Thursday, December 12, 2013

Children Are Immigrants

Shella Zelenz
Shella Zelenz

There is a discussion going around the progressive education movement that addresses the manner in which children are treated and looked upon. They use the term adultism to refer to the behavior of the adults in reference to their treatment of the children. This definition typically revolves around the concept that the adults, in some shape or form, look at the children as less than or lesser able than an adult in performing or understanding. I would like to address this topic in a much different manner.

The treatment of children is currently very hard-wired into our societal norms and behaviors. There are parenting books and teacher trainings that address discipline and classroom management. What isn't discussed is the vocabulary utilized and the insinuated assumption of lowered expectation or cognizant ability. On the same venue, we see reactionary disciplinary treatment based upon the child's less than desirable behavior or productivity. I have yet to see a single professional address the fact that the "dumbed down" vocabulary used when speaking with children actually contributes to their anti-authoritarian behavior. In other words, the disciplinary challenges faced by the parent or teacher are not the child's fault. The adult created it by the very means they use to be gentle or nurturing to the child.

I would like to address this viewpoint from a position where people can relate more closely. I am not advocating harsh stances with children. I am not advocating abusive language or toughen up assumptions. I AM advocating treating children as though they are immigrants new to this country. What does that mean? Well, if you were traveling abroad and came to a country where you knew the language minimally, but were not very proficient, would you want to be talked down to as though your intellectual skills were less or would you prefer the native speak to you in language that is clearer? Would the people of the other country treat you as though you were incapable of handling yourself in their country? Do  you think they might find themselves being quite helpful when you have questions or seem lost? Do they offer tips without assuming you aren't capable of solving the problem? 

Children have to be able to communicate with any member of society regardless of where they are located. If they fear speaking to others without having a mediator involved, they are not developing healthy communication skills which will impede their professional development of networking skills, presentation skills, sales skills, and leadership skills. This also hinders their ability to develop healthy relationships with others. If they are never allowed to assert their feelings in a healthy manner (defined as being respected for feeling that way and given full authority to speak their concerns with a room full of people who also will be offered the same respect for asserting their own thoughts and opinions and know they are taken seriously), which acknowledges full personal awareness of their own thoughts and contribution to the scenario, what evolves is reactionary behavior. If a child is treated as less than he is, he will live up to that expectation. If he is ordered to behave in a certain way (which insinuates he is less than he is), he will live up to that expectation (the expectation that he has to be ordered around and is incapable of functioning respectfully on his own). If he is given authority over his own voice and body, knowing full well that everyone in the room looks at him as a person new to the country who is only trying to learn the best way to navigate the city, you will find a confident and hugely respectful individual eager to take on bigger challenges as he grows in his supported confidence.

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