Potiphar12's Blog
An Octogenarian in the modern world

ROOTS OF BEHAVIOUR

An article in the Daily Telegraph attributed many of society’s ills to the poor upbringing that some children receive. That is very easy to believe, but almost impossible to remedy. Some of the forces that were influential are no longer effective. Fewer people now believe that good and evil actions here will lead to reward or punishment in a future life. So the decline of religious belief removes one of the reasons for encouraging good behaviour. Centuries ago, communities were far smaller and people knew whose father and mother a child were. So it was possible for a parent to say “If you go on like that, it will make life difficult for you, and also for me. So don’t do it.” It is not like that today. Further, as well as being loved for themselves, children were valued as a support and comfort in old age. Now there is an alternative source of care. Yet again a family unit was more likely to be stable, providing a constant and ‘natural’ father and mother. Men usually went out to work and women usually looked after the home. Divorce was uncommon and children could see that relationships meant compromise rather than selfishness. So there was stability, and a child learnt through example as well as instruction.

These changes are not going to be reversed and it is pointless to label them as right or wrong. What is needed is serious debate about the values that will make good citizens, and a healthy society now. What are those values, and why are they important, and how are they to be taught? The educational system can’t help such children as return to a home where they don’t get love and guidance but do get all the wrong messages.  Children learn very fast, and there are many opportunities to learn ‘survival skills’. And where these skills are – by normal standards – wrong, no consequences follow. We have made it very easy to survive successfully by anti-social methods.

So how can children get the right messages early? Religion can’t help because too few people believe in it. The community can’t help because it no longer exists in the old way. The family can’t help if the only adults around are in a temporary and ever-changing partnership based only on selfishness.

People only change their behaviour through fear of adverse consequences or the expectation of benefit. These have to be recognised and trusted. What has got to be changed? How is it to be changed? What are the promised or threatened consequences? Will they really be delivered? It starts out very simply. “IF you put all your toys away neatly THEN we will go to the river and feed the ducks.” Are the conditions met? Is the promise kept? It is not so difficult if the logic is understood, and it is something to build on – an understanding of cause and effect. The Observer had an editorial about Parenting Classes on 20th May  2012 which said that compulsory parenting classes had been considered but quickly rejected. I wonder if paying parents to attend such classes might be a better idea. Vast sums of public money are spent on social initiatives. Maybe this should be tried.

This is written in and about Britain, a nation with a long tradition of doing nothing at all about a crisis till the very last minute.

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