Kids learn from the examples we set

If we are so worried about the general lack of respect our kids have for our institutions, isn't it time that we turn those institutions into something they can respect? Personal responsibility and accountability ought to be the goal -- not rules and regulations intended make our kids conform.
Written by Marc Wagner, Contributor

My colleague, Chris Dawson, recently posted an article warning employers to be wary of this generation of tech savvy kids.  (Apparently because they have no respect for authority.)  See Employers, be very afraid (or be part of the solution).  Well, quite frankly,  don't buy it! 

Is there a general disregard for copyrights?  For parental/institutional controls?  For security mesures?  Damned right there is -- but nobody seems to be asking "Why?"

To begin with, as I look at the kids my son plays with, I see a very large group of very well-behaved and very respectful children.  Counter to popular belief, this generation is not going to hell in a handbasket.  Do I see trouble makers as well?  Yes, of course, but guiding children through their early relationships and helping them make good choices pays off later. 

Aside from restricting administrative privileges, I don't even have parental controls on my own son's computer.  "Why not?" you say?  Because I trust him.  He is only eight but he knows that he must live up to the expectations that I set for him -- and he holds me accountable when I don't match my own behavior with what I expect of him.  Good for him!  If one of his friends misguides him, I help him understand why he's made a bad choice. 

If we treat out children with respect, and we explain to them why we object to certain behavior, most will adjust their behavior to win our approval.  But, if kids see us doing what we have told them not to do, they see the hypocricy in our words. 

It is no different with our institutions.  When our institutions seek to impose "zero tolerance" rules, our children lose respect for those institutions.  Especially when those institutions enforce rules to the point of imposing ridiculous sanctions on kids who are exemplary student-citizens. 

Is copyright and patent law broken?  You bet it is.  That doesn't change the fact that it's our total disregard of the law which is observed and mimicked by our kids.   

We wonder why our kids have no respect for copyrights -- even when we ourselves do not respect copyrights.  I run into this all the time with my peers, who casually copy other people's CDs.   

A little over a week ago, I had a conversation with a friend who teaches in an alternative school.  This is a place for kids who are consdiered "at risk" of not completing high school.  These are kids who would otherwise drop out of school -- and yet, the success he reports is remarkable. 

Once these kids are in the program, they have a 75% gradaution rate -- compared to a 60% graduation rate for the general student population!  How come?  Because he runs the program the same way as one runs a program for gifted and talented kids. 

In either setting, their a few rules and even fewer restrictions.  In both settings, expectations and personal accountability are high -- and in both settings success is high.  Given the chance, our kids will live up-to or down-to the expectations our institutions set for them. 

If we want our students to be good citizens we need to instill in them a sense of personal responsibility.  Not meaningless rules and regulations.  Not controls to keep them in line but guidelines to help them understand the impact of their choices. 

Let's stop worrying about making our kids conform and start listening to them.  And let's start expecting of them that which we expect of ourselves.  No more, no less.  It's the old carrot and the stick.  We all know the carrot works much better but we still can't seem to keep ourselves from beating them with a stick anyway! 

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