Modern western families are not, as a norm, teaching self-discipline to their children. External discipline, the one administered forcibly by parents and society, does not always translate into self-discipline. We could certainly learn from Asian families, especially Chinese and Japanese; their children behave splendidly in our American schools.
Parents may ask, quite reasonably, why so many children fail to follow the discipline values that they learned at home. There are several causes which we can find not only at home, television is a big one, but also throughout our modern society. Traditional values are usually interpreted by younger generations as old-fashioned and obsolete. Young parents protest: “We must try to understand our children, we must be better than our own parents.”
This pseudo-scientific attitude, not supported by hard evidence, has caused the American family (in general) to forgive or turn a blind eye to small delinquent behavior in young children. This philosophy began with the baby boomer generation after WWII. As a result, modern day students have relaxed their standards, their values, and this laissez-faire behavior is in part responsible for our present economic woes.
Our societal model of greed and lack of responsibility has given birth to fraudulent financial instruments, to outright lies by real estate agents, and to sleazy accounting procedures. Corruption is rampant among Washington politicians and lobbyists, a factor multiplied by the self-interest (egotism) of high placed bureaucrats who believe that public interest always comes last.
As a teacher in high-school, I see firsthand the consequences of a “let him/her grow into his/her own” attitude by parents. They interpret every little misstep as a “child looking for his/her identity”. Interrupting this process amounts to sacrilege, to a violation of humanistic principles that assume that man is born good. According to this philosophy, society is the villain that makes us “bad”.
As I walked in the classroom, I saw papers strewn on the floor. I asked the student sitting at that desk to pick them up. His reply was a typical “I didn’t do it”. The very notion that somebody else is responsible allows me to forgo all my values regarding helping the community. Somebody else will do it; we don’t know who that other person is, but it’s certainly not I. That same day, I watched an Asian teacher picking up thrash in the hall in front of her classroom. Other teachers usually don’t bother.
This lack of altruism or regard for the social group is prevalent in some groups; many teens dedicate their off time to drinking and carousing. Others, too few unfortunately, are happy to spend their free hours helping others, sometimes people they don’t even know, such as African kids who lack everything. Am I just an old-fashioned, grouchy, elderly man, or is there some truth in my nostalgia for self-discipline?
Parents: Small, “innocent” acts of delinquency can flourish and become full-blown attacks against our social fabric. I do not recommend martial law inside the home, nor do I favor physical punishment unless it is absolutely necessary (repeated disobedience). A few well-placed smacks on the buttocks will hurt pride more than flesh, and the message will be received loud and clear. Early stern intervention will stimulate self-discipline, as children will finally assimilate the idea that they are responsible for their own behavior and for the well-being of society in general.