cool asks: What are the reasons for lack of discipline among youths?
Hi cool –
Well I am exactly the right one to ask about this! Because I was a terrible puppy! I loved to drive Handsome absolutely nuts with biting, chewing, yelping, escaping, jumping on strangers, anything I could do! And when I say “puppy,” I really mean until I was around 3 years old (which in dog years means 21!).
So why was I so undisciplined? Lots of reasons. The main one was that it felt good. I was (and am) very headstrong, and so didn’t like anyone (even Handsome) telling me what to do. So any misbehavior felt like I was being myself, even if it was ridiculous.
Another reason was that I had so much energy. Every molecule in me wanted to be active and wacky all the time, so if I wasn’t in a place where that was appropriate, I really had to struggle to be calm. And when I’d lose the struggle… watch out!
Of course, there often was a third reason, which was that I didn’t really know what “disciplined” behavior was. I was doing what felt right, and until Handsome would tell me it was wrong, I didn’t know.
But there are two other reasons that I had, and I would guess that most of the problems you’re seeing in youth today stem from these. The first is that puppies are designed to do lots of stuff that no one wants adult dogs to do. Puppies need to play rough and bite and chew all day. It’s part of how our bodies develop, it’s how we learn lots of necessary skills, and of course it trains us to be able to defend ourselves. Now humans are of course far more complex than puppies, but most of what we call misbehavior in children and teenagers stems from the same thing. Young humans need to learn to be independent – so they disobey their parents just for the sake of doing it. Young humans need to learn to connect with their peers instead of just their parents – so they do some stupid things just because the other kids are doing them. Young humans need to learn to interact in adult ways – so they get in fights, try out using bad language, act out sexually in everything from flirtation to dressing to sneaking out. And most important, young people need to make their own mistakes. So they have to go out and do just that.
Every parent wishes that last one weren’t true. That they could just put all that they’ve learned in their years into that young kid, and the kid would get to start from a place of wisdom and experience. But it’s never happened. Your child might learn a few things based on what you teach them, but there will be other things you try to teach that they go and screw up on their own… simply because they have to.
The less this has to happen, of course, the better. For the kid, for you, and for the world as a whole! So yes, try to teach your child all you can, try to get them to behave, and try to get them through their misbehavior as quickly as you can. But at the same time, give yourself a break: they have to do at least some, and most likely they’ll end up a lot like you. Hey, Handsome will tell you, I was a nightmare of a puppy, but now that I’ve grown up, he thinks I’m perfect!
The last reason, though, is that kids will misbehave because something’s really wrong in their lives. Unable to express it any other way, they’ll put their anxiety out in destroying stuff, acting out, and even self-harm. So if you see misbehavior getting to a degree that you really think it’s more than normal, it might be a good idea to take that kid to a therapist. Often the best sort is someone who’ll work with your whole family. It’s no sign of shame on you or your family that a child is acting out because of something being wrong. In fact, it’s the opposite – you’re being a great parent by dealing with the problem.
In closing, I do want to throw out a quote here. It’s about how awful and undisciplined this current generation of young people is today:
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint”
Says it all, doesn’t it. In fact, it’s so well said that this quote, from the Greek poet Hesiod, has lasted about 2700 years!