A mom of a rising 9th grade high school student told me the other day that she recently had a disturbing interaction with her son. He was being rude and crude about something and when she offered him immediate corrective feedback he smugly shot back that he could behave this way because the “President of the United States, the most important and powerful person in the country, behaves this way.” She said that she threw up her hands in exasperation and frustration, saying “How do I respond to that?”
She isn’t alone. Parents across the country and world wonder how to parent in the Trump era. Children, and the rest of us, frequently now observe behaviors that are demeaning, insulting, crude, rude, and bullying by not only the president of the United States but many other high ranking politicians in the White House as well as in Congress. Regardless of one’s political persuasions, perhaps every reasonable and level-headed parent would cringe when important role models (such as the President of the United States or his recent communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, and other well-known and important figures in politics, the entertainment industry, and elsewhere) behave in a crass, crude, insulting, and demeaning way towards others.
Research in psychology highlighting social learning theory helps us to better understand that impressionable children (and others) will surely model behaviors that they see from important people such as parents, coaches, teachers, Hollywood celebrities, star athletes, and of course, well known politicians who are frequently in the news.
While we certainly can’t control the behavior of others or completely control what our children are exposed to via mass and social media we can make clear to them what our expectations are for behavior, ethics, and values and be sure to model the very behaviors and perspective that we endorse. For example, values such as compassion for those who struggle and are in need, treating everyone (even people we don’t like very much) with respect, and being honest in our interactions with others might be important for most families to support and highlight in their lives. When we witness problematic and poor behavior among our leaders (especially when they get reinforced for these behaviors) these experiences can become important teachable moments and thus they become rich opportunities to help instruct our children on how we expect people should behave in the world and how we wish to treat others regardless of what they see modeled by these well known personalities.
If we want to live in a world of honesty, integrity, respect, concern for others, and so forth then we have to push back hard to model and support these values and behaviors at every opportunity. Treating others as you wish to be treated is a really good rule of thumb regardless of one's political points of view. Hopefully, our children will get the message if we take this issue seriously and attend to it whenever we have the chance to do it. If we don't then we may not like the results as our children grow up with habits, behaviors, and attitudes that they model from others.
So, what do you think?
Copyright 2017, Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP