Culture Teaches Children Discipline is Done in Anger

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

There are a lot of things that I love about working with children, but there are a few I absolutely hate.

One of those things is being “mean John” [1]

Mean John’s main focus is keeping control of a group

  1. He calls down students by name
  2. Separates children who are causing a disturbance
  3. Makes threats
  4. And uses a large number of naughty chairs [2]

What really frustrates me about being mean John is my actions are often motivated by anger [3].

I honestly hate being that way, but it’s necessary since children often don’t respect authority figures

Culture over time (through interaction with authority figures) teaches children that discipline will only be done in anger.

Explained another way, you don’t need to worry about anything until they get mad.

There are a few reasons for this, but the greatest is children don’t notice the warnings leading up to an anger stage [4].

As a child my parents had a list of warnings that let me know how much trouble I was in.

  1. Phase One: Stop what they are doing and look at me
  2. Phase Two: The look
  3. Phase Three: Shaking of the head while making eye contact
  4. Phase Four: Calling me down by name
  5. Phase Five: A verbal warning
  6. Phase Six: I’m in big trouble

Like a lot of kids I was too busy having fun, so I didn’t really pay attention until we reached phase five. Unfortunately by that point it was really hard to stop disobeying.

Kid’s want to get away with as much as they can [5] so often they will completely ignore any warnings until the authority figure is showing anger.

Kowing this many individuals (myself included) choose to set aside the warnings completely, and walk in with a strict angry persona (in my case “mean John”).

The danger with this is it strengthens the idea in a childs mind that you shouldn’t worry till somebody gets angry.

It’s true that more subtle warnings may not have an affect, but seeing steps that lead up to stronger discipline helps children see it didn’t have to be that way.

In a way it’s necessary to be mean John when dealing with twenty-four first and second graders. However it’s my responsibility to admit when my actions contribute to a flawed view of reality for children.

Maybe it’s time to turn myself into “mildly frustrated John.”

  1. That’s what I jokingly call myself when working with large groups of kids.  ↩
  2. mean john also uses the phrase “what did I just say!” very often  ↩
  3. This isn’t violent physical anger, but one that will slowly build as children continue misbehaving  ↩
  4. this may not be true anger, but will include implimenting consequences  ↩
  5. adults do this too of course  ↩

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