With one week of summer vacation ahead of me, I've just finished the perfect book to sum up what was difficult about teaching last year.
In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People by George K. Simon.
The Amazon synopsis reads:
Dr. George Simon knows how people push your buttons. Your children--especially teens--are expert at it, as is your mate. A co-worker may quietly undermine your efforts while professing to be helpful, or your boss may prey on your weaknesses. Manipulative people have two goals: to win and to look good doing it. Often those they abuse are only vaguely aware of what is happening to them.
It continues to share what this book offers.
George K Martin was a guest on an MSNBC news show were he was asked to speak about the personality characteristics of Donald Trump and was how I found this particular book. (I'm a sucker for guest authors but they often are the best way to decide what to read!)
While this book primarily deals with adult-adult interaction, there are a few examples of parent-child interaction. However in his conclusion, Simon writes,
Inpatient psychiatric facilities in this country are bursting at the seams with young persons exhibiting significant disturbances of character. Regardless of what psychiatric diagnosis they may be given upon admission, the majority of these youngsters are brought to these facilities because of their completely undisciplined aggressive behavior. (p. 167)
My understanding of the premise is that in the past we have attributed behaviors such as these to whatever fear and insecurity neuroses these children may have had. Sympathy, compassion and understanding the underlying causes is traditionally deemed the best defense in "curing" what ails them.
It would seem that all of this "understanding" has played right into the hands of the manipulative child who will deny, rationalize, defend, and divert any anti-social behavior for the sake of winning.
This isn't one of those "kids these days" rants. I have seen all of the behaviors Simon describes in children as young as 5 years old. As a compassionate non-covertly aggressive person, accepting the fact that there are manipulative children on the planet and that it can be learned at a very young age seems unfathomable to me.
Until, that is I look at his examples of the tactics those manipulators use and recognize them as what I was fighting last year.
Characteristics of this personality type include- Self-centered thinking, possessive thinking, extreme (all-or-none) thinking, egomaniacal thinking, shameless thinking, quick and easy thinking, and guiltless thinking.(pg.38-40)
He writes of the social factors that helps to create manipulative children include permissiveness, indulgence, abuse, neglect, and lack of accountability.(p100)
Being a society opposed to those factors does not prevent them from occurring. As a teacher who sees any given child 90 minutes a week, there is a minimal amount I can do to combat these behaviors.
At least now I recognize them. I can't fix their family issues, I can't change how they relate to all of society. But I can see them in action and rather than "cutting the kid a break" because of the life s/he comes from, I can feel better about calling out such behaviors and working harder to have students be accountable for what they say and do.
I have a friend who divorced a manipulative narcissist. From the outside it was easy for me to see and explain his patterns of behavior. It took a little while for her to see them for what they were. I feel like this book has given me the tools to see some of the discipline issues I've had for what they are and has given me another way of thinking about and helping those challenging kids.