In our last behavioral conversation we talked about experiences. We discussed how experiences ranged from those things in which we played an active role to those things in which we were simply observers. These experiences come together to create our “experiential knowledge base”, the culmination of all of our experiences. This knowledge base becomes one of the main drivers for the choices we make and these choices become our behaviors.

girl with globeOnce you understand experiences matter, then you must understand the impact of the environment where these experiences are occurring. The home and social lives of your students hold a large sway on how your student(s) behave in your class and with their friends. Let’s break experiences down even further and talk about common experiences amongst many of our students today. Aside from actual physical involvement (diagnosed disorders), the following three things are culturally important in the behavioral development of your students.

First, a home that is safe and emotionally stable is ideal for insuring that kids grow and mature in a healthy manner. Unfortunately, we are a society that has reached a tipping point on the number of students coming from broken/divorced homes. Just because it is more common does not lessen the impact that a family break has on a child, of any age.

Everyone has heard the statistic that nearly 50% of all marriages are now ending in divorce but did you know that nearly 70% of those homes have at least one more break?

In other words, a plurality of our students are dealing with home instability which has a very significant impact on the students’ development, growth, and maturity. This is not to say that every divorced home is a bad one... Far from it. My mother was a single mother for many years after my father left. She did a great job in many ways but it was tough. Kids long for stability and the nurture of both parents and when it is not there it will impact their development. Do you know who the kids are in your class who are hurting because of a difficult home life?

Second, consistent structure and known expectations provide children the security they need to develop the emotional skills and self-confidence they will need to thrive in life.

But today we are a society of convenience.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the advances in technology. I don’t think I could live without my iPhone and I am pretty sure I would get into a knock down drag out if someone wanted to take my tablet computer from me. But I have a perspective of how great these gadgets are because I lived through a time when they weren’t there. I grew up in a time when many of today’s conveniences weren’t around and acquiring things, including knowledge, required work. If you wanted to know something you had to look it up in encyclopedias or read abstracts for journal articles or go to the card catalog. If you wanted to see a movie you saved your money and went to the theater.

Today things come easy. Information comes easy.

You don’t even have to type the questions you can just ask your phone. Now don’t get me wrong, I love technology and I love the advances we have made. But when you live in a world of instant gratification and immediate reward then you lose the perspective of work. Kids don’t have to work for information or money or rewards the way they used to and because of this they have a different perspective on expectations. Teachers wonder why their students won’t put the effort into learning; it is because effort is not needed in most situations any more. Advances in technology and ready access to information in many forms certainly has its advantages, especially for students, but they also add chaos and even clutter in the midst of the most critical time of students’ social and emotional development.

Conveniences have also encroached on parenting.

Gone is the day when kids were told to go outside and play. Instead they are looking at their phone or tablet or video game. Lost are the days of shooting baskets with dad or just going for a walk. In a lot of homes those times have been replaced with screen time – from small to large. We are losing our work and physical play ethic because we don’t really have to work for much.

Work is one of life’s great teachers.

Kids, just like adults, need to understand work and need to work to help build their sense of self identity.

boys with globeThirdly, within all of these mediums of conveniences is a proliferation of negativity that is constantly challenging and even changing our boundaries of socially acceptable behavior. Before you think that this is just another rant about too much television, think about the current pop culture and youthful stars. Think about the glorification of violence and the objectification of sex. Think about the words that are now common on television that would have only been heard in an “R” rated movie not too long ago. This isn’t a Victorian reaction to the broadening of acceptability. Instead it is a concern that when the home is hurting and the self identify of work is not being taught then the influence of these negative images and words and songs can be devastating.

When society has a cultural movement that holds the attention of our youth and it is not balanced by the stability of home and the learning of the ethic necessary for work then that pop culture begins to have an over-influencing pull on our kids and it is rapidly redefining what is considered acceptable. Let me put it in simple terms, it matters what kids watch and hear and read. Gratuitous violence cheapens human life. Exploitative sexuality demeans relationships. Vulgarities cheapen social discourse. There are no new negative influences just like there are no new sins. The difference is the impact these negative influences have when they are so readily accessible and so easily obtained through our mass media and technology. The messages that are being conveyed are no longer being countered at home and in the communities.

Experiences matter.

Where a student spends their time and what they put into their minds matters. There is an old saying, garbage in – garbage out. How can we be surprised that our kids talk the way they do and act the way they act when they have constant and immediate access to boundary pushing experiences and there are fewer people and fewer opportunities to buffer or counter this onslaught. That’s the world your students are living in. It is a tough world! That world needs to change in the classroom. Yes our kids need to understand how to fully utilize the marvels of today’s technology. They also need to understand how to think for themselves and find answers in books and do math problems by hand and even get their hands dirty with real work.

We don’t need to return to the past but we shouldn’t forget the things from our past that made us great.