Kids learn, grow, and develop by modeling the adult behavior they see around them. When we show kids the value of hard work, or the importance of being honest, we are displaying prosocial behaviors that help them develop invaluable life skills and a confident mindset. Unfortunately, in this moment too many kids are witnessing the opposite messaging and behaviors, especially as this applies to teamwork, fair play, and being a gracious loser. For the last few years kids have regularly seen adults disobey health compliance orders, disrupt school board meetings, and make ongoing accusations of cheating — even when there is no evidence to support such claims. While it might seem trivial to the adults acting in irresponsible ways, these behaviors teach kids to minimize the value of expertise, dismiss rules and guidelines, and yell out cheating when things don’t go their way. Is this really what we want to model and teach our kids?
The consequences of our actions
Like many of you, I grew up in an era where listening and complying to experts was commonplace, and respecting authority figures was a given. It was also expected that if you lost a game, you brushed yourself off and displayed sportsmanship by shaking hands with the opponent. What we did not learn as kids was ignore expert advice, create a scene when things do not go your way, or immediately accuse the opponent of cheating after losing a fair game. In fact, parents would go out of their way to display healthy role modelling, even in times where it was clear they were not happy with an outcome. Concepts like respect, integrity, and fairness truly meant something, and kids were taught the value of resiliency and how to “make lemonade out of lemons” when stuck in a tough situation.
Now compare those behaviors of the past to what kids routinely see today. Expert advice? Nahh, a friend’s Facebook post is just as credible. Don’t like a community or school policy? Why attempt dignified communication, or wait on the next election, when you can instead storm a meeting and create chaos? Lose a game fair and square? Why accept the loss when you can just call the opponent a cheater and say the game didn’t count. Again, these actions might seem funny to some, but it is important to think about how impressionable kids are, and what actions they will take in the future when they meet adversity and other life challenges.
A better way to go
Rather than throwing your arms in the air at every turn when things don’t go your way in life, perhaps revisiting the past can help guide us for a better future. Why not help kids understand that expert opinions should be viewed different than a friend simply telling you what you want to hear. Kids can also learn that they can both obey rules and politely express their differing views with hopes for future policy change. And what do you think will help kids develop better, learning how to be a gracious loser who displays sportsmanship, or throwing a tantrum and claiming cheating? The answers here are obvious, and it is past time we address how far away we have been removed from universally accepted ways of raising kids — regardless of our differences.
There is going to be a future outcome directly related to how kids are seeing adults act in this moment, including how we work together with one another, problem solve, and comply with experts who know more than we do about a specific subject. Kids are also watching how we handle adversity and defeat, especially the increasing number of unfounded claims made about “cheating” that more often appear as poor sportsmanship than legitimate corruption. Fortunately, there is still time to model prosocial behaviors, have important talks with kids, and teach them responsible life skills needed to overcome future stress and effectively problem solve.