwilling classmate wet and he needed to be respectful of her space. He seemed to get it, so we went on with class.
Not 5 minutes later, I saw him misting his buddy and getting his other classmate wet when he thought I wasn't looking (game recognize game and I had peeped him early as one who will always scope the scene prior to acting out so I always had to be a little bit more stealthy about catching him). This time, I stopped the class to let him know of our new agreement: I would let him keep his water bottle at his chair if he agreed not to spray it anymore, at all, that day. If he didn't or couldn't keep his water bottle under control, I would have to take it for the rest of the day. He nodded his head and placed the bottle under his chair. Of course he couldn't resist trying to get one more spray out for the sake of pushing the boundaries and he got busted. I took the water bottle immediately despite his pleads that I not. At that point, I had to. For starters he needed to experience the consequences of not living up to his end of the agreement and I also had made this agreement in front of the whole class. Every other student was going to mark me as boundary-less if I didn't follow through. People are made examples of for a reason.
Having a personal rule that if I tell a kid that if x happens again, x will happen to him, I MUST follow through, means I'm also far more cognizant of my "threats" (I prefer the term agreement). I have friends who like to use fear and intimidation, always threatening bodily harm. They would rather a child follow their rules out of fear and for some of them that works. It's my belief that kids get the lesson you're trying to teach a lot faster when they feel like they had a role in it. Make the decision to do what I've asked you to do and the consequences will be good. Make other decisions and the consequences won't be what you'd like. They can then extrapolate that out to other situations and make it a priority to make better decisions wherever they are. Kids who obey out of fear a)outgrow that fear eventually and b)will act however they please in other situations because their wanting to make good decisions isn't based in anything that's apart of them.
In my previous life, my boss used to say that parents send the best kids they have to school each day. It's not like parents sit at home and decide which of their children they want to send out to represent their household, they send the ones they have. In that same vein, kids do the best they can with what they have. While I really do believe that life is about making choices and that you choose your behavior, when you think you only have certain choices, you might not make the best decisions. In other words, young people who don't have the tools to deal with disappointment, frustration, irritation, anger or even joy, happiness or success, will be a BAK. They experience these emotions or situations and have not the SLIGHTEST clue what to do with it so they push it away. There's a myriad of ways to do that, but think of your favorite BAK and you'll immediately know of a few tactics they employ.
I'm not one who believes it's ever too late for a person to change. Even some of the older BAKs I've seen or worked with I felt could change with a little help and a lot of attention in the right way. But I think some of the tactics we employ with BAKs are only band-aids over a bullet wound. Shows like "Beyond Scared Straight" appeal to my ratchet side, but the side of me that keys into mental and emotional wellness rejects completely the notion that by taking a few BAKs into a minimum or medium security prison and letting convicts yell at them, threaten them with rape and violence, force them to their physical and emotional breaking point, etc... actually works in the long run. When individuals understand why making positive decisions actually are in their best interest they will make more of them than an individual who just wants to avoid punishment. Wanting to avoid punishment only goes so far when a child is dealing with a lot of internal struggles.
Children need to know how to get attention in positive ways. They need to know that frustrations are a part of life and they need to know what to do with those emotions that don't involve harm to themselves or others. It's true: people do what works for them and BAKs are doing what works for them. Young girls sending naked pictures of themselves to boys, especially after so many stories of what happens to those pictures, seems so stupid -- even for teens who's sole purpose it seems is to be stupid. But when all you crave, and all you think you need, is attention -- this cheap variety of it, even with the known consequences, is worthwhile. These boys who join gangs and "love" to fight seem like the kind of kids you wanna put out in the middle of a crime-ridden neighborhood and let them see what "hard is" but what they're looking for is a place to belong and people who won't reject them. Gangs are a lot more accepting than a lot of supposed safe spaces out here and they are much more attractive to someone who feels like they've never had a place than you could begin to understand.
Let me stop rambling about a topic that I could really go on and on about and just say: a)nothing about parenting or working with children is easy. There are people out here who have read the books, employed the techniques, and still ended up with a BAK, but that's where that personal responsibility comes in. All you can do is give your child(ren) (or the children you work with) the tools. They have to then use them. b)hug your kids. It's not a funny gimmick I kick on twitter, it's serious. Volunteer with these BAKs. Some of them you may never be able to get through to, but some you might. It is amazing what a little mature attention and challenging will do for a BAK. The other thing is you can always do your best to prevent a BAK. These kids don't just appear out of thin air. They don't wake up one day and decide being bad is a way of life. It's learned behavior -- overtly and covertly. Kids are sponges. Know that.