The Problem with “Pro-Authority” Kids

By:  Staci Stallings

The other day I was reading something on the Internet about kids.  It was talking about kids who get into a lot of trouble.  The author defined kids in two broad, general categories:  pro-authority kids and anti-authority kids.  Then he said that anti-authority kids make up 75% of kids and pro-authority kids make up %25.

Now I don’t know where he got his numbers or if this was scientific in any way, shape, or form.  I also know that some “anti-authority” kids probably got nurtured into that disposition.

The author spent all of one sentence on the pro-authority kids, two if you count their percentage and then used the rest of the article to describe what you should do with an anti-authority kid.  That’s okay as far as it goes.  I mean, if you are dealing with anti-authority kids, you probably need the help and guidance.  But here’s something most people don’t realize–pro-authority kids can be at as much emotional risk as anti-authority kids.  It’s just different and much harder to detect.

To define our terms a bit more, anti-authority kids are those who push the limits, get on your nerves, or become out-right dangerous.  These kids might be doing little stuff like lying and missing curfew frequently, or they might be all the way into drugs and gangs.  Either way, their MO is testing authority and trying to either get around it or go through it.

So you see why these kids might have some issues and why they take up a lot of our attention.

But here’s the thing:  Because we are so focused on trying to “save” or “control” the anti-authority crowd, we often neglect to see the blows pro-authority kids are withstanding on a sometimes daily basis.

Pro-authority kids are those kids who want to do things right.  Sure, they might mess up once in awhile, but basically they are good kids who try really hard.  They often make good grades, study hard, join and run clubs, hold school and church offices, sing in the choir, play in the band, are team captain, or form the youth leadership crowd.  They are sincere in their efforts to help others, to make sure life is as easy as possible, and they do it all with one purpose in mind–to make those in authority happy.

And we are.  Most of the time, we are pleased as punch that at least Karen will sit still in the classroom.  After all, the others can’t. We don’t have to worry about her staying out too late either because even for curfew she’s ten minutes early.  Yet, what we often don’t see is the incredible pressure she’s putting on herself and her desperate need for someone to notice her and love her for who she is not for what she’s doing.

To her, love is conditional on if she is good, and that’s incredibly dangerous to emotional well-being.

My kids are all three pro-authority.  (Though they have their moments!)  I’ve noticed a few things about them that I remember for myself from being in school.

One of the worst things you can do to a pro-authority kid is say they are not trying.  That will put a sword through their heart.  It collapses their will to try and even to accept a few failures.  When you begin to expect perfection, the pressure on them increases.  This can even happen if one of them normally gets A’s and you stop being excited and start taking those A’s for granted.  (I know that’s hard to do!)  This gets translated into, “Well, if they don’t care now and I’m breaking my back to study.  What would they think if I got a B?!”  And they want your admiration so much, they will go to great–sometimes unhealthy–lengths to not let you down.

Another killer for a pro-authority child is when “the class” gets into trouble.  Everyone is talking while this child is doing their work.  But because everyone is talking and the teacher gets frustrated, then everyone is punished.  Please, if you’re in authority, try not to punish the kids who are getting it right.  You don’t have to single them out as in, “Look, Johnny is sitting quietly, why can’t the rest of you?”  Just don’t rely on All-or-None punishments.  They teach pro-authority kids that no matter what they do, they get into trouble.  And it’s a very quick trip from there to learned helplessness.

Punish the kids who are doing it wrong, but try hard not to punish those who are getting it right.  At the very least set up some system of acknowledging the work and effort they are putting in to getting it right.

Always be ready with praise when your pro-authority kid gets something right and loving and safe when they get something wrong.  No one is perfect, and pro-authority kids are going to slip up.  Just don’t set up the paradigm in their head that if they ever mess up, they are worthless because pro-authority kids will go to extreme measures (that you might not even be aware of) to make you happy.

They are fragile–though they might look quite strong.  Treat them that way.

Finally, you as the authority (parent or teacher) need to work to help them understand what unconditional love is–that they are loved for who they are, not what they do.  The more you can teach them this, the less prone they are to pressurize every situation that arises.  It helps their spirit to relax and enjoy rather than panic over if they are going to get everything right.  If you can ever do this, pro-authority kids will become amazing, bright, caring, and happy people who will truly be the great leaders of tomorrow.

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