“How was your day?”
The usually brief post-school day Dad/son conversation was off to its usual slow start. And I can’t say the “Crummy” response was all that surprising, considering that fourth graders are not known for giving up the secrets of youth without making Moms and Dads work for them.
“Was there a problem?” At least one layer of interrogation is a parental fiduciary responsibility. So I dove in.
“Not really,” said the kid who never seemed to have any homework that was actually completed at home. He always managed to get it done before the closing bell. Why not? He’s my kid and it’s only natural that he be brilliant.
Mop-hair said, “David and Cody were acting out and the whole class had to stay in for recess.”
Mass discipline never quite sits well with me but, just the same, I checked my “after-school conversation with Kiddo” box and forgot about it. ‘Funny but the conversation the next day was nearly identical except “Carlos” had been added to the list of bad actors.
“David and Cody and Carlos were acting out and the whole class had to stay in for recess.”
I was hoping that by day three the teacher would have gained control. But, no. She apparently had skipped fourth grade and had no idea how nine-year old boys would interpret her management style. The after-school conversation went like this:
“How was your day, son?”
“Let me guess. You got to go out for recess.”
“No. We stayed in again.”
“But your day was okay? How did that happen?”
“David and Cody and Carlos and me were acting out…”
Here’s a truth that you can take to the bank: The behavior you get is the behavior you reward.
Smart managers or leaders or parents know that consequences come in two flavors, positive and negative. And it’s important that you be careful to reward the behavior you want more of or you will suffer unintended consequences, like those my son’s teacher gave by punishing the entire class. My genius son figured it out early in the game, thinking, “I’m going to miss recess, no matter how I behave so I might as well join David and Cody and Carlos!”
Thanks to the absolutely awful parenting skills of many Boomer parents, our kids have learned that they are going to be rewarded or, God forbid, punished regardless of how well or poorly they perform.
We have a tendency to think of consequences only in negative terms. But consequences come in two flavors: positive and negative. That seems only to further complicate things for modern parents who want desperately to be their child’s best friend. But children don’t need another best friend. They can and will find their own best friends. In every parent-child relationship someone has to be the parent. A wise parent will understand the importance of letting at least a few of those positive consequences be withheld pending positive performance worthy of positive consequences.
I remember the day that Mr. Strickland walked into my eighth grade physics class and surprised me and Linda Stacy practicing the physics of kissing. I know he want to be our friend and I know he was playing the appropriate part of being an adult when he said, “Mr. Gross that’s going to cost you two swats.
I knew the drill. I had been in this exact same position a number of times before. I guess you could say I was a ‘regular.’
I bent over ready to face the consequences of my poor decision.
Like a golfer taking a practice swing, Mr. Strickland checked his alignment. A master of physics I knew and appreciated knowing that he would take a scientific approach. Strictly professional. Not in the least personal. He would, I expected, deliver the paddle dead on target. He considered arc and wind speed. For an instant her considered terminal velocity but then realized that he was going to hit with the paddle not drop it on me.
Mr Strickland? Sir?
Yes Mr. Gross
Can we negotiate this?
Nope. It’s going to cost you two swats.
I was thinking four might be better.
And why is that Mr. Gross?
Well you might as well give me four cause at this rate I think I’ll go ahead and kiss her again!
If you are a boss, teacher, or parent you, had better figure out how consequences work or you’ll have to help Junior look for a college that will provide puppy therapy and plenty of safe spaces.
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