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Self-Control: The Crucial Character Trait


It could be that the most important character trait of all is self-control. Why? The kids who are named by parents, peers and teachers as having trouble with self-control and aggression at age 8 and 10 tend to be the ones who fight and get in trouble with the law at 17 and 18. It doesn't have that much to do with I.Q., family income, or status of the parents' marriage. Being able to control oneself and get along with others is the key. Therefore, insight into what makes a child into an anti-social individual can help parents, teachers, and concerned citizens help change that destructive pattern.


It's important to note that 80% to 90% of all homicides have nothing to do with gangs and drugs. They are symptoms of spiritual illness and harmful relationships. The good news is, most of our violent crime is preventable, if we could just help young people cope with the forces that could make them "go bad."


For many of these children, they're caught in a cycle of abuse that has gone through generations in their families. They may have been physically or emotionally abused or neglected, or experienced harsh, inconsistent discipline. It leaves them feeling angry and devoid of empathy for others. They may be ignored if they behave well, and only get attention - shouting and hitting - when they're "bad." Their homes often are basically nonverbal, and they don't learn to use words instead of force to get what they want. They don't think or talk about their feelings; they just react. That's why lower-income kids who are actually angry misinterpret their feelings as wanting to have sex. Anger may be behind the teenage pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease crises as well as the teen violence and drug and alcohol crises.


When you grow up like that, it's almost like having Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. A lot of your feelings become submerged and confused. And so you turn to the illogical and insane lifestyle of using violence to communicate. Your ingrained aggression acts like a learning disability: you refuse to live by the rules, are nasty to your peers, rejected by peers and teachers alike, and that only makes you more nasty, and getting in more trouble at home and in school.


Ironically, a lot of the youths who get in the most trouble at school are among the most intellectually gifted. They're smart enough to realize that their families and their neighborhoods are not in the economic mainstream. So why even try to get along with teachers and do well in school? Those students who do try to better themselves educationally endure a lot of taunting and threats.


Social science scholars say a lot of this is due to "father hunger." Adult men are best at helping boys manage feelings of aggression and accept authority. A boy growing up in a home with his father feels protected and contained. Surrogate fathers found through sports, school and the military can be helpful.


So can teachers who model civility and positive conflict resolution:


         Practice stock answers (automatic phrases such as, "I'm sorry you feel that way") to avoid fights.

         Use humor (neutral, not ridiculing the other person) to lower tension.

         Be sensitive to what you may say that may erroneously be perceived as a slight, and be universally respectful.

         Teach kids that conflict is normal in human interaction.

         Take time to explain about prejudice, and how it's normal, but can be erased or controlled.

         Teach kids that disputes don't have to have a winner and a loser, but with negotiation, there can be two winners.

         Teach kids that to assert themselves nonviolently, they can avoid being a bully or a victim.

         You'll like yourself more when your relationships are respectful and nonviolent, not hostile and angry.


By Susan Darst Williams Heart Lessons 032 2006


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