Why is there a demand, now, for therapeutic boarding schools? Why are there so many, many out-of-control kids? What are they longing for? What are we, the adults, all the parents, missing?
The enduring attraction of bootcamp therapy
Gunny therapy is where you start smacking someone and yelling at them until they STFU and start making some sense. Most people who have ever appeared on Jerry Springer need a good dose of Gunny therapy. When some "out of control teen" comes marching out on stage dressed like a Harry Hines* Hooker, flicking people off, and calling her mom a bitch, she needs Gunny therapy. She needs someone to come along, smack her briskly about the ears, and berate her for her poor behavior until she finally figures out that the beatings will continue until morale improves. This child doesn't need to talk about his feelings. He doesn't need peer counseling. He doesn't need "A self affirmating environment producing synergistic moods conducive to realizing his full personhood." He needs someone to stand tall and give him a good, swift kick in the ass.
*a notorious Dallas boulevard
Well....I only agree a little. Or some. Or I guess, I don't hold with hitting. I don't hold with yelling. I don't hold with intimidation (mostly) but I do hold with headology and handing the problem back to the kid. I hold with five steps to having the kid solve the problem. I hold with not having the real world come as a surprise.
Doc Russia says the mom enabled the kid into blubbering helplessness, and I think he is correct. The mom hasn't set an effective limit on the kid in his entire born days. If it were just that mom, it would be one thing. But that style of parenting, of catering to kids, protecting them and cosseting them, is endemic here now. Why? It is the style in teachers' colleges. Why else? Because of a lot of things. The high divorce rate. Falling real income, which gives rise of the two-job family. But there's also a delusion going.
We, our culture, has this binary delusion. A or B. B is the same as Not-A. George Lakoff has it--either you have a strict father / original sin worldview, or you have a nurturant mother* / 'naturally good'** worldview.
*yeah, yeah, yeah, he calls it nurturant parent.
**this seems to mean that Lakoff is asserting that you cannot both be a progressive liberal AND an observant Christian, for whom the doctrine of original sin is required.
In this binary delusion, you define a kid as lacking in self-discipline, so he needs a setting that imposes discipline. The kid seems to be be all about his or her own self, so you take away that self through strict, rigorous military-style interaction -- a juvenile boot camp, in short. The problem is, I don't think the cure addresses the disease, just the symptom. (And in fact, the "boot camp" cure flunks the efficacy test--for brats* and for juvenile offenders)
Talk to parenting experts, school principals and teachers and you'll get an earful. Most think children behave more poorly than they did in the past - some even call it a crisis in discipline - but disagree on why. Theories range from the absenteeism of working parents, to the loosening of morals, to the violence and flippancy seen on TV shows. However, there's one area of agreement: Many parents have abandoned the top-down, authoritarian style of past eras, but they haven't found a sure-footed way to discipline their children that always seems right. "I'm not sure about everything," says Kandi Praska, a Santa Clara, Calif., single mother of three. "I'm looking at them as children under my care and supervision who need to be disciplined, but I don't want to go too far in the discipline so that I encroach on who they are as people."
Who they are as people -- isn't that the progressive ideal? But....these people, these little people, have plenty of ideas. How are they going to sort out the good ideas from the bad ideas if the little people never experience the consequences of some of the ideas, the choices?
I'm reading Zac Unger's Working Fire. He talks about his own background, which he shares with a fellow trainee, which is incompatible with the culture of firefighting:
I'd always attended earnest, progressive day schools where everyone was made to feel cuddly and special. At recess we ate teeth-shattering banana chips and drank cloudy apple juice before returing to our cooperative, non-violent games. We sang, we shared, we had "circle time." Our teachers aked, "How did everybody feel when Jenny broke her shoelace?" We expressed our emotions."
That whole style is to remove from children the sting of consequences for actions. To focus on feeling rather than factual reality. It is irrelevant how we feel about Jenny's shoelace -- did she learn how to knot it together and get on, or did somebody buy her another?
The rest of the chapter is how Unger learned to develop and put on another persona to master the demands of firefighting. In the end, the other trainee could not, and was dismissed. What is apropos here is that Unger could develop that other persona, and get the job done.
Here's another view (coincidentally, also from the same county Unger writes of) :
These children [the Columbine shooters] are not an aberration. They are the natural outcome of the way we raise children today. They were in fact crippled in their development by the childrearing environment that has spread like a virus from home to home in this country. Over the past ten or fifteen years I've become more and more aware of this epidemic, and it's reaching the point of crisis. Wherever I goin stores, on the street, in restaurants, in people's homes--I see repetitious whining, tantrums, and--even more upsetting--an increasing number of kids who look sullen and unhappy. These kids are in the early stages of what I believe is a serious epidemic of disturbed children; those who become school shooters are simply at the far end of the spectrum. The behavior of these discontented, joyless children is so common these days that many people no longer consider it abnormal. Now we rationalize it, normalize it, call it a "phase" or a "stage" at each point along the way.
Well, he's a former liberal. Henry Lawton after 31 years' experience, says bootcamps just don't work.
Boot camps appear largely based on the premise that problem behavior stems from some sort of moral failure and that the failure can be remedied by the application of iron discipline....The complexity of the issues involved can often be quite intimidating to all parties involved, which is one reason why illusory solutions like boot camps can be so attractive. Unfortunately there is no quick fix, only hard patient work possibly for years with no certainty it will pay off.
Another big of the problem with Gunny Therapy -- the yell them into submission therapy -- is it presupposes some things about the therapist. Some things that I'm not. I've always been female. I've always been about 5'5", max. Standing tall. I don't yell convincingly -- too high a register since I quit smoking.
Where is the root of my command authority? The ability to look a misbehaving kid in the eye and command respect? Even a kid who is taller than I am? How do you show a young woman how to set warm and loving, but non-negotiable limits on her kids and the kids in her orbit?
So Gunny Therapy is tempting -- and may even be the way to get the kid into do that one task in front of him (or her) that's he's balking. It relieves the offended feelings of the bystanders -- and perhaps the Gunny. Most of the respondents to Doc Russia's post have one-time stories to tell.
But what is the real solution?
I'm with Lawton. Hard work. Hey, parents, wouldn't it be better to avoid the problem in the first place?
*Boot camps do work with more serious behaviors, but are based on a philosophy of changing behavior through punishment. For punishment to be effective, a child must have a grasp of cause and effect, and how consequences work. For the most part the current generation of children who are in Emotional Growth schools and programs have not grasped the concept of cause and effect and don't understand how consequences work. Punishment backfires with these children since they don't realize their behavior had anything to do with the punishment, and are likely to assume the adult doesn't like them. They are more likely to learn positive attitudes from firm, consistent and appropriate consequences than they are to learn from punishment by a boot camp drill sergeant.
Cross-posted with More Joy In Your Family