Wednesday, April 04, 2007

How to reply to (the extremely disrespectful) "Whatever!" . . .

BBC News includes an article today:
"Unruly children used to answer back - now they just crush any comeback with a glib 'whatev-ah.' How do you respond to a word that kills off all debate?" . . .

It's a catch-all response which can mean many things, commonly "I don't care", but also "this is the end of the conversation." . . .

For some it's a humorous retort (replaced by fingers and thumbs in a W-shape for the non-verbal version) and a new addition to the slang lexicon, but for others it's a depressing symbol of an alienated generation.

Now teachers say they have had enough because it's constantly used to challenge their authority. . . .
So is there a decent response? How do you break past the obvious rudeness and disrespect?

Ralph Surman, a deputy head teacher at a primary school in Nottingham and a member of a government task force on school behavior, says he thinks the phrase is not disrespectful or rude. (!!!!) Instead, "It's like a toddler saying 'no.' They don't mean 'no' but say it to everything because it feels nice. The syntax feels nice on the teeth and the tongue."

However, even he admits that, by using the phrase,
young people are opting out of communicating and avoiding the use of language.

"It builds a brick wall around a world that you cannot reach into but that person can reach out of, if they wish to."

It's very difficult to respond to what is effectively a full-stop in the conversation, but the key is to give the child options by asking them a question.

"You lead the person in a different direction. . . . 'So are you saying to me you don't want to do this or you want to know what the other choices are?'

"You can say, . . . 'What did you mean?' And give them choices. It does work. People can communicate." . . .
Paula Roe, a secondary school teacher in a large comprehensive in the West Midlands, with 28 years of experience, says . . . [s]he prefers a zero-tolerance policy imposed by all staff. . . . "[I]t needs to be treated in the same way as a swear word or an expletive."
Happily, our kids never picked up this habit. But if they did, now that the BBC article raised the issue and got me thinking about it--and suggested some underlying means, even, of interpreting the phrase, I think I'd want to handle it the way I would any swear word. With younger children I suspected had "picked it up" without understanding: I'd want to make sure they understand it is unacceptable speech: "You don't want to use that word. We don't use that word in our family." If necessary, I'd explain its social meaning: i.e., something along the lines of, "If you use that word, you are telling the person that you hold him in low regard; you wish he were dead . . ."

And your thoughts?
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