At Back to School Night, I noticed my second grader’s name tag was not where it used to be. His new seat was front and center, next to the overhead projector. “Because we know he won’t mess with the cord,” the teacher confided.
“Don’t be so sure,” I joked.
“Oh, he won’t.” She seemed certain. You see, my seven year-old has already gotten a reputation as a Good Boy. Which is usually a good thing: it comes with positive reinforcement, citizenship awards, and privileges not granted to more troublesome students.
This is where I take a deep breath, and hope this is not one of those cases where “be care what you wish for” but… okay, here goes.
Sometimes, I don’t want my kid to be so good. In fact, he isn’t always “good”, like when he’s picking on his brother, refusing to eat vegetables or do homework, or throwing a temper tantrum over having to wear sunscreen. Notice all these instances happen to take place at home — or at least on my watch.
My son is a classic case of Jekyll and Hyde: the kid who is on best behavior at school… and just an ordinary, onery, ansty boy at home. Some parents would just breathe a sigh of relief here, and be thankful that the problems are hidden away, the embarassing scenes are relatively private, and be happy that their kid doesn’t get sent to the Principal’s office.
But me, no. I worry that my child:
1) has such a deep-seated fear of authority that he is afraid to overstep any limits at school. So much that he probably stifles his natural curiosity and uniqueness in an effort to fit in and stay below the radar. I worry that he will bejust another follower, robbed of innovation and the ability to think out of the box or stand up for himself.
2) has been so cheaply won over by stickers and reward charts that he’s going to become some Eddie Haskell sycophant yes-man who smiles and goes along with anyone who offers any kind of positive reinforcement, all the while seething with resentment and misplaced rebellion.
Okay, you may think those are worst case scenarios. Or maybe (especially if you’re Asian) you’re thinking, “Hey that’s the way I feel!” I am cognizant of the fact that I come from what Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers refers to as a high Power Distance Index culture (that is, a high degree of respect for authority). Although I am not Korean or Colombian, like the assistant airline pilots whose deferential avoidance of direct conflict with their superiors was attributed to high rates of plane crashes, I do come from an Asian background which places a much greater emphasis on respect to authority — particularly teachers — than American culture does. I have to ask myself: have I pressured him to be an obedient (I hate that word) student at school? And does he then release all his pent-up energy and defiance at home — aimed at me? Add to that mix that he is a first-born, classic parent pleaser.
Perhaps he just knows what he can get away with. That mom is a softie, unlike the teachers at school. Or , does he simply feel more safe in a family situation that he can act his true self, no filter necessary, where he feels so secure in his acceptance that he has no fear of repercussion? Maybe it’s just that after a day of holding it together in class, he simply needs to cut loose and let it all hang out.
In a moment of frustration with my son, I ask him, “Would you act this way at school?”
His answer is simple: “No.”
“Because it’s not allowed.”
Sigh. What do you think? Is he behaving out of fear and pressure? Or perhaps he as actually internalized some values of positive social behavior?
Maybe I should just count my blessings. Because I do have another son — a stereotypical youngest child — who is starting Pre-K soon…