The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Opinion

July 3, 2013

Bill Stanczykiewicz: Lessons from Little League shape civil behavior

Lessons from the boys of summer, the little boys of summer, that is, can help us encourage civil behavior among all of the kids in our lives.

And civility among young people is an issue. Surveys reveal that a majority of adults use words such as “rude” and “irresponsible” to describe today’s teens. Employers note a lack of work ethic and other basic character traits, especially among younger employees.

Teenagers themselves agree. Less than one-third of high school students say their classmates treat each other with respect, and only 20 percent say their classmates treat their teachers with respect.

While adults can lament a coarsened culture encouraging bad behaviors among today’s youth, the kids declare something different. In a survey of 3,000 teenagers, only one-fourth cited celebrities as the most important influence in their lives while nearly half pointed to parents, youth workers and other adults who they know personally.

In a separate question, 75 percent said their most enjoyable activity is hanging out with friends – underscoring the unique impact of peer influence.

Northwestern University sociologist Gary Alan Fine confirmed these dominant dynamics among youth and the people directly in their lives by observing Little League baseball teams. Fine’s research examines the relationships we have in small groups – including family, schools, community organizations and religious congregations – and how those relationships shape behavior, including civil behavior.

In his book, “Tiny Publics,” Fine writes, “Social awareness begins with face-to-face behavior and continues as we learn to account for and make adjustments to the presence and the demands of others.” Small groups, the author argues, create “expectations of the shared and the proper” and are “spaces that shape personal choices.”

One of those spaces Fine studied is the little league baseball diamond. After observing players on several teams, Fine discovered, “Life on the team provided different models that the players could use in other groups and in their understandings of how social life should transpire.”

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