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Opinion & Essays - Dec, 1994 Issue #31 

What Do You Think? 
What Emotional Growth Schools Can Teach Us 

How To Parent has been a growth industry for years. Popular books on the subject go back at least to the 19th century, and any contemporary book store will have several titles purporting to teach all the secrets of successfully raising a child. 

Unfortunately, parents receive many conflicting and confusing messages on how to raise children. Many of the "experts" contradict each other because they have different and conflicting world views. 

It would make more sense to me to start with "what works". That is, look at teenagers who were making destructive choices (At-Risk; Out-of-Control; Self-Destructive; etc.), and figure out what changes in their thinking produced more positive behavior. Once we learn what is commonly missing in the thinking of those who are failing at growing up, it would be relatively easy to list some of the vital lessons all children MUST learn in order to grow up to lead productive and rewarding lives. 

Emotional Growth Schools and Programs are an excellent place to start. They have years of experience in helping children learn more constructive behaviors and attitudes. Their survival depends on meeting the needs of these families, and if any school or program is not successful in bringing about positive change, it goes out of business. Those that have survived, have survived because they are successful in taking children who are failing, and starting them back on the road to success. They are also successful because they have learned to "screen out" those adolescents with serious mental illnesses. Those children need treatment in addition to structure. 

Among professionals working in Emotional Growth schools, there is general agreement as to many of the lessons virtually all of their students need to learn. These are the lessons every child must learn sometime, in order to have a chance at living a constructive, purposeful life. Just a few of the key lessons are: 

CONSEQUENCES: Many of the students enrolled in Emotional Growth schools came there without a clue as to Cause and Effect, and most of those who did have some concept, had a distorted understanding. This can manifest itself as anything from the confused kid who says "I don't know why everybody is down on me" to the manipulative kid who might say "I can talk anybody into anything." This often is a hard attitude for adults to work with because they take it for granted that the kid understands consequences and is just being difficult or contrary. Yet, much of the self-destructive and apparently dumb and/or crazy activities of out-of-control teen-agers make more sense if you realize that in a consequences sense, "They do not know what they are doing." One of the most important things that an effective Emotional Growth school provides is the structure so that the child experiences positive and negative consequences that are immediate, appropriate, consistent and understandable. The lesson for parents, teachers and any other adults working with children is that starting from an early age, children must experience consequences of their actions. 

TRUST: It is inconceivable that a person could live a satisfying life if he/she were unable to trust, at some level, their spouse, family, co-workers or friends. It would have to be a very fearful and lonely life to always be suspicious and on guard against everyone at all times. Yet, many of the children enrolled in Emotional Growth schools and programs either trust the wrong people, or have trouble trusting anyone. Unless they can learn how to trust, and wisely, the prospect of their future happiness is grimm. Effective Emotional Growth schools provide strong adult role models who can always be there for the child. The lesson for adults working with children is it is vital that every child have at least one adult who knows and understands that child and is always there for him/her. The sacrifice is more than worth it, for most children can learn that trust is a real part of the human condition, if given the chance. 

FRIENDSHIP: Sharing and doing with friends is the spice of life. Yet most children enrolled in Emotional Growth schools had no idea of what a real friendship is. Their friends demanded little from them, because basically those friends thought little of anyone, including themselves. All Emotional Growth schools and programs teach some variation of, "To have a friend, be a friend." They teach the students that the best way to be a friend is to see and support the best in others, and to do their best to provide the best from yourself. The lesson to parents and other adults working with children is it is very important to treat children with dignity and respect, and to support their efforts to express their best side, without supporting their worse side. 

WORK ETHIC: Not only is work and accomplishment necessary to earn a living, but it is necessary for a sense of self-esteem and contribution. Yet, many of the children enrolled in Emotional Growth schools arrive seemingly allergic to work. To them, work is merely drudgery, and something to get out of whenever possible. Learning the lesson of how to work, and appreciating the value of work, comes only after he/she has experienced the satisfaction of overcoming challenges through his/her own effort, and/or seeing the tangible fruits of his/her labor. At that point, the child begins to learn the lesson of what work really means to creating a full life. Emotional Growth schools have found that the work must be necessary, the work must challenge the student while not being more than he/she can handle, and must provide a tangible and visible result. The lesson to adults working with children is the child must be allowed to contribute, and that the contribution is more important than what is actually accomplished. 

Parenting is essentially teaching a child in the ways of the world, and preparing the child to function successfully as an adult. Students in Emotional Growth schools and programs for the most part are those children who, for whatever reason, missed the lessons of childhood. Emotional Growth schools and programs are a second chance for the child to learn those vital lessons, and by understanding the experience of Emotional Growth schools and programs, parents can prevent a child from ever needing that second chance. -LON 

What Do You Think? 

Copyright 1994, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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