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by Tad Shannon of The Register-Guard
Just a handful of fundamentals out of “Parenting 101” could go a long way in stemming the rising tide of school and youth violence.
That’s the view of John Reid after roughly 20 years of research into the problem of youth aggression.
“This is not rocket science,” says Reid, executive director of the Oregon Social Learning Center, a Eugene-based nonprofit research center that studies families, youth aggression and the schools.
Reid and his colleagues have identified five basic parenting principles they say can help keep kids from turning playgrounds into battlegrounds.
Careful monitoring of a child’s whereabouts, schoolwork and peers
“School failure is highly related to delinquency, which in turn is related to violence,” Reid says.
Paying attention to a child’s school performance is like taking his temperature to find out if he’s sick, Reid says. Monitoring homework is crucial, he says.
“Homework is a very, very key issue,” Reid says. “It’s one of the first times where someone outside the family gives the child responsibility. But it’s tempting for a kid to say he doesn’t have homework, and it’s hard for the parent to check, until the grades come out.”
A kid who doesn’t do homework is bound to get further behind in school, which can lead to alienation from teachers and other peers.
As children get older, it becomes tougher for parents to monitor their activities.
“At elementary school, parents generally know where their kid is all the time,” Reid says. “That gets increasingly difficult as the kid moves into middle school, where there are many teachers and classrooms.”
Middle school is a particularly vulnerable stage for most kids, he says. That’s because peers begin to play a much bigger role in the child’s identity and parents’ roles tend to diminish somewhat.
Monitoring after-school activities is at least as important as keeping track of a child’s activities in school, Reid says.
“Parents and teachers have to do something about peer groups,” he says. “If you have a community where kids are allowed to hang out unsupervised, you’ve got trouble.”
“We’re not talking about Nazi discipline,” Reid says. “Sane, non-violent discipline with consequences so a kid takes responsibility.”
Although Reid doesn’t condemn parents who occasionally spank a child lightly, he says giving timeouts or brief work chores is more effective. Spanking, he says, tends to reinforce the idea that violence is a solution to problems.
Showing an active interest in your child’s activities helps reinforce self-esteem and teaches children that they are important, Reid says. If a child is struggling with math or other subjects, a parent can act as a mentor, helping the child to master a difficult task.
Offering praise and encouragement helps build self-esteem for children, Reid says. Too often, parents only react to the negative things kids do.
“Parents are so busy, it’s easy to react just to loudness, etc.,” he says. “But when the kid is doing something good, you better damn well take the time to encourage it.”
When kids are very young, parents must tell them what to do. But as they grow, kids must learn to solve problems on their own.
That includes dealing with anger and frustration, Reid says.
“They must learn to be able to see a crisis and back off,” he says. “All of us have to work together to teach kids at a very early age that hitting and punching is not acceptable.”
As part of that, kids must learn to delay gratification. Reid notes that if kids don’t learn to exercise control, they quickly learn that aggression — such as grabbing a toy from another child — pays off in the short run.
“Once a child becomes aggressive, it’s hard to stop,” Reid says. “If we raise a bunch of kids who are not socialized, they are going to become more dangerous every year.”
Reprinted with permission. Copyright 1994, The Register-Guard, www.registerguard.com.