To the Editor:
As a clinical social worker, I have worked with youth gangs, teachers, school districts and parents in their effort to deal with what clinically is known as oppositional defiant disorder, or in other words rebellion.
For people in command, rebellion is often experienced as a challenge to their authority, triggering an emotional response. In this dance between authority and opposition, each side plays predictable roles. Students telegraph their rebellion by symbols: saggy pants, colored bandannas, violations of dress codes and slang language that adults may not understand.
Authorities have their subculture of prejudice in private conversations with like-minded adults where youths are referred to in derogatory language.
Whether it is the police, teacher or parent, the dance begins with the authority perceiving the other person as defiant. This triggers an increase in the use of authority, be it raised voice, making demands, scolding or drawing a gun. All of these efforts are to bring compliance. Many of you have played this out with your children in what I call the “kick me” game. Your child is asked to pick up their room, but they don’t comply. In fact they seem to ignore you when you ask nicely. As a parent you feel frustrated and ask again, but in a more stern tone. After your child goes to their room, you later discover that they are in there playing with a toy. Now you are yelling. Your child now says, “Why are you always yelling at me? See, I put those toys on the shelf.”
I call it a “kick me” game because the child perceives the parent as basically unfair and not interested in a relationship, only compliance. This is true in the school, at home and with the police, as each sees the other as uncooperative and not interested in maintaining a good relationship.
If you or the police don’t want to play “kick me,” then both need to approach the situation calmly, respecting the other person. Focus more interest in solving the problem and maintaining the relationship, than getting compliance. Since everyone knows how the game will be played, I have found it helpful to break that pattern by parents asking their child how they want the situation to end when requesting them to clean their room. Almost always the child doesn’t want a bad ending either and the cooperation begins with the child engaged in the solution. This suggestion is powerful.
What if the police asked the confronted person how they want it to go down if they have to handcuff them?