National Radio on Children’s Behaviour
I heard an edition of National Radio’s “Best of Insight” late last night entitled “Children’s Behaviour”. This radio documentary was first broadcast in mid 2006. It set out to explore possible changes in children’s behaviour in our time, interviewing teachers, other child experts and some parents and students. I found it noteworthy in several respects.
It stated that New Zealand has the third highest rate of single parent “families” in the OECD. One interviewee made the wise observation that the difficult task of rearing children became much more risky and less effective when undertaken by sole parents functioning with little support in the parenting role.
The documentary referred to serious concerns held by many teachers from pre-school to secondary concerning deteriorating behaviour in students, including several conferences in the last few years specifically devoted to such concerns. The documentary repeatedly emphasized the old (and valid) retort that each generation sees its children as deteriorating, as shown by relevant excerpts from writers from Socrates to Dr Spock. It highlighted claims by experienced pre-school and primary-school teachers that children’s behaviour was essentially the same as it was 30 to 50 years ago. This view though was contradicted by other statements from those and other teachers, and sadly the documentary did not refer to any research that might shed light on the question “should we be concerned about any deterioration in the behaviour of children in our era?”.
However, in the case of secondary schools there seemed to be a strong consensus that pupils’ behaviour had deteriorated seriously with more violence and bullying, less obedience and co-operation, less respect for teachers and for most behavioural rules, and more “disengaging” from the education process and any effort to benefit from lessons. What I found particularly interesting was that all teachers, commentators and the documentary makers steadfastly avoided discussing changes in school discipline and specifically the banning of corporal punishment. The documentary host even claimed that punishments in schools now seemed much the same as in the past. Deterioration in behaviour was attributed to all manner of things including “inadequate home life”, too much effort by modern parents to mould their children, insufficient opportunity for children to develop their own individuality, parents’ expectations that their own personal development and selfish wishes must be fulfilled, the impact of the “me” age on children, lack of community support, poor literacy, boredom, inability to keep up with lessons, wrong teaching styles, technological distractions such as mobile phones and Ipods, limited attention spans due to television and video games, the close scrutiny that children were now subjected to, derogatory stereotypes and descriptions in the news media concerning children, parental insecurity about managing children, less interpersonal respect in society.
The fact that the removal of corporal punishment was totally ignored pointed (I think) to the extent to which politically-correct (largely feminist) ideology has permeated our society and is now considered sacred, beyond scrutiny or challenge. The banning of corporal punishment and the associated, feminist-based ideology about children’s “rights”, “violence is bad and modelling violence through physical force is worse” etc constitute the most obvious and probably the most important factor causing deterioration in children’s behaviour. Voluntary blindness towards this, as demonstrated in the documentary, now also threatens to allow the illegalization of smacking by parents and thereby a further lurch in a direction already shown to be unsuccessful, or at the very least unsupported by any outcome of banning corporal punishment in schools. (Note though that I believe there are positive aspects to some formulation and recognition of rights for children, and there was plenty of need to change the way corporal punishment was used in schools, but the ideology has led to excesses and to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.)
The question “is there deterioration in children’s behaviour worth worrying about?” seems to me similar to the question “is there any real process of global warming worth worrying about?”. There seems to be plenty of evidence suggesting both are real trends with potentially catastrophic results, but global warming is now widely accepted whereas social anarchy in our schools and upcoming generation is denied.
To some extent our blindness to the lack of positive outcome from removing corporal punishment parallels the Swedish stance on their smacking ban. The Swedes committed themselves ideologically to that stance and have gained an international identity as leaders in shaping a “brave new world” of enlightened civilisation; they now ignore the many indicators that the policy is failing to improve their society and instead is degrading it. At some point the social problems caused by Sweden’s policy will increase to a point where the Swedes and onlookers will be forced to acknowledge the truth, but in the meantime they maintain a process of denial and distortion of reality to avoid the need to review the largely feminist ideology on which their policies are based.
But these are only my musings. The Insight documentary itself can be heard anytime through National Radio’s web page.