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National Editorials & Columns

Literacy encourages flexibility and productivity

S. E. Hinton wrote “The Outsiders” at age 15, which proves that good writing doesn’t demand years of living. “The Outsiders” is a “Have versus Have-nots” story with which most of us can identify.

Most teens feel left out or ignored at one point or another so they identify with Johnny as he struggles to reconcile what he’s done and Pony Boy as he tries to determine what the right thing to do is and how to save himself and his friend. True to real life, it’s not a happy ending but sometimes we learn life’s lessons the hard way.

We need to investigate things that are not comfortable. We’ve discussed aspects of physical abuse and abuse by neglect. What about emotional abuse?

Just as your child can’t learn well, read well, do well if he doesn’t feel safe and cared for physically and mentally, he can’t do well if he doubts that he is capable of achieving. The whole issue of bullying combines so many kinds of abuse, but one long-term one is emotional damage.

Sometimes we see all the things our children don’t do well — either by society’s definition of “doing well,” or by an inner definition. Enough factors in the world encourage us to feel bad about ourselves, so drilling a person with their faults or lack of abilities doesn’t raise the standard.

Emotional abuse is many sided. Sometimes it comes even from well-intentioned parents. Some abuse that I’ve experienced are comments like: “You only got an A-minus, why not an A?”; “You’ll never make the Olympics. You can’t even run gracefully”; and “You aren’t pretty, so you’d better work on your personality.”

Emotional abuse isn’t always where you expect it. Sometimes it is in comparing your child against your own dreams, siblings, friend’s children, or other criteria. Each child is an individual with his own personal set of abilities and faults. As parents, we need to help them recognize and develop their abilities and minimize their faults.

Emotional abuse may be in the form of “I told you so...” rather than guiding. At times we may need to hold our tongue, pick up the pieces, and redirect our child.  Emotional abuse includes indicating that what is important to our child is really “juvenile.”

Children need encouragement on the little things of life, so they can learn to face the big things.

Laughing and teasing is often emotional abuse. Much so-called “humor” is really thorn, barbs, and swords that jam weaknesses into our face. A child needs honest, sincere praise for what he or she does well, then, guided to develop skills in what he doesn’t do well, yet accepted for what he can’t do.

Adult success is largely based on our literacy and our self-esteem. Abuse of any kind mars, if not defeats, success.

Looking at literacy from the viewpoint of the business world provides more food for thought. One statement caught my eye in the report “Measuring Up in Our Schools,” “...our companies need workers who are more capable, more flexible, and more productive...”

Literacy encourages flexibility and productivity. Literacy is a little like the wisdom found in the old saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” If you choose to be literate in only your little section of the world, it is more than likely that somewhere down the road of life, you will become a relic, especially at the pace of today’s progress.

Literacy enables people to prepare for responsible citizenship through learning to reason through what they read. I fear Americans often shortcircuit themselves because they are content with surface literacy and surface learning.

Surface learning may look nice, as do surface manners. Think of someone you know who has perfectly proper manners and appropriate social behavior, but has little consideration for the welfare of others. 

True manners spring from the idea that we want to be as kind to those in which we come in contact, as we would expect them to be toward us.

True literacy means looking for the deeper message underneath the surface meaning. If we want our children to become literate, we need to stand tall as their primary role model.

Can we really expect to raise literate children if we fail to practice literacy? Nothing defeats me more than to hear an adult brag, “I never pick up a book, magazine, newspaper, etc. I don’t need any of that stuff.”

Actually, they can’t believe that statement in today’s world. Try convincing Uncle Sam that you aren’t literate enough to file your income taxes. Nor would you choose to be so illiterate you couldn’t check your pay stub, or read the warnings on herbicide.

I know of no person who “teaches” their children to watch sports or television. Children watch these for two reasons basically.

First the sport or television catches their interest and secondly they see the important people in their lives watch it. After all, children reason this must be important because Mom and Dad pay tribute to it.

If you want a child to learn to read or to do anything new, then set him or her up for success, not failure. We can do that even if we have failed repeatedly ourselves. We don’t have to fail as a parent because we fail in other things.

Our children are our biggest cheerleading section. They want us to succeed with all their heart, even when they appear to fight us.

Get parenting help in those areas that you feel inadequate. Don’t take it out on your child for your own inadequacies. Help your child by helping yourself.

If you see danger signs of abusing physically, mentally, or emotionally in yourself or others, seek help. Feeling good about yourself allows your child to feel good about himself or herself.

Until next week — Christine Pauley

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