Friday, July 2, 2010

Assertive Kids

I work the day shift at the store, so I don't spend a lot of time around kids until Summer. It's been on my mind lately that a lot of the kids I'm seeing are unable to interact with me. Many lack the ability to say hello to an adult, to ask for assistance, to interact ... almost at all. I don't think it's about shyness, I think it's about how they are being trained to interact with the world around them. Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers discusses what it means to be successful in life, and one key component, up there with opportunity and hard work, is the ability to advocate for oneself, a skill learned as a child.

Not all parents teach this, what Gladwell calls "concerned cultivation," where a child's opinions, skills, and talents are fostered. It's mostly an upper and upper middle class value. I don't believe I grew up with these values, and I'm very grateful that it was part of my wife's life (self taught, I gather), as it's obviously a big part of how she raises our son. I try to do the same, but it's not second nature to me. I have to work at it.

The key in a public setting like mine is to teach children how to become their own advocates, to instill a sense of positive entitlement. Entitlement has negative connotations, but in a store setting, it basically means you have a right to service, to know what's going on and to have questions and curiosities satisfied. I have had children ask me a dozen questions in a row. Sometimes their parents are embarrassed, but I just smile, because I know this kid is going to be alright.

In school it would mean believing they have the right to understand what's going on in class, asking questions until they do and questioning unfairness when they see it. This might sound obvious to you, but if you were brought up in a "children are to be seen and not heard" family, it might sound presumptuous.

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