Monthly Archives: March 2013

Tough Love Can Translate into Tough and Tragic Endings

Have you ever heard of that controversial group known as Tough LoveTough love is an expression used when someone treats another person harshly or s40396694-woman-cryingternly with the intent to help them in the long run (cruel to be kind). The phrase was evidently coined by Bill Milliken when he wrote the book Tough Love in 1968 and has been used by numerous authors since then. Genuinely concerned parents refusing to support their drug-addicted child financially until he or she enters drug rehabilitation are said to be practicing tough love. However “Tough love” boot camps for teenagers have been described as child abuse, and the National Institutes of Health noted that “get tough treatments do not work and there is some evidence that they may make the problem worse”. This is not Milliken’s vision of tough love.

What the British call tough love can be beneficial in the development of preferred character traits in children up to five years old. However, the British adhere to the concept of “authoritative” parenting, whereas American ideas about tough love are closer to the notion of “authoritarian” parenting,  usually with positive outcomes. Tough Love advocates auangry-woman-Manasthoritatarian parenting, not authoritative parenting. The latter tends to widen the gap between troubled teens and parents, resulting in behaviour that becomes progressively negative. Authoritative parenting, also called ‘assertive democratic’or ‘balanced’ parenting, is characterized by a child-centered approachthat holds high expectations of maturity. Authoritative parents can understand how their children are feeling and teach them how to regulate feelings. They often help their children to find appropriate outlets to solve problems. Authoritative parents encourage children to be independent but still place controls and limits on their actions. Authoritarian parenting, also called strict parenting, is characterized by high expectations of conformity and compliance to parental rules and directions, while allowing little open dialogue between parent and child. Authoritarian parenting is a restrictive, punitive parenting style in which parents make their children follow their directions and respect their work and effort. Authoritarian parents expect much of their child, but generally do not explain the reasoning for the rules or boundaries.

Sometimes, regardless of parenting styles, children and teens develop severe behavioural problems. Thespanic disorder pice are not neurological issues, but rather making bad choices and simply defying family rules. Enter Tough Love, a group for parents  raising difficult teens and adolescents. Facilitators are volunteers who organize the program. Members are parents who need answers and guidance from these armchair psychologists who have no credentials, simply a licence to allow the group to meet. Sometimes Tough Love makes sense. There are success stories, as there are in all groups, including that of a well-known celebrity.

Erin Brockovich, the woman portrayed by Julia Roberts in the film Erin Brockovich, faced her own family crisis with her 16-year-old drug-addicted daughter, Elizabeth. Erin didn’t want to believe that Elizabeth financed her $500.00 a week drug habit by stealing from her family, but finally she took action and cut off Elizabeth’s finances. This was financial tough love.  In tough love terms, it means n”o money, no car, no food, no shelter because ultimately those are the things that can be converted to drugs.” Erin put a lock on her door and permitted Elizabeth to re-enter the family house when she stopped coming home high on drugs. Elizabeth also had to accept a $20 a week allowance, rather than her previous $500.00. Ultimately, Elizabeth claimed her mother’s tough love saved her life.

Elizabeth’s “life-saving” experience was lucky.  There have been children who lost their lives due to Tough LovLeslie-Mahaffy150e’s perimeters. One famous case is that of 15-year-old Burlington, Ontario schoolgirl Leslie Mahaffay, who became Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka’s third torture-rape victim. Among other issues, Leslie frequently broke curfew and finally after a session or two with Tough Love, her parents locked the door after Leslie stayed out too late one night.  It was the worst decision of their lives.  Leslie’s body was found approximately one week later, dismembered and encased in cement in Lake Gibson, near St Catherine’s, Ontario. Two years after their daughter’s murder, the Mahaffays divorced.

Tough Love can’t be entirely blamed for tragic endings, nor can it be entirely lauded for success stories. But any alternative parenting style taken to extremes is something that needs to be tempered, balanced with the individual dynamics within a family. TL is not a one-size-fits-all model for struggling families. Sometimes there are no answers, easy or otherwise and that’s just how it is. Parenting groups, especially those facilitated by non-professionals, must be approached with caution…or not at all.

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Doling Out the Medicine During Parent-Teacher Interviews

Boy-ReadingThis isn’t as easy to do as you might think.  Telling a child’s parent{s} that their child is a constant disruption and distraction in class for you, the teacher, and the class, is not easy medicine to take or to give.  No one wants to state that a child is disrespectful, rude, doesn’t care about doing their work, and anything else that happens in class with a child.  Seriously, I’d love to be able to tell every parent who walks into my classroom for their interview that their child is a dream and hard-working, too.  I’m not referring to academic ability or intellect.  We are who we are.  When a child is trying her best to learn but the work is very difficult, then it is our responsibility to put a formal educational plan in place for her. When the work is difficult, but in working hard and staying focused, the child can succeed to the best of his personal ability, I’m satisfied with that.

