It’s really windy here in Southeastern Michigan today. Whenever it’s really windy it brings back an unhappy memory about my little brother and how tolerance for “negative” behavior has changed so much over the years.

We were in a classic ‘nuns-with-rulers’ Catholic school. He was in second grade and I was in fourth. He had a really hard time at school because of our home life, which was less than rosy, to put it mildly. The unfortunate thing was, everyone thought that it was perfect at home, so they blamed all my brother’s problems on him. Poor kid.

At one point, the nuns decided to have some mercy on him and let him take home some of their valuable resource material to bring back the next day so he could try to catch up. The resources were just a bunch of paper folders with stories and questions to answer, nothing gold plated. But our dad had bought us really cheap plastic bags for book bags, and the next day was very windy. My brother’s bag had ripped long ago and when he laid it down to go play before we were let into school that morning, the wind whipped up in a fury and I watched with despair as all those pretty folders got caught up and blew away. Some of the kids tried to save them by stomping on them as they flew past, but most of them were lost. I think I blocked out how much trouble he got in for losing those papers because I don’t remember all the fallout, but I remember thinking that each one lost was a nail in his coffin for sure.

Who lets a second-grader take home valuable classroom resources? What were the nuns expecting, that a maladjusted seven-year-old is just going to be transformed into a responsible student overnight? The only thing I can think is that they were expecting our parents to engage in the well being of the materials, which they obviously didn’t, leaving my brother to hang.

But the other side of the coin is, would a seven-year-old of today be put in a situation like this? Children struggling in school today are obviously treated much different than they were when my brother was a kid. They are allowed leniencies that my brother wasn’t allowed. Oh, he turned out alright in the end (for the most part – he’s still a dork), but it bears the question, were we too tough on kids in the past, or are we too soft on kids now? If a child today lost all those materials, would he have been punished as severely as my brother was then?

Yet another question is, should a seven-year-old be held responsible for something like this? Should he be expected to ‘rise to the occasion’ in spite of his challenges at home and in the classroom? What about the pervasive theories that we’ve created generations of children that are too soft, too sensitive, too needy for positive reinforcement? Are we not giving our children enough opportunities to strengthen themselves through adversity? Are we shortchanging them by not giving them enough challenges?

I don’t have any answers to those questions, though it seems like a lot of other people do. It may sound wishy-washy, but this is one of those things that everyone has to determine for themselves. I think we need to be firm with kids, but need to temper that by teaching them strong emotional awareness. I believe that emotional awareness is what creates empathetic and well-adjusted adults and that, after all, is the ultimate goal. Creating adults that can handle what sh*t life throws at them and keep standing, with love and a smile.

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