Friday, February 27, 2009

THE ROAD TO HELL

"...if I die before I wake..."

Scared Kid
Well we have it happening again. Well meaning teachers and adults scaring the living hell out of kids, for their own good. I expect this has long been a standard method of teaching, from warning that goblins will come and take you away if you go outside too late at night to warning that you'll burn in hell if you touch yourself there to drills and movies about nuclear war guaranteed to make you miss sleep. Global warming was the last child-terrifying effort, and now in a program to try to get kids to eat right, we're giving them psychoses about food. Abby Elin writes about it in the International Herald Tribune:
Sodium: that's what worries Greye Dunn. He thinks about calories, too, and whether he's getting enough vitamins. But it's the sodium that really scares him.

"Sodium makes your heart beat faster, so it can create something really serious," said Greye, who is 8 years old and lives in Mays Landing, New Jersey.

Greye's mother, Beth Dunn, the president of a multimedia company, is proud of her son's nutritional awareness and encourages it by serving organic food and helping Greye read labels on cereal boxes and cans.

"He wants to be healthy," she says.
Look I understand the desire to motivate kids to do what's right, I do understand the fear that American children are getting too fat. I realize that fear is a powerful motivator, and that the people doing this are trying to help, they are full of good intentions. The problem is that you're terrifying kids. There's a couple of other issues here (such as the misinformation that is being told these children) but the primary one is that teachers are scaring the crap out of children.

If you cannot teach without giving kids a complex, then you're a failure as a teacher. If you are a teacher and think it is your job to make sure kids don't eat too much or eat the wrong things at home, you're a failure as a human being: that's the job of parents, not teachers. Teach them the things they need to learn, the facts and knowledge that will help them grow intellectually and understand the world around them. Teach them to think - along with the parents - but don't teach them to believe or to live. That just isn't your job.

If kids are eating poorly, that's the fault of the parents. If kids are getting fat, that's the job of the parents to deal with. If the parents fail, that's unfortunate but none of your damn business if you're a teacher. This compulsion among teachers to be the overlord of every aspect of a child's life is not just mistaken, it is disturbing. Teachers are teachers, not master of a child's universe. Stick to what you're supposed to be doing in your job and let parents scare the kids.

Fear is a decent motivator and a little fear is good in everyone's life: healthy fear, of the right things. Terrifying children of some vague doom that eating poorly will result in is not just absurd (kids can eat pretty awful food and still thrive) but misguided. Teach them to fear doing the wrong thing and they'll do it when nobody can catch them. Teach them something horrible will result from a behavior they see others engage in without consequence, and they'll eventually stop believing you.

But if you, as parents, teach them to want to do the right thing and that will hold their whole lives. It will be part of their worldview, part of who they are and want to act. If they want to do something themselves, it will always be a part of them, even if they stray from it for a time. Teach good habits and self-motivating healthy behavior, and you'll have healthy kids. Mostly teach them by example. Teaching little Billy that he should eat fruit, not candy, then lounging on the couch munching on skittles all day is not going to teach him anything except that you lie - or at the very least that its okay to eat candy if you are a grownup.

If you live a healthy life, eat carefully, enjoy treats as a treat rather than a main course, and exercise, your child will see and learn from that much better than scaring them to death. Scaring is easier and doesn't require any personal self discipline, of course. So maybe we adults could learn a little too.

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