I used to have a hairdresser who told me that when he sent his children to school, if they didn’t get straight “A’s“, they would be grounded and have other consequences. I tried hard to talk him out of that mindset.  Very few children in Ontario receive straight “A’s.”  In fact our provincial standard achievement (meaning the majority of students across the province) is a B.  The latter states that the child is bright, hard-working and doing just fine.  scholarshipAn A is nearly impossible.  This is well beyond the provincial standard and often these children get recommended for what we call the “Challenge Program” by grade 3 Or, the student has the option of enrolling in French Immersion class, whereby beginning in grade 4, all lessons are learned in French for the morning, and English for the afternoon, until grade 5, after which time the entire school day is taught in French.  If your average B child can qualify for that program, then we must be doing something wrong.

My three nieces are straight A students.  Needless to say, they have all completed the French Immersion program and are fluently bilingual.  I remember Janice, the eldest niece, being filled with excitement when she got her first C She couldn’t wait to brag about it.

Good job!”  I gave her the thumbs up.  That’s how bright a child has to be to achieve straight A’s.  Never a C before French Immersion in her life.  She didn’t understand the concept of homework, either.  She would look at her friends in wonder and ask them why they brought schoolwork home.  Janice wasn’t being sarcastic.  She really didn’t get it (probably the only thing she hasn’t understood in her life).

Last year when I was teaching a split 1 / 2 class, I had a very unusual mother attend an intervieBully-Free-Zone-Sign-K-7059w.  Her child, a strong B+ student, wasn’t achieving as well as she should, in her mother’s opinion.  She believed her daughter could achieve A’s if only her work was more difficult.  She wanted me to place her on a more challenging program.  This necessitates formal testing and, if the child is indeed too advanced for her current grade level, she is given an IEP (Individual Education Plan) to accommodate her needs.  Naomi wasn’t an advanced child.  She was bright, worked hard, paid attention, and was a teacher’s dream come true in the classroom, but she wasn’t a child who required a curriculum beyond her current grade.  Her mother was adamant.

She is going to medical school,” she insisted about her 7-year-old child.  “We have big plans for her.”  I explained our grading system and showed Naomi’s mother the curriculum strands that detailed her level of achievement.  Her mother didn’t want to see it.  “She isn’t trying hard enough. A harder curriculum will help her.” This curriculum hasn’t been put in place since it isn’t needed.  Naomi will spend her elementary school years hearing from her mother that she doesn’t work hard enough, and isn’t taking her distant future seriously.

Poor kid.

You are the Weakest Link

Recently our administrator gave a talk about consistency among the staff in terms of trouble-shooting with students to maintain rules and avoid trouble.  For instance all students now have to carry a washroom pass when they go to the washroom, instead of leaving one on their desks so the teacher knows who is out.  Same with hallways.  That makes sense.  We’re also supposed to be questioning every student in the halls who has no pass, stop those who are skipping or running, kick out kids who seem to be loitering, and the list goes on.  Keep in mind we are a small elementary Catholic school, but I do agree that rules are rules and keeping consistency is a wise move.

The same is true of our anti-bullying program in the schools.  There has been a specific program the school board recommended that we use and we have an internet link to it.  It is to be incorporated into classroom teacher’s lessons, most likely in Family Life or in Religion.  Of course, anti-bullying is a message that is meant to permeate the entire program. Every teacher and student is advised to partake in this behaviour, to strengthen the chain and assure a safe, successful school.

Here comes the weak link in the chain:

A child commi3078818748_108e522cd1_zts a serious infraction: absolutely foul language of a nature you wouldn’t think could come out of the mouth of an 8-year-old.  The words are so nasty that the 4 children to whom they were uttered were weeping when they reported the offence to me – including a boy.  Needless to say, I was irate.  Managing to keep my temper in check, I brought this child to the admin’s office.  It was a day when the school was scheduled to have a dance and I proclaimed to him as we walked down the hall, “you’re not going to the dance.” He started to cry.  Give me a break.  At the principal’s office, he simply said happily, “just leave him with me.  I’ll take care of it.”   I didn’t like the sound of it but what choice did I have except to leave?

Now you know this errant child isn’t going to admit what he did.  He lied..as he usually does.  The principal must have accepted whatever the child said because 10 minutes later, the classroom teacher found him inside the gym, at the dance.  She marched him right out again and insisted that the admin, on both our behalf, keep the child out of the dance.  He threw up his hands and said, “okay, okay,” as if to placate US.  Not to protect the student body, but to keep the angry teachers happy.  What?

Where was the conBoy-Wishingsistency in this case?  There wasn’t any.  This child has ongoing issues and the school practices progressive discipline (which is supposedly proactive, rather than reactive, but since there isn’t any PD in place, this clearly isn’t happening).  For all of his talk about consistency and maintaining a like-minded school, he fell down on himself.  And the students. And the teachers.  He doesn’t see it that way of course.  He just doesn’t want any problems from the parents, the board, the superintendent, and God above.

There’s a lot of talk in our school boards about preventative measures regarding student behaviour, but where is it actually happening?  I don’t see it in place.  If it is, it certainly isn’t working.  We have an audit to fill out and send to the administrator this week about what we would like to see happening in terms of school discipline and behaviours.  I can’t wait to throw in a line or two about administrative behaviours.  A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, isn’t that what they say?