A couple of weeks ago my daughter and I attended a girls conference in Toronto. The morning keynote speaker was Paula Todd, a prominent political and legal reporter, feature writer and television host. Her comments focused on cyberabusers; the ‘tormentors, bullies, harassers, blackmailers, and predators’ who use the Internet to interfere with lives and harm mental health. She had a great presentation, but the twist of events that occurred afterward is what is truly worthy of mention.
Immediately following the morning session was a breakout workshop for the moms in attendance. (Randomly, I ended up being the Girls.Inc poster mom…..but that’s another story :)) The facilitator covered the important ‘how to’s’ for parents, ie: protect our children, be aware of what’s happening on the Internet, set boundaries etc. etc. At the end, one very astute mom raised her hand and offered some insights that made my heart give her a silent standing ovation! In essence here’s what she said.
‘I’m a teacher and I spend a lot of time supervising the playground. Sadly almost every morning, as I stand in the yard greeting the children, I overhear the conversations of moms who gather to chat. Very commonly I hear things like “Did you see what that b–ch was wearing today?” or “Who the he– does she think she is anyway?” While it’s important to talk to our children about what is right, we must also model what is right. How do we think our children become slanderers, gossips and bullies? What we do in our social circles is what they do in their social circles, only their actions go viral.’
Wow….no one expected that speech!
‘Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.’ Albert Bandura, Social Learning Theory, 1977
Research in psychology shows that parents are the most important influence in their children. They watch their parents, learning patterns of behaviour and establishing beliefs about themselves and others as a result of what they see modeled. Their attitudes are shaped, usually for the rest of their life, by what happens within the home. And actions speak louder than words. If we expect tolerance, we must model acceptance of others. If we expect open mindedness we cannot be critical and judgmental of others. Children learn how to treat others from how we treat others. They mimic how we handle arguments, disappointments and even how we graciously handle the blessings of life.
Parenting in the trenches is demanding. It requires skills, flexibility and a willingness to learn. My first ‘how to’ suggestion for protecting our kids from harmful behaviour is to model harmless behaviour. Good parenting is not about ‘do as I say’, it’s about ‘do and I do, and as I say!’