Thursday, August 10, 2006

Desire of Success Causing Childhood Neuroses

There is much that I agree with in this article - A Nation of Wimps from Psychology Today.

The central argument: that parental hyper-concern for children is inhibiting children's development. Other related themes: that this parental hyper-concern and attendant scrutiny is borne of parental perception of the competitive nature of the world out there, that children must be assisted by their parents to win in this race, that children know about and are diminished by this assistance and that unstructured play is an important means towards developing the qualities that lead to an unneurotic adulthood.

I don't have any complaints here. I agree with all this but there are some problems with the extent of the arguments. For example, I don't think hyper-scrutiny is solely the fault of parents; it comes from schools too. The pressure/hyper-scrutiny that is applied to kids in schools means that children realise that significant weight is given to success in various forms, so that they feel devastated when they cannot achieve. School assessments can be almost entirely responsible for this kind of self-appraisal and damage, leading children to develop the paradigm that the world is indeed relentlessly competitive, that co-operation is not an option, that they must always strive to be on top and yet are forever unlikely to get there. All of which doesn't look like a recipe for terrific mental health.

This does undoubtedly all go on, so what is the answer. Of course I am going to say HOME EDUCATION, but then one of the common criticisms of home education is that the children are over-protected by their parents, therefore giving their child the impression that the world is a dangerous place out there, and generally turning their kids into neurotic messess that way. These claims, though, are usually a load of old hogwash, particularly if children are educated autonomously. Not only are they not clossetted away in a classroom, having a better chance of actually seeing how the real world actually works, but they also have choices over their own life right from the beginning. They can be assisted to make rational decisions when they need the help, but they only rely on their own appraisals to test the success of their own ambitions, which means that very little terrifying weight is given to the idea of success and failure. The autonomously educated child can fail at things and it is only by his own assessment that this failure matters. He knows that he is still safe to carry on, that failure doesn't risk the loss of love, attention, or in anyway compromise his survival.

Because his successes or failures are only measured in his own terms, he doesn't introject the lesson that is implied by the school system, that the whole of life is relentlessly competitive, and that meaningful co-operation is a non-starter. Nor does he have to face the issue of where he comes in the pecking order, since he simply will not know most of the time, nor will it matter. What matters instead is that he solves the problems that he considers important to solve, which is surely as much as one could ask.

Parenting children to facilitate their autonomy is not a matter of being hyper-involved. It means being available to be asked for help, which is a different thing. Also, the play that is mentioned in the article as being beneficial to development is an integral part of learning for the autonomously educated child, there being almost no distinction between play and the work of learning.

HT: Karen at The Thomas Institute,


Anonymous said...

Interesting the notion that there need be not distinction between the notion of play and learning.

It's very hard for me not to revert to extremely anxious - neurotic making - parenting now the adolescents are on the verge of independent life. How are they going to survive, pay bills, get jobs? These are the questions that inform much behaviour lower down. What will he/she do when faced with potential destitution (or when he/she feels that can no longer take from parents - say that parents have little themselves anyway)?

I have to listen to my brother, now, as he has never agreed to do work that is not also play - despite periods where life has been difficult. A lot of this ability seems to have been down to the fact that he has been able to draw on the support of people around him at such times; and has returned this support in his periods of plenty, in abundance.

If any one who has thoughts on this aspect please say! Could do with more...


Carlotta said...

Such an unnerving time, I can imagine and really hard to sleep at night, I would think...

I think I would be trying to impart the impression - somehow - not sure how, that it is up to him how his life progresses...Does he want to stay home forever, having bills paid for him, or does he want to become which case, the world is exciting, invigorating, can be great fun, if he so makes it...

Your thoughts?

David said...

I found school perfect preparation for the 'real' world.

I learnt that most people, most of the time, are amoral. I learnt that I will be judged by how much money I have, and what I wear, and how I look. I learnt that bullying is to be expected, and that any non-uniformity is regarded with suspicion and countered with ascribing pariah status. Yes, and that was just the teachers.

"leading children to develop the paradigm that the world is indeed relentlessly competitive, that co-operation is not an option, that they must always strive to be on top and yet are forever unlikely to get there."

That's Capitalism, shurely?

Carlotta said...

Capitalism does not necessarily result in competition. Co-operation can be a huge profit spinner if worked well.

There is a company in Brazil run co-operatively...CEO = Ricardo Semler...which outperformed it's previous competitive self six times over when last I heard.

Schools perpetuate the competitive cycle, I do agree, but it is far from an essential component.

When the BMA looked into which doctors where the best, they found that those who were motivated by interest in the subject were much better than those who were motivated by competition with their fellows.

