Friday, June 18, 2010

The Importance of Discipline?

I have always understood that good boundaries with children will help them understand that rules need to be followed, kind of like "good fences make good neighbors". It was my natural and logical understanding that a child couldn't obey rules they didn't know they were there to be followed. Made sense to me. If they know them, they will adhere. Right? Anyone who has endured toddler hood with one of their own knows the answer to that question.

The problem with young children as they mature into little people who start to think for themselves is they start to follow a simple decision making process when they run into a fence, a rule if you will. It is called selective hearing. I have seen this played out several times with my 3 year old, Carli. Being someone who can't stand repeating herself, it amuses me and annoys me to no end when I find myself giving the same instructions at least 3 times before she stops what it is I have asked her not to do. For instance, she loves to take everything out of closets, namely the bathroom. We have been over this bathroom boundary 100 times and yet it does not stop her from doing it again. Did she forget about the "no bathroom" rule? I doubt it. Was she just so overcome by her own compulsions that it didn't occur to her? I hesitate to think that is the case more than she made a decision to do what she wanted over the wishes of her mother. She wanted to "get away with it".

For most of us who do administer some sort of discipline or handing down consequences for actions, we begin to realize this is not a one time thing. Telling your children to get off the arms of your sofa seems to be a regular reminder rather than the obligatory "time out" followed by the steadfast adherence to the "sit right on the sofa" policy. It is tiring, all consuming, frustrating and sometimes seemingly hopeless to discipline. Especially for young children where the discipline for today's infraction is a success and it will subsequently be a dismal failure the next time. I have found myself sometimes wondering if all this is really doing...anything at all. Do the parents who just seem to not really do much in the way of setting boundaries have it better than those of us who are insistent on setting rules and limitations and thus following that up with a consequence? Do "free range children" have it better? Is there more harmony in those homes? I say no. They have dire consequences. They create children who grow up to be adults with no concept of laws, moral code and a sense of doing the right thing. They are the people we meet who are always thinking they are the exception to the rule. You have met them over and over. No accountability, and always shirking responsibility. What makes me so sure? See an example.

Joran Van Der Sloot. Any of us who were not familiar with his involvement in the Natalee Holloway disappearance are familiar with him now. He is a killer. A callous, unrepentant predator. So far he has been connected to two murders of young women he met in casinos, there could be more. I am not going to recount his ghastly deeds. What I want to dissect is his parents' reactions and his behavior during the investigations he was a person of interest for. I think it sheds a lot of light on how he was raised and what came of him as an adult and the apparent absence of discipline and direction as a child.

Joran was arrested for the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba 5 years ago. What astonished and infuriated me while watching the news of him was his attitude toward the police, investigators and even the very crime he was charged with. Most people, faced with being charged with a murder they didn't commit would be very scared, anxious and completely willing to comply...unless they had something to hide. People who are innocent but know something will usually tend to tell something that is as close to the truth as possible, leaving out the information they do not want to share. People need to tell the truth in order to remember pertinent details. Joran not only lied about his whereabouts, Natalee's involvement with him in the wee hours but he changed his story countless times. He enjoyed sending people on a wild goose chase only to find out he was not telling the truth. His reaction? A smile. He enjoyed toying with the investigators. His reaction to them was one of dimissal. It gave his ego a great boost to frustrate the people in authority over this situation. He was letting them know he was in control. He saw them as below his level of intelligence. He has had a lot of practice with this. You don't come about this type of behavior, at this level over night. He was too confident in what he was doing. He more or less did the same thing with the investigators in Peru but his charade didn't last long and he soon unraveled. Why? Something was missing. The key piece of his game was no longer there. His father.

During the Aruban murder investigation, Mr. Van Der Sloot was right there. He, at first, appeared to be the kind of dad anyone would want, to be there come what may for their child. To see my point in how Joran got to where he is today, you need to look further. Joran's father did a lot for him in those coming months. He was tireless in helping the world see that his son was innocent. Who wouldn't, right? I'd spend every last dime I had and probably not sleep if Carli were in a situation where she seemed to be the sacrificial lamb for a terrible crime that had been committed...if she were innocent. Mr. Van Der Sloot did something else. He tried to work the system to get his son exonerated. He threw money at it, he used his political clout in Aruba, he hired the best lawyers, his own investigators, but he wasn't really trying to prove Joran's innocence. He was trying to get him out of the trouble he was in. There is a big difference. You see, Joran knew that is exactly what his father would do. He had a lot of confidence in that. Why? Because Daddy had done that before, many times I would surmise. He didn't for one second, question whether or not someone would help him. He knew whom he could count on....only now his father is dead. The Peruvian government is not anything that anyone he knows can circumvent, no one is throwing money at this, no one is in front of a camera, tearfully pleading on his behalf. In fact, at the time of this writing, I don't believe his mother has been to Peru nor has he spoken of her. Interesting...the Joran of today is afraid for his life, scared and left on his own. That must be terrifying if you've never had to live out the consequences of your actions before, especially as an adult having to do this for the first time.
The relationship with Joran and his parents, his coming to know how they would react came from a long history in his upbringing. These behavior patterns start very early. I can clearly see how this all started in the Van Der Sloot home. I see how this can start as I observe children interacting with other children at the playground and their parents' reactions to their behavior toward others. The culprit? Passive Permissiveness.

Passive Permissiveness is easy. I find myself contemplating it often, to be honest. I am tired, I am often sick of saying 'no'. I even try to count in my mind how many times I've told Carli that word in a given day. I think it is the most commonly used word I have uttered as of late other than the word 'yes' when I hear the name, Mom, coming from my daughter. I can hear the name Mom at least 50 times before lunch, I swear. Point being, maintaining order is a great task when it comes to our children's behavior. Sometimes, it is easy to just overlook an infraction because you just can't "go there" one more time. Passive Permissiveness is an easy pattern to fall into because it's easy. What's the harm, right? Well, easy patterns are of course easy to fall into, especially when working parents come home from a long day at the office. You had meetings that ran late, your boss was unhappy with your report, coworkers and employees misbehaving. The last thing you want to do, over dinner, when sitting down for some peace and quiet is to have to dole out instructions for something you have told your children not to do for the one millionth time! I understand it all perfectly, I was there. I came home one night after a long day. My then toddler wanted to play with the salt shaker. I had told her countless times not to play with it. I always took it away from her when she did. This time I handed it to her to keep her quiet. I just wanted to be left alone. I knew what I was doing but I didn't care. It became very hard to train her not to reach for and play with the salt and pepper at the table after that. In later, similar situations involving condiments for entertainment at the table it became a battle of wits and tempers with her when I said no. Why? Because she had learned in certain situations I would relent and she wanted to find out how to make that happen again.

Does it really matter? I would submit, it does. Not keeping our children in check and holding them accountable creates grave behavior patterns that cannot be reversed over time, either by them or by you. Not holding children accountable means you are going to try to make situations go away, like trying to explain to a teacher why your child's report isn't done on time. What is the harm in that, really? Your child doesn't understand that when you don't do what you need to do on time, you get an "F" and you teach them that it is okay to lie and get around rules if given a set of circumstances. Do you really want to model behavior that you would usually punish them for? It's so easy to spackle over things rather than deal with them but over the long haul, both you and your children will pay for it. Joran's parents never intended to create a monster. Little chips in the mortar, one at a time, over the years make the brick wall crumble.

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