by Cheryl Jackson Wednesday August 10, 2011

I found this on Twitter, a parenting blog called "The London Riots - Teaching Self-Control".  It may seem a bit of a stretch to tie the violence in Britain to kids' behaviour, but I think there's something here.

First of all, the London riots are a complicated mess. There is no one reason for the violence, the looting, the arson. Analysts are working overtime trying to figure it out. Some say the young looters are the "unentitled", kids without hope. The BBC's website contains a feature page of analysis, asking if technology is to blame for the riots, and what turns people into looters? Today's Globe and Mail editorial asks, among other things, "where are the parents of the teenage thugs? What happened to the other restraints that typically prevent human beings from turning on others?"

I'm asking the same questions today.  There's no doubt in my mind that these young rioters are disenfranchised and feel they have nothing to lose. They're poor, they have no job prospects and if they watch the news they probably just want to curl up and die. Instead, they're having a mass tantrum, that dreaded tirade most kids learn to control around the age of four. In the long term this may help them, if the government wakes up and starts investing in young people.  In the short term it won't, but they don't seem to know what else to do. What happened when they were kids? Where is their self-control? They know what they're doing is wrong, but they do it anyway. They could walk away from the group, but they stay.

This idea of self-control, or self-regulation, has been getting a lot of attention in teaching and psychology circles lately because it's a predictor of success. It makes sense. The child who learns to control his or her impulses is more likely to manage in the classroom, at home and at work. So, why do some of us have more of it than others? Can we teach self-control?

Psychology and philosophy professor, Stuart Shanker, talked to me about self-regulation and describes the famous 'marshmallow test.'  He's an expert on this topic and worth listening to. Here's that interview: 

We've explored the idea of attachment, the way parents bond with their babies, which affects self-regulation and we've learned about research that shows reading with your child increases empathy, or our ability to understand others' feelings.

All of this has something to do with what's happening in Britain. It can't be ignored.