My guess is that this applies across fields and can certainly be effectively applied by individuals in most working situations.

David said...

I'm no economist - no, really - but from my understanding the Good, True Capitalist pursues profit in any and every way possible (corporations are, of course, legally obliged to do this for their shareholders). This can mean co-operation, but it is co-operation as a means to profit (co-operating so as to beat the competition and/or the consumer) not as an end in itself. As soon as it becomes unprofitable (or even less profitable) the knives'll be out. Indeed, Capitalism demands that all things are a means to profit. So within (and outwith) school, learning is no longer a good in itself; it's about bringing in the dough.

Similarly, the 'best' doctors are looking to be good practitioners of health, not to turn a profit. F'rinstance, I had an ingrowing toenail a few years back. I went to the doctor, who pulled the whole thing out and sent me on my way. He'd botched it, but he'd made himself a nice little bonus for a little extra work. It was unpleasant, but I didn't go to another doctor to get it sorted again for over a year, because it bloody well hurt when performed.

When I'd moved and was at a new practice, I went to get it sorted. Again, the GP did it (whilst performing it another GP observed; he would then be allowed to do the procedure himself in future), but this time I was given appointments with the nurse afterwards to keep an eye on it. It had gone wrong again, but the nurse sent me to a chiropodist this time. The chiropodists moaned about the number of botched jobs they have to fix, and it took them two (far less painful) procedures to get things right.

So the short term profit seeking of the GPs had cost the NHS a small sum and myself a fair amount of pain and discomfort.

Carlotta said...

"it's about bringing in the dough."

I agree with you insofar as competition does form a large part of what goes on...but bringing in the dough/making a profit is not exactly the same as being competitive.

Bringing in the dough is is a good thing. It should be an aim, though the dough is not necessarily the end in itself of course. The dough (which could be brought in co-operatively, within certain spheres) is most often a means to a better end.

Am very annoyed as am meant to be cleaning up and cooking in preparation for guests...this is doubtless incoherent...and will think again when I have a proper mo and am not just skiving!

Anonymous said...

With regard to the article, it is extraordinary how it rants on about kids having soft options and no challenges or difficulties; and then lists, exhaustively, numerous appalling problems that young people face! Awful psychological pressures from the media, demanding parents, strange torturous demands at school... if life as we know it is a labyrinth of psychosis and the only way to get by is to spot the 'hyenas' (sociopaths in disguise), then kids today are - as David points out about a similar issue - being extremely well prepared indeed!

I suppose it is the fact that success in our society IS more often than not measured by the person's ability to have far more than he actually needs that means that many people will opt for immoral behaviour.

I spoke to one v successful business man the other day who said that he always judged people after seeing their houses and shoes. It is very likely that this type of judgement is widespread. People claim they admire thinkers/creatives/artists, but there is always a little sneer, a sense that they can't be that good, if they are unable to make a lot of money.

Making just enough to live seems to be a big enough challenge today, but we only gain admiration if we make far more than enough. The relentless race to the top is real. Obviously, as you say Carlotta, thanks, it is better to see it as a game that is fun - since not many of us will win it so we might as well enjoy it. It is better to adopt some sort of spiritual attitude and feel virtuous through the moral value of our choices, given that so many will fail.

And, David, I think a lot of people choose that too. Not all choose to be ruthless to succeed. But a little bit of me forgives ruthless people because inside I have a voice saying that what they get - so much more successfully than others - is the only reward our society really values. Hence the sense that one's children - especially if one has focussed on being good - will fail.


David said...


Pursung a profit is an act of competition (as is, often, pursuing an income). The pie may slowly grow, but it's a far from infinite pie. Co-operation occurs plentifully in the pursuit, but it is discarded as soon as it becomes a burden or problematic. Rather it *should* be, according to what I've read.


There are judgements on others but, what's more, comparative judgements on ourselves. Which is why the 'happiness' polls don't record any great leap up despite the bigger pie. But of course, if people were satisfied with what they have and how they are, Capitalism would collapse like a flan in a cupboard.

I believe C.M Burns said it best:
I'll keep it short and sweet. Family, religion, friendship. These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business. When opportunity knocks, you don't want to be driving to a maternity hospital, or sitting in some phony-baloney church. Or syn-a-gogue.

Plenty of people balance the 'value' of non-monitary things with pricetagged goods and services, though there's an increasing tendency to put a price on every single aspect of our lives. While this doubtless makes the Randian nutjobs feel better able to make decisions, I can't help but see it as (no pun) cheap.

Too many ideas. I shall have to blog about this.