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COLUMN: Promoting complacency in children creates complacent adults


I can't count the number of times my teachers or parents told me I was "a pleasure to have in class". 

This may sound like a compliment. What type of student I was? I sat still, stayed quiet and only spoke when called on. 

In other words, I was a complacent student. According to Merriam-Webster, complacency is "an instance of usually unaware or uninformed self-satisfaction".

I became proud of being a good student. I kept up the same behavior from grade school on. What I didn't realize though is that this self-satisfaction was providing a false sense of security. Yes, I was easy for teachers to deal with. I got good grades. I also became scared to do almost anything that naturally came to me in class. I believe that this pattern of striving for obedient behavior helped contribute to my extreme anxiety as I grew older. 

Too much obedience in children can be dangerous, according to Psychology Today: "Obedient children grow into obedient adults. They're less likely to stand up for themselves and more likely to be taken advantage of." Yes, there were instances when I was taken advantage of by people I thought were my friends. It was because I was scared to speak up for myself. 

Kids Matter explains that children with anxiety issues are often quiet and obedient, which can lead to those issues being overlooked. Thus, when children are praised for being obedient or described as "a pleasure to have in class," they are taught that quiet, withdrawn behavior is good. This leads to them to be complacent, because they feel they are satisfying adults' expectations, when they're actually practicing behaviors that can lead to anxiety and depression. 

"Children with anxiety symptoms can be more likely to grow to experience depression as teenagers," according to Kids Matter. Complacency is very dangerous in children because they don't yet understand the complexities of life. They believe good is good and bad is bad, there's no in-between in their minds.

According to Psychological Self Help, we live with basic assumed beliefs: (1) "That our part of the world is a good place. (2) That our world is just; that good things happen to good people and bad to bad; that we usually deserve what happens to us; that life events are within our control. (3) That we are always good, decent, and capable (we over-estimate our strengths and overlook our weaknesses; we claim responsibility for positive outcomes.) Because of these beliefs-- really often deceptive illusions--we feel safe and complacent". 

These beliefs apply to people of all ages. Thus, children are much more susceptible to feeling safe in carrying out what are actually negative behaviors. When children receive praise, they will seek it again through the same pattern of actions. Children who find comfort in their complacency will never work to grow or expand who they are. This can lead to severe health concerns, such as anxiety or depression, while growing up.

When I interact with children I encourage them in learning new skills and explain to them why another behavior may be bad. When children get this direct information, they feel more comfortable with learning and asking questions.

Take the first step to educate children on how they should never be afraid of change and growth.

If we teach children to be respectful and cooperative rather than obedient, they feel more free to think and act for themselves. We must allow children to develop their own thoughts and actions. 

They must learn to be independent because one day they will be on their own. Children deserve the respect and freedom to develop their own mind.  

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