Praising kids first step to good citizens

By Andrew Bonallack

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I'M sure I was not the only one to secretly relish the idea of stocks in Masterton's town square, to punish the miscreants who destroyed several juvenile plane trees on Saturday night.

When you think about it, stocks are a reasonably sophisticated punishment, based largely around humiliation. Putting aside sunburn and bruises in the face from unripe fruit being thrown at you, it's a punishment that won't physically damage you.

About the closest thing I've seen to it is the Wellington scheme where graffiti vandals were required to paint over graffiti while wearing a highly visible pink vest.

Most of us don't understand the mentality that goes into vandalism like tree-breaking. I mean, taking on a two-year-old sapling, you have to be a dick, right? Yet we've got to have enough trust in the general goodwill of our public, otherwise we'd never plant a damn tree anywhere.

There is probably a feeling in the community that youngsters never get punished in the way previous generations were punished, and the growing malaise of youth is a consequence of that.

Yet I can assure you, from the long court lists for Masterton, that young men and women are being caught, and punished, every day, sometimes for the most pointless of crimes. I've seen people in the dock for shoplifting five-dollar earrings.

None of these young people arrive at the dock with the concept of having directly gone against a specific instruction. No one gets up in the morning armed with a list of things we're not supposed to do. We don't have an actual list to hand of morally acceptable things to do, either. We are products of our environment and our culture, and if that culture is based around praise and affirmation, then usually basic morality doesn't need to be codified.

Praise starts within the family unit. It's never too late, as parents and guardians, to start building that 'code', that culture of morality, by praising the behaviour you want to see in your children. Schools will continue the process in a scholastic manner, but they are not there to raise your kids.

There is always experimentation with youngsters, perhaps even some rebellion, and they often have an over-developed sense of justice.

But if at their core is a sense of what's right, you've done pretty well.

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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