Fewer Children Are Getting Proper Emotional Education

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Rowel Heusman, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, recently told the Senate Commerce Committee that television, movies, videos, Internet, and electronic games have assumed the "central role in socializing our children while parents have lost influence." Perhaps, this is too strong a statement, but most people would agree that children's values, beliefs, and behaviors are increasingly being shaped by their peers and the mass media, while the influence of parents and teachers is shrinking.

Peers, to a large extent, are programmed by the mass media and tend to be fascinated by the culture of the extreme. The mass media favors content that is extreme, shocking or disgusting. As a result of this combined influence, many children don't get a chance to receive proper emotional education. Instead, they are receiving miseducation about how people should settle their differences and solve difficult problems.

So the problem of aggression in today's society keep growing. Aggression is primarily a learned behavior that develops through observation and imitation. Children are constantly exposed to the hyper-masculine heroes who act simply as emotionless killing machines. Boys are particularly fascinated by extraordinarily violent images and imitate such behaviors through play, video games, and toy collection. So, how are they leaning things like sensitivity to others' feelings, compassion, or tolerance and patience necessary for learning to get along with others? Unfortunately, the answer is that many are not.

Children are learning to crush their inborn sensitivity and compassion and to don a mask of bravado. Kindness and concern for others is for "sissies." There is enormous pressure on boys to be like the male models they admire. Some children who can't adapt, become anxious or depressed and often develop an emotional disorder. According to the World Health Organization and U.S. Surgeon General's Reports, one in five are estimated to be emotionally disturbed and require emotional help. Only a few get the help they need.

Unfortunately, many families don't recognize the need for the right emotional education or the need for correction when the child is receiving emotional misinformation. The high level of stress present in some of these families interferes with parents focusing on children's emotional needs. School counselors are overburdened and are usually limited in providing services for dysfunctional families and their emotionally disturbed children.

If parents teach their children at an early age the social skills that help them to relate to others without aggression, they won't have to be trained in anger management or violence prevention programs later. Parent volunteers should work with day care and nursery schools to carry forward the emotional education into the school. Schools are stretched to their limit in trying to control an out-of-control child in a large class. Ritalin appears to be the only possible savior in such a situation. That way families and schools continue doing whatever they are doing without clashing.

Many children, particularly boys, are growing up in an environment in which they become disconnected from their feelings. When they become disconnected with their own feelings, they also become emotionally disconnected with others due to underdevelopment of empathy, sympathy and other key feelings of social bonding.

A therapist who works with teens on anger management, once shared with me his frustration with the emotional shallowness of the children with whom he usually works in groups. For example, one child may let his guard down and share with the group how he was traumatized by his abusive father and how it still haunts him. The other kids, still munching on their popcorn and sipping their Coke, would perfunctorily say something like, "I love you, brother" which wouldn't have even a grain of sincerity or emotional depth. The trouble is that almost every one in the group shut down their feelings a long time ago. Anger is often the only emotion they can express.

Having been raised in an emotionless environment with violent images and words around them, their emotional self gets buried under the rock of anger, bravado and callousness. Many children, especially boys, stop trusting others and become increasingly isolated. When they reach this stage, it becomes difficult for others to penetrate this "wall" of anger and reach them. The only emotion they can feel is anger. They don't have access to the feelings that make them feel vulnerable. Behind that wall of anger is fear or sadness, or both. It is most important to manage and settle this anger in order to make further progress.

When you can deal with the sadness and loneliness of these children, you don't have to deal with the anger anymore.

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Copyright 2000, Mind Publications 


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