Why Kids Behave Poorly

Recently, Growing Leaders teamed up with Harris Poll to discover some important insights about life in today’s culture. We surveyed 2,264 adults, ages 18 and older in June 2017. One particular insight deserves some interpretation.

In the survey, young adults said they learn more from technology than from people. Nearly 3 in 5 U.S. adults (58%) say they learn more information from technology than from people. Millennials and Gen X age 18-44 (69%) are significantly more likely to agree with this than those age 45+ (50%). The younger the respondent, the more likely they were to report how much they learn on-line. This may not surprise you. Both students and adults spend more time on screens today than ever. During much of that time, we learn something.

Interestingly, the same survey reveals that 70 percent of adults do not believe children today will be ready for adulthood when it arrives. By this they mean they’ll be ill prepared to step into a career and a self-sufficient life. And those younger agree. Almost six in ten young adults agree that they don’t feel ready.

Making Sense of Technology’s Role

I’m only conjecturing, but I wonder if the two realities above correlate. On the one hand, young adults learn more from technology—and want more technology in their life. Yet, those same individuals feel unready for adult life. Is it because what happens solely on a screen doesn’t fully prepare them for what’s ahead in the real world—and intuitively they know it?

When we go on-line, especially searching for topics we want, we are very aware that we’re learning something. We’ve even made “Google” a verb. We search YouTube. We visit Wikipedia. And did you know most of what we can find on-line has been posted in the last three years? It’s remarkable. There are scores of realities, however, that we learn not “intentionally” but “organically.” In short, we didn’t plan to discover how to treat others in our home or classroom, but we unwittingly pick up cues from teachers, parents, coaches and other adults around us. I believe young people are unaware of how much they learn off-line, from people. So—our Growing Leaders/ Harris Poll revealed how much young adults prefer to learn via technology, but also may have unveiled something more. Are we, the adults who teach them, aware we leave them feeling “unready” for adult life because we are not as intentional about modeling life skills in person?

Let’s face it. There are social and emotional skills that are best learned in genuine face-to-face relationships and interactions. Adults teach it—or fail to teach it—in person, right in front of them.

The Bobo Doll Experiment

Do you remember the Bobo Doll experiment done with pre-school aged children? It was performed by Albert Bandura and his team at Stanford University decades ago. Different groups of children were positioned behind a window, where they could see adults in the next room playing with toys. The first group watched adults play nicely with blocks and dolls, and later with a Bobo doll, a large inflatable toy that can be knocked over, but it stands right back up. The second group watched adults with the same toys, except that after a few minutes of playing nicely, the adults began to smack the Bobo doll, kick it and violently shove it around. Later, the adults and kids changed places. Now, the children had the opportunity to play with the toys.

Can you guess the results?

The kids emulated precisely what the adults had done, so closely that researchers described it as a “virtual carbon copy.” The ones who merely saw adults playing nicely did the same; the children who watched aggressive acts imitated them as well.

Organic vs. Intentional Learning

I write this only to remind you of how much students learn organically, as they simply make their way through life. They pick up cues for how to conduct their lives every day, on accident. Your students (or your children) are not even aware of what and how they learn from you. The more we can model the way—intentionally sending them signals on how to live emotionally intelligent lives, modeling how to meet obligations and take responsibility, exemplifying how to take the high road when in conflict—can make a world of difference. And I bet that’s not in the lesson plan for literature class, math class, science class or history class.

It’s about teaching life, organically.

My concern is, we the established adults, have depended far too much on the screen and the formal course to teach students. We absolved too much of our responsibility to prepare the next generation of adults, and gave it to technology. After all, it’s what those kids want. Both young and old, however, are admitting: it’s not working.

You are teaching intentionally. (Planned lessons)

You are teaching organically. (Unplanned lessons)

What behavioral cues did students pick up from you at the last ballgame you attended? What do they learn from watching you handle money? What cues do they get on how to handle conflict, jealousy, forgiveness or your work load?

We are teaching all the time.

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Why Kids Behave Poorly