Today I was thinking about how our kids are different from kids of the past. Why do older generations say things like, “These kids today”, or, “I never would have said / done that as a kid”. Knowing that our kids and humans in general haven’t changed, still having the same stages of development, the same learning preferences, and the same barriers to learning. So why are we continuing to view the past as the “Good Ol Days” in education.
What has changed is the culture our kids grow up in, more specifically who is in charge of creating the culture they grow up in. Historically culture came down vertically from adults in the community to the children. This rich culture was intergenerational, caring, specialized, full of wisdom and knowledge about one’s self and what values to cherish, and it evolved slowly over time. But this all changed in North American culture starting with Hippy movement. This was the first generation to transmit culture horizontally, from peer to peer, casting off the “oppressive” culture coming down vertically from adults and forever changing the source of our kids culture. This was the start of peer culture, and it was like nothing before it. Unlike the rich culture coming down from generations prior, this new peer culture changed rapidly, never surviving or being replicated by the subsequent generation but continuously changing faster and faster.
Let’s jump past disco, hair bands, grunge, and into the “culture de jour”. The lightening speed of the internet we have creates trends and spreads them virally. This allows for culture to disseminate horizontally faster than we can even realize we missed it. Children always looking to replace the old with the new, fearing being left behind. Think about this year with the dab, bottle flipping and fidget spinners, think about all of the different pop culture trends that change daily. It is a shallow sea of culture and our kids, unable to navigate, are lost in it.
Here is the problem we now face, with peer culture being the main influence on our kids we loose thousands of years of wisdom and lessons, being replaced by pointless trends, but most importantly we lose the ability to interact with and guide our kids. They see their peers as the most important source of knowledge and attachment, leaving parents and teachers out of luck, having to fight for their attention, having to try and use force to and inauthentic techniques to control them. Resulting in the heavy use of behavior plans, individual learning plans, reward schedules, and other ways of behaviour modifying our kids that only lead to many frustrating hours spent in the classroom.
Can we fight peer culture and win? The short answer is yes you can. It is not easy though, you will have to get back in as a guiding adult, you will have to be very strategic, and you WILL lose hard fought battles before you finally are able to collect your kids.
It all starts with creating a relationship with your kids. I know, how cliché…. Relationship development is popular right now, but it’s the only way.
Here are some specific ways of thinking about your relationships with your kids.
- You have to collect your kids before you can teach them. What I mean by this is you have to get your kids eyes, get them smiling and nodding. Only after you have collected them can you instruct properly. We are incredibly good at doing this with babies but seem to forget it as soon as kids become school age. Use those same silly key jingling type routines to collect your kids. Be spontaneous, be weird, and be funny!
- If you are unable to collect certain children in your group, as I am sure everyone gets one of those kids who is way to caught up in their peer culture to pay attention to you. Don’t think of that child as having a behavior problem, think of them as having a relationship problem. You wouldn’t think of a spouse who stops paying attention to you as having a behavior problem, it would be obvious, they have found someone else more attractive. Those children need to be pulled away from their friends and drawn toward you. Woo them, give them extra time, when they come up with an opportunity to spend time with you make it seem like you are way more excited to spend time with them then they expect. Only once you have won them back can you use your relationship with them to collect them and teach.
- Kids who are obsessed with peer culture will appear to have behavior problems, please don’t get caught up in behavior plans for these kids, they are immature, not problem kids. Peer culture is fickle, you are never secure with your constantly changing culture and it interferes with growth and maturity. The only way to help this child continue to grow and mature is to make them feel safe, always having your relationship to rely on. Make them understand that you love them just the way they are.
- Kids need to know that you love them unconditionally, regardless of their behavior, not only when they are good or do as asked. For this reason, maybe reconsider those reward schedules your have in place, or those behavior plans that give praise on the condition of good behavior. These types of behavior control are short term and are often damaging to children’s long term growth. Put in the work, take valuable learning time and invest it in relationship development, the early investment will pay dividends in the future function of your class.
When you have good relationships with your kids, teaching, learning and growth happen naturally. As humans we grow naturally, you cannot stop it from happening, unless there are broken relationships in your class.