The most deadly disease to strike young people is “short-term thinking.” It’s more deadly than measles and chicken pox. Children are totally in the “now” rather than understanding that everything they do has positive or negative consequences.
From our very first days on earth, there are supposed to be people in our lives (parents) who teach us to avoid negative consequences. I threw a rock and broke our neighbor’s window. Negative consequences landed repeatedly on my backside. Won’t do that again. My report card contained an “F” in math. My mother went stark raving mad. Never again, I said, as I nursed my wounds.
Unfortunately, many parents wait too long, they spare the rod and spoil the child, creating a short-term thinker.
It’s not a rare event. We see it every day -- young people not thinking through an action before committing it. The young mind isn’t wired yet. They have the mistaken impression that harm cannot come their way no matter what they do. I speak from experience. I was a short-term thinker, but I was lucky -- I had a mother who beat the disease back.
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The recent case of 16-year-old Demarcus Smith, a sophomore at Northeast High School, comes to mind. He allegedly shot to death 20-year-old Kemani Ridgeway after an argument. I have to believe that if Smith had considered, before pulling the trigger, that he would end up in a jail cell rather than a classroom, he might have made a different decision. And if convicted, Smith will probably spend the rest of his youth and more behind bars surrounded by Bubbas calling him a “cute thing.”
Short-term thinking is grounded in stupidity and in the mistaken notion that the victim with the disease knows it all. And it doesn’t just infect people who commit crimes.
Children are allowed to drop out of school at 16. Those dropouts think they have it all figured out. They don’t. And it’s not just dropouts. Students breeze through high school classes not paying attention and they wonder, if they graduate, why they can’t get into college. Others get lucky and enter college where they run up debt, get poor grades and have to sit out or quit. Short-term thinking strikes again.
It’s not until mama has had enough and finally puts her foot down that the fog begins to lift. When they have to find a job -- generally minimum wage -- and start paying for everything does the reality of their situation hit home, but some short-term thinkers never recover.
How do you prevent short-term thinking? Start early. Give children gradually accelerating levels of responsibility. Don’t reward bad behavior. Do not spoil them. Keep them in church. Know where your children are at all times. Check and verify. Teach your children how to think, and how to obey and respect authority. They also need to know the value of a good name and the respect that comes when you are known for keeping your word.
Train their conscience. Do you remember learning of the angel on one shoulder trying to keep you on the straight and narrow and the devil on the other, egging you on to do something you knew you shouldn’t do? That’s called a conscience. We don’t wake up one day knowing what’s wrong or right.
All that said, parents take a lot of heat. They get the brunt of all that’s wrong in education. It’s always the parents’ fault. But is it? Parents are an easy mark, but they don’t teach below grade level. Parents don’t create test cheating scandals or hire and then keep teachers known to not be on their game.
That’s why parents are flocking to alternatives such as the Academy for Classical Education. That’s why Macon Charter Academy, opening up next school year, has to hold a lottery in its elementary grades because so many parents want their children exposed to something better. That’s why Tony Lowden’s Stone Academy is full and Roger Jackson’s Motivating Youth Foundation after-school program is constantly busy. That’s why Ray Rover’s Streets to Success is a success.
They are all teaching children to avoid the curse of short-term thinking and the stupidity that follows along behind it.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet @crichard1020.