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What children hear

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, August 17, 2013

There’s a scene in the movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter” where Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn and Tommy Lee Jones as her husband, Doolittle, are having a hushed conversation in their sleeping kids’ bedroom.

She says she can’t sing.

His response is, “Bull—-!”

Immediately, one of the boys sits up in his bed and gleefully parrots “Bull—-! Bull—-!” until his daddy puts a hand on his face and pushes him back down into his pillow.

I don’t know if that really happened, but it rings true.

Kids are tiny recorders. They will repeat whatever they hear, especially if it’s something they shouldn’t.

Even more important, they will grow up believing it, living it. It becomes part of them.

My wife, whose skill as a mother is about 97 percent responsible for the way our kids turned out, knew that from the get-go. Her most often-used phrase in scolding them was, “You are too sweet a girl to…” or “You are too sweet a boy to…” followed by whatever the infraction was.

It usually had them in tearful repentance with no swat needed. She said she learned it from her mother.

She coached me not to call the kids names, not to label them as screw-ups or punks, idiots or wild hyenas – not because they didn’t act that way sometimes, but because they tend to live up, or down, to your labels.

I believe she’s right. Of course, any child can choose to abandon good raising, and many rise above bad raising. But in general, when kids are constantly told they’re no good, they have a lot to overcome. And when they’re constantly reminded of their worth, they tend to live up to it.

I saw a story recently about a hacker gaining access to a 2-year-old girl’s baby monitor – not the “walkie-talkie” kind, but a web-based camera with a microphone and speaker, mounted in the baby’s room – and using it to curse and swear at the child.

According to CNN, a suburban Houston couple heard a strange voice coming from the bedroom of their two toddlers. When they checked, they heard a voice from the camera cursing at their children. The camera pivoted to them when they entered the room and they got cussed, too, before they unplugged it.

My first thought was, how sad that someone uses a computer and obviously some degree of expertise to invade a child’s bedroom with that kind of filth.

There are few things in this world sweeter than a sleeping baby – the picture of innocence and trust. The idea of some perverted hacker cussing at a baby makes me want to find him and do some cussing of my own, accompanied by a good whipping.

Then it quickly occurred to me that cursing and whipping are probably what brought that sick soul to that point in the first place.

I can’t imagine what kind of upbringing would produce the kind of character whose time and technical skill would be devoted to hacking into a monitor so they could cuss at a baby.

The parents, of course, disabled it. If they do their job, the incident is unlikely to warp the babies, who didn’t even wake up.

In a home with parents who care about them and let them know every day that they are loved, it’s unlikely a cussing baby monitor will knock them off course.

Over the next couple of weeks, teachers will welcome the children of Texas back to school.

A significant number come from homes where they are loved, encouraged and supported. Like their parents, they aren’t perfect, but when they’re disciplined it’s about their actions, not who they are. They come to school believing they’re good people.

But sadly, there are many who don’t need a hacker on a baby monitor to get cussed – they’ve been getting that from Mom and/or Dad all their lives.

They’re beat-down, insecure underachievers who have little or no self-esteem because they don’t think they deserve any.

Teachers tell me you can see it in their pain-filled, downcast eyes.

Good teachers work hard to build those kids up, to get them into something they can excel at and provide positive reinforcement. Sometimes that teacher’s smile is the only one they’ll see all day.

But everything a teacher can do can’t compete with the words of a parent.

With school about to start another year, it’s a good idea to pray for everyone who touches the lives of our kids – teachers, administrators, aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, all of them.

But put parents at the top of that list. No one can impact a child – for good or otherwise – like they can.

Bob Buckel is executive editor of the Messenger.

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