Essay Writing as a Behavior Teaching Tool…and America’s Next Top Model
This weekend we had some friends over for dinner, and one of my 9 year old daughter’s essays was lying on the counter. This was not a school essay, but an essay that I had assigned her to write. Essay writing has been a tool that my husband and I have used heavily since our oldest was able to write.
This is how it would work typically. One (or more) of our girls would behave in a way that we were not happy with for some reason (e.g., disrespecting us, fighting with a sibling, blatant defiance, etc.). We would send her to her room to write an essay which described a) her version of what happened, b) her version of what lead up to what happened, c) her ideas on why it was wrong to do whatever it was that she did, and d) her thoughts on what she could do differently next time.
Typically these essay assignments were met with some dread and resistance on our kids’ part. Often multiple drafts were needed before we accepted a final version. Even knowing that they would sometimes write separate essay versions that were not for our eyes containing content like “my sister is a jerk,” “I hate Dad,” and the like, I truly believe the process was valuable. They learned to make connections between their behavior, their feelings, and their effect on others. They had to stop and think about these connections. And through the process of the discussions of their essays with us, they learned clear expectations for their behavior from us.
Interestingly, the essay that was out on the counter this weekend was not assigned as a disciplinary action. Rather, I was feeling that I may have been a “bad parent” in some way for letting my 9 year old watch re-runs of America’s Next Top Model. She had recently become enthralled with the show, which although it has been on the air for many years, I had never seen. Watching it with her, I was thinking aloud, “I don’t know if I should let you watch this. It doesn’t seem to have a very good message about women and body image.” So I asked her to write me an essay outlining her argument for why I should let her watch it. The essay she wrote (with the help of her older more experienced essay-writing teenage sister), was priceless. My daughter is very dramatic and is her happiest self when she is performing in some type of show. In her essay she wrote all that was learning (e.g., how to smile with her eyes, how do hair and make-up, etc.) that will help her in her future as a performer. Needless to say, America’s Next Top Model is now a show that she can watch…and I’m saving her essay.