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Opinion & Essays - Jun, 1995 Issue #34 

CAUSE AND EFFECT 

One of the most common problems of students in emotional growth schools is their lack of knowledge of cause and effect. Either they do not have a clue, or their understanding is distorted. Often, they think a problem will magically self-correct when they turn 18 years old, or when their parents get off their backs, or when they get out on their own. Many of them do not believe that what they do has any impact on others. They can do outrageous things, and be honestly surprised when someone gets upset about it. 

Others have a distorted view. This might be the belief that the way to get something is to say the right words in the right way, and that actions or follow through has nothing to do with it. Another example might be the pregnant teen-ager who thought the advice to be careful meant Don't get caught. What does all this tell us about these children? 

First, it tells us consequences have not been very real for the child. Sometimes the child cannot easily process consequences (learning disability, early trauma, etc.), but usually it's because the child has never really learned to live with consequences. Maybe the parents have been overprotective of the child (This is not at all uncommon among parents faced with the crisis of an out-of- control teen-ager). Or, more often the child has mastered the technique of manipulation so well that nobody else really knows what is going on. A parent's hesitation due to a sense of fairness can be just what the manipulative child needs to control the family and avoid all consequences. Of course the high incidence of divorce, or both parents working long hours, or the increasing tendency of the society to frown on punishment and report parents to the authorities can all be used by the manipulative child to neutralize attempts at imposing consequences from parents or anyone else. 

Next, a lack of effective consequences means these children missed out on one of the most important tools for learning self-discipline and restraint. Every functional adult has learned there are times to keep their opinion to themselves, or a time to resist temptation because they realize the consequences could be very damaging. This lesson, and the resulting self-discipline, was learned largely from experiencing consequences, and learning what behavior and attitudes needs to be changed in order to prevent those consequences from ever happening again. These children seem to have the attitude they have the freedom to do what they feel like, and have not learned the necessity of self-discipline and restraint. Until they learn to predict and live with consequences (self-discipline and restraint; cause and effect), the prognosis for their futures as successful and functioning adults is poor. 

What does this suggest to us about the society these children come from? It suggests that our society puts more value on teaching children to feel free to do what they want, and less value on teaching them self-discipline and restraint. It suggests that it does this by protecting children from the consequences of their own actions. It suggests that many parents have been mistakenly convinced that good parenting consists of protecting children from the hurt from the child's own actions. It suggests that our country has forgotten how to raise children. And, it suggests that until we remember how to raise children, treatment centers and emotional growth schools and programs will be a growth industry! What Do You Think? 

Lon 

Copyright 1995, 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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