Yelling 9-25-09    

 With all the yelling that is going on in our country -- at raucous summer town hall meetings, on televised music award ceremonies, from the floor of Congress, on the professional tennis court -- I started thinking about the impact it all has on children and what our society’s current example says to them. Teachers and parents know that it doesn’t take much of an escalation in tone for children to think an adult is yelling. Sometimes slightly increased volume and mindfully pointed words can have a positive or desired impact. In general, though, yelling instills fear, teaches an ineffective means for dealing with difficult situations, and diverts attention from what is disturbing the “yeller” in the first place.

So what do children make of a society that yells, of omnipresent sound bites and visuals that display increasingly uncivil behavior as the norm? It can’t be good, and it doesn’t reinforce some of our nation’s finest ideals: that we can disagree, civilly; that there is value in the give and take of debate, even about very difficult issues; that we can reach better decisions when we have the benefit of honestly considering opposing viewpoints; that we can hold differing opinions but still respect others’ fundamental humanity.

It’s tempting to think that most children aren’t aware of the din and the disrespect. But it’s always surprising how much they notice, absorb, and imitate.

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