Over the last several weeks we have talked about behavior influencers and social and emotional catalysts and impediments. It is important to know these things because you need to understand the baseline kids are coming from if you want to change their behaviors. Over the next several weeks we are going to break behavior change down into manageable and understandable posits. But before we do, let’s talk honestly about behaviors.

social funnelWe consider ourselves to be a society of freedom. Our society is based upon individual liberties that come together to foster the common good. But this isn’t really true. Even though we are a liberal people in that our society affords many more choices and options than others, we are still a society of laws, rules, and mores. We say that people are free to do what they want but that is only the case until their behavior infringes upon others. We have very definitive boundaries for what we are willing to accept. Let me break it down like this:

My youngest daughter, Abbie, is a beautiful girl. She is smart and sweet and kind-hearted. She sings when she does her homework and she sleeps with her baby doll. She loves watching cartoons and she still runs to the door screaming “Daddy’s home” when I get home. She is my little girl. She gets to act silly and giggle and live in a world of semi make believe. All the other little girls in her class are doing the same. She can get away with a lot of things because she is little and young and she is supposed to be silly and happy.

My son is 13. He started middle school last year and it was really sad for me because when middle school began he put down the toy cars and stopped playing make believe games. He began paying closer attention to his appearance and even though he still hugs his Daddy he doesn’t run through the house when he hears the door open. Now don’t get me wrong, he is still a goofy 13 year old boy. You might find him listening to his headphones or you might find him at the top of a tree in the backyard. Hunter can get away with some things because he is still a boy. But he can’t get away with being as goofy as he was just a few years ago because peer pressure just won’t allow unbridled silliness in teenagers.

My oldest daughter Megan is about to be 17. She is a beautiful and kindhearted young lady. She has the sweetest disposition of any kid I have ever known. She is a hard worker in school and an even better person in life. Megan must, in many ways, act like an adult. She doesn’t play with dolls or watch cartoons or sing while she does her homework. She doesn’t skip through the house or run to the door when Daddy gets home. Megan lives within a social construct of teenage girls that highly scrutinizes every move and a class environment that measures and monitors every word, spoken and written.

I have watched my kids move through different phases of life and have watched the parameters of acceptable behavior become more narrow and definitive each year. I know that as they grow the world will become less forgiving and have less patience with silliness and goofiness and all the other quirky behaviors that make kids so much fun. They will have to grow up. They will have to conform to social laws and rules and mores. They will have to conform to societal expectations for behaviors or else they will not be accepted.

Schools are a microcosm for life because schools have a hierarchical social system and each grade level has a set of expectations in regards to behavior, effort, intent, and personality. If the student does not conform to the expectations at that level then he or she ends up in the principal’s office, in-school-suspension, at an alternative campus, or possibly even expelled. Our kids enter a social funnel in kindergarten that has a wide portal of acceptability. As each year passes that funnel gets narrower with stricter and more definitive expectations and more clearly defined consequences for when those expectations are not met. By the time our kids exit schools the boundaries of acceptable behaviors are closely guarded by societal laws, rules, and mores.

We consider ourselves a liberal society but the truth is we expect people to behave, speak, dress, and communicate in a certain way. If they don’t then we ostracize and marginalize them, incarcerate them, or institutionalize them. We just don’t tolerate social outliers without significant consequences. Why is it important that kids learn social expectations and societal construct in school? Because once they leave the school they don’t have the safety net of detention or alternative campuses or time-outs. They don’t have the buffer of the teacher or principal. We have to teach our kids how to behave and communicate and contribute because if we don’t then when they are no longer kids they will not be accepted into our society. Then they will end up homeless, or in jail, or in a hospital, or all alone. Why do we have to teach today's kids social and emotional development and behavioral growth? Because we will demand it of them in just a few short years.