Inadequacy: A Learned Behaviour

I remember those dreaded manilla envelopes. Those awful signed, sealed, and delivered educator-sopped letters of approval, or in my case, lack-thereof. You know, those bitter, vague formalities of invalid judgement.

Report cards were filled to the brim with statements like, “your child expresses satisfactory work” and if you were lucky enough, phrases like, Joe is a pleasure to have in class” displayed themselves proudly against the card stock.

You were sent home with a rating of 1 2 3 or 4— a rating that determined not only your academic value, but also whether or not you were worthy of dessert or TV that week.

I’d watch my mother wet her fingertip with her tongue, then turn over the first page of my report card. There it would be, the inevitable remark, “Your child is progressing at a below average rate”, it would say.

Heart racing, lungs hyperventilating, my mother’s eyebrows stretching so far up her forehead, I swear she’d turned to silly putty, she’d read aloud, “Your child needs improvement.”

So, in comes the tutor. I would take the early bus to school (because 6:45 am wasn’t early enough) and spend the hour I should have been sleeping, practicing addition and subtraction facts with an old lady who smelled like spoiled milk.

This is how children learn to feel inadequate.

Inadequacy is learned behavior. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we learn to salivate at the slightest ring of reward. But most of the time, we’re not so lucky. We’re told we’re not good enough, that we should try harder.

As children, we look to our teachers and our parents as the key holders off our own self worth as well as our primary source of love. As children, we want them to be proud of us so we can feel proud of ourselves.

So what can we do then, to respect the vulnerability of young children? What can be done to allow young minds to gain the confidence that is their god-given birth right?

First, we need to start implementing mental health advocacy in schools. An East Midland teacher stated to Guardian,

We had a child lose their eyelashes due to stress, as well as numerous other pupils whose self-esteem has been damaged. The current assessment system is placing great pressure on children, which is leading to anxiety and mental health issues.

Hair picking, an impulse control disorder called Trichotillomania, is just one of the many horrific side effects that feelings of inadequacy and school stress can cause in young people.

According to a recent report collected by Columbia University, implementing mental wellness support in schools is more than effective.

Studies indicated that by utilizing emotional and social outlets for support inside schools, student’s academic achievement tests actually increased from 11 to 17 percentile points.

In addition, students were twice as likely to stay in school with a 44 percent decrease in expulsions and suspensions. A 2017 study also indicated that students receiving mental health advocacy within the school environment were able to increase their GPAs over 5 semesters compared to those students without the care.

This is great news, but its only half the battle. We also need to start holding poor parenting responsible.

Dr. Ayo Omotoso, a psychiatrist at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital says that poor parenting has the ability to cause mental disorders in children.

Omotoso states, “If the strength of the brain is weak enough, it can lead to a mental problem.”

Neglected children, as well as children who have experienced or witnessed abuse during their upbringing, are more inclined to partake in criminal behavior and face juvenile delinquency.

These same children are the ones most likely to have difficulty thriving and growing both mentally and physically.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “But, I’m a good parent.” Yeah, here’s the kicker-parenting does not have to include abuse to be considered “poor parenting”. Don’t forget, neglect can take on many forms.

Do you work late hours?
When was the last time you took your kid out, just the two of you?
Do you take the time to have dinner each night as a family and check in?
Do you ride off signs of depression for teenage angst?
Do you compare one child to another with statements like, “Anna is the brain of the family”?

Every parent, no matter how wonderful they feel they are, has areas to improve upon. Being a parent is a job. You are raising another human being.

So before you scoff and call me judgmental,
Ask your kid what they think.
Sit down.
Be humble.

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