There has been a shift in ideas in recent history toward a position that I would consider to be unbalanced in the early developmental process. After working as a social worker for a few years out of college, I learned some valuable lessons on the importance of opposition and the value of regulating it. Though I am not an accredited psychologist or education major, I do think there are some biblical principles we are over looking in the process of raising the next generation. Because this is such a tremendous subject, I will be breaking it down into several parts.
We live in a society today where opposition is viewed as an encumbrance. Technology is designed to make our lives simpler. If school is too much of a challenge, there are special placements or teacher assistants. Everyone gets a trophy in children’s sporting events, even if they don’t actually win anything or do anything particularly well. We have effectively removed any form of natural opposition that we could possibly face in life, and if we run into any more, we’ll find a way to fix those as well.
Despite all of our efforts to free ourselves of any major obstacles, the fear still remains of the opposition which we can’t predict. The constant threat of another ‘Columbine’ incident has caused parents to panic and do everything they can to prevent bully and forms of aggression. As a result, it is no longer safe to play dodge ball in gym class. Dodge ball is as American as apple pie and baseball. It’s a ride of passage for anyone in primary education. But schools have already outlawed dodge ball and other confrontational activities because they have been deemed ‘too oppositional.’ Freudian psychologist want to blame violent video games and media as the reasoning behind violent behavior in teens. But the real problem might just be that removing opposition has hindered development in the crucial areas where we are taught life’s most valuable lessons.
As a social worker, it was my responsibility to create situations of controlled opposition. At first I resisted the idea. I wanted to make the time I was with my clients enjoyable and as easy for me as possible. I figured, “If they’re happy, I’ll be happy.” But I quickly learned that there are two types of behaviorally challenged children: Those who have learned to diminish opposition by becoming the opposition themselves and those who have learned that the only way to get what they want is to fight back under opposition.
The first scenario is a result of no one challenging the child and establishing a structure for discipline. Creating havoc and tantruming whenever faced with opposition, these children have learned that they can get what they want through persistent pressure. Parents who can’t handle the crying in public, cave into rewarding bad behavior and further cultivating a deviant skill in the life of their child. One of my clients was so clever in the art of strong arming adults that he would tantrum for over three hours at a time. Whenever I gave him any directive, he would throw himself to the ground and scream as though he were burning alive. Once, someone even called the cops on me. This happened consistently from the first day that I had him. If we were at a local park, I would walk him to the baseball dug out and sit in the entrance, playing solitare, ignoring him until he calmed down. This persisted for three months until he finally realized that his strategies had no effect on me. I taught him that he was punishing himself whenever he tantrumed, and if he wanted to live a better life, he had to learn how to face opposition in a new way. This surprised my supervisor because my client had already been in the system without any change for six years. After three months, he was relatively normal. I achieved this without ever striking him or raising my voice. He simply learned that his own actions were negatively affecting his life and there was a better way to cope with reality.
In the second scenario, the child has learned that life is so harsh, to get what he wants, he must take it by force or cheating. Feeling as though they already have three strikes before stepping up to bat, these children don’t fear consequences because they don’t see that their life could get any worse. I had a client like this as well. He was the middle child of three boys, all born to different fathers. The mother made it very well known, to the boy as well, that she hated his father and the pregnancy was unwanted. Nothing the child did was good enough. Once, the boys were playing catch in the yard and I was coaching the mother to cheer on my client whenever he made a good throw or catch. I then proceeded to watch as all of her comments were filled with critique, “Nice throw, but it wasn’t straight enough.” “Good catch, for a girl.” The biggest problem the boy had was sneaking into the kitchen and taking food without asking, even though the other two boys did this frequently and openly. Because he wasn’t a master sleuth, he would inevitably get caught and banished to his room – missing dinner with the family. As long as he felt that he wasn’t going to get fed, he was going to continue to steal food. No consequences worked for this child. Grounding him was just adding to the sentence he was already serving. There was no hope for being free from consequence, so there was no reason to behave. Unfortunately, in this scenario, I could not get the mother to change her ways so I was unable to do anything for the child.
These two scenarios are extreme examples and they deal with emotionally challenged children, but these same unbalances in opposition and regulation play a major role in the character development of everyone. First, we have to look at how the situation have changed. Then we can determine if our current situation is having a negative effect on society.
(Check back next Monday for part two.)