by Tim Middleton
There is a popular game called ‘Consequences’ whereby players are given a piece of paper and write the name of any famous man on the first line before folding it over and handing the paper on to the next person, without the next person seeing what is written. Each player then writes on the sheet of paper handed to them the name of any famous lady, before once again folding the paper over to cover what is written and passing it on to the next person. The process continues with each person writing where the two met, what the man said, what the lady said, what the man did, what the lady did and finally what the consequence was (and even what the world said). When the sequence has been completed, each person opens up all the folds and reads out the story in front of them.
The stories that unfold are often totally random, highly amusing, extremely bizarre and completely implausible — but who cares? An example of what might be read might be that one day Mahatma Gandhi met Meryl Streep at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting when he said to her, “What price are your chickens?” to which she replied, “I must make a doctor’s appointment.” He then did a somersault; she bought a pair of glasses and the consequence was Manchester United lost their next four matches (and the world said, “Long live peanut butter!”).
Here is another story, not involving famous people, but set in a school. One day a senior pupil met the Deputy Head of the school. He said to her that he wanted to have permission to do something that was not allowed or possible at the school and she said that she would not give such permission. He went outside and phoned his father, a local priest; she continued with her work and the consequence was that the father phoned the Headmaster and said that if the school did not give permission for his son he would bring in the war vets —and the world said, “Oh, boy!”
Once again, the story is extreme, bizarre and so unreal. The fact is though that this latter story is a true story, completely, in its entirety. It is not a random collection of unrelated clauses; it actually happened. What the incident did highlight, in several ways, however, was the whole position regarding consequences. The fact is that, for the most part, consequences are logical and predictable; they literally follow actions. In other words, as children are constantly reminded, and need to be reminded, our actions have consequences, no question. They must consider potential consequences, to them and others, before they engage in any activity or conversation. Furthermore, children have to be forewarned that poor decisions will not only perhaps have natural consequences, but also disciplinary consequences.
The point is that we need to train youngsters to accept the consequences themselves, to deal with them themselves, and not seek others to provide the consequences. Children will never learn if they do not learn to accept the consequences of their actions. The boy in the story above learned that if he does not get his way he only needs to call his father who in turn will call in his friends to deal with it, like the child in the playground who retaliates with, “I’m going to get my big brother on you!” (or his dad or someone bigger who will ensure he gets what he wants). The child is not facing the consequences of his actions himself.
We see it all too often in schools: the child misbehaves and is disciplined in one way or another; the child goes home and tells his parents what happened (portraying himself in the best possible light, to show it was not fair) so the parent (not always the father) immediately tells his son not to worry as he will deal with it by going to demand of the school authorities a change in the decision. The child would learn far more if the parent rather told the son that if he was not happy with the decision he should go himself to the school authorities to argue the cause. Getting someone bigger or stronger to do our bidding is not helping anyone.
We must understand, however, this is not a game. There are serious consequences for our children if we do not allow them to face those consequences themselves. We are not helping them if we sort the problem out for them. Actions have consequences, for the most part serious ones — and we do care about that, deeply. If we do not do so, the world will say a lot more than, “Oh, boy!”