If you won’t give your kids attention, someone else will.

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Not getting the attention kids need from their parents, they will follow any “role model” that happens to be around.  This may be an older brother who has already gone to juvenile a few times, gets suspended a lot, or has already dropped out of school.  The role model might be an older kid in the neighborhood who the child looks up to.  There is this major fallacy and practice that happens in schools across the country that somebody in the school can serve as sort of a role model, positive influence, or mentor to such a child.  I have learned that this is hogwash because nobody in the schools can provide these children with what they really need and want.  They want attention from somebody they can truly identify with – like say, a family member.  Compounding this is the fact that nobody in the schools has the kind of time these kids need.  But somebody in the neighborhood might have the time.  Besides, there are too many kids in the schools who need this kind of time.  Truly identifying and bonding with someone involves spending significant time doing something together.  Your only options in the schools are to spend a very limited, slotted amount of time together, doing such things as playing a board game, talking, eating lunch together, or shooting some hoop.

As a school psychologist, I’ve done the things that psychologists, social workers, counselors and other assorted “specialists” across the country have done to try and identify with, or role model for these kids.  For example, taking a group of boys on Friday and shooting some hoop.  Of course they enjoy getting out of the classroom and having some fun.  I try to encourage them to do well in school and listen to their teacher, and use the time together as an unconditional reward.  The difference between me or some other staff member acting as role model, and a negative role model in the child’s life outside of school, is that the outside role model is not trying to get the child to do well in school.  This role model isn’t saying you should listen to your teacher and do well in school.  And if he is, he isn’t living these words, or he didn’t live these words.  In other words, this role model isn’t modeling the kind of behavior we desire in school.  The child is seeing something different in the real-world outside of school.

Something educators and society in general can’t seem to accept is that the school is a place where a child has to do what he is told and work.  Educators try to be chummy and connect with him – but the educator’s responsibility is to get him to do his work and follow the rules.  Outside of school these rules don’t apply to these kids.  The outside role model is more fun and exciting.  He doesn’t make the child do boring work or follow stupid rules.  He has the same rules as the child.  He doesn’t have any real responsibility to the child.  It’s the same thing with parenting.  Parenting can be fun and “buddy-buddy,” but a good parent sometimes has to be the mean disciplinarian, the “bad guy.”

A parent is automatically, by default, a role model once they have a child.  There really is no choice involved.  Of course, they can be a good, bad, or absent one, but they are nevertheless a role model.  What the child sees from the role model over the years, even if that parent (or parents) is absent, influences their development.  Why do we need the term “role model?”  I am deeply concerned that the term has done more harm than good because it often excuses or undermines the importance of parents and close family.  For absent or busy parents, it is reassuring and eases any possible feelings of guilt to know that other persons can serve as a “role model” for their child.  Kids who have involved parents (or parent), and/or close family members, serving as their natural role model(s), are not the ones struggling in school and life.  Are you going to be your child(ren’s) role model?

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