Saturday, July 29, 2017

What Do Children Need?

You might think that it comes from the Tiger Mom. In truth, the advice comes from a psychologist and New York Times writer named Lisa Damour.

One admires the simplicity and the cogency of Damour’s answer to the age-old pre-Freudian question: What do children need?

Damour answers that children need affection and structure. Alas, one cannot have put it better. But then, she adds that parenting should focus on providing structure. A child can get affection in lots of places. He can only gain structure at home.

Quartz reports the good news:

Children who are raised in a stern, business-like way may be less happy as adults, but they’ll have the tools they need to function. Children raised without discipline or rules can be stunted and ill-equipped for adulthood.

Of course, this depends on what you mean by happy. We recall the learned studies about the happiness level of millennial adults who were ensconced in their parents’ basements playing video games. We recall that these overgrown adolescents were supposedly happier than their counterparts who were out in the world. 

And yet, it turns out that children need security and predictability. That is, organization and routines… aka structure.

Damour is smart enough not to promise that a more structured household, a more rigorous organization, more routines and more stability will produce the kind of flourishing that our psycho professionals have been touting.

A structured household will prepare a child to compete in the world. This might not make him a champion video gamer and it might not fill him with false pride, that is, with high self-esteem. It also does not provide him with cheap thrills and sensational extremes.
And structure also means discipline and self-control. Damour makes another salient point:

Adolescents actually want structure from their parents, despite their protestations to the contrary. Permissiveness and inconsistency from parents can be unsettling and provoke anxiety, she said.

“Being a teenager feels like you’re out of control and you’re surrounded by people who are out of control,” she said. “You don’t want parents to be out of control.”

Consistency, check. Discipline, check. Strict rules, check. They all contribute to producing structure. It does not mean that a child will always obey the rules, but it is better to know what the rules are than to be left adrift, without rules.


Ares Olympus said...

I imagine back in the days of 3-6 kids families where chaos was always present, it was more obvious why structure is needed, while now with more 1-2 kid families, parents may risk being more lenient, and allow softer boundaries, and even more so if parents feel guilty over not spending enough time with their kids.

This post doesn't talk about how discipline is maintained, or corporal punishment versus more modern approaches of time outs or grounding. As a kids I do remember carefully considering some rule-breaking with the logic "Is it worth it?" and often punishments were worth getting what I thought I wanted in the moment.

The most important control parents may need now is over "screen time", between TV, computers, video games, and phones. I also wonder about all the young kids who are given their own cellphones. Parents definitely could use some help, like devices that can self-limit kids to a certain number of minutes per day. And such hard-limits could also encourage strategic thinking in prioritizing what's most important.

trigger warning said...

Predictability is one of the most important factors determining human performance. The experimental psychology literature is replete with data showing that uncertainty degrades human performance.

One of the most important skills a parent can offer a child is the instillation of socially useful discriminatory criteria. "Say yes to this and no to that."

To do this effectively, predictability is absolutely paramount, whether you are teaching a flatworm to turn right or left, a pigeon to peck the green panel and not the red, a learning algorithm to distinguish signal from noise, or a child to do homework or Facebook. If the boundary condition(s), known in some circles as "red line(s)", is(are) sufficiently fuzzy, variable, random, or nonexistent, discrimination learning simply does not - indeed, cannot - occur.

Complicating this picture, it is also true that one of the most common - and adaptively necessary - behaviors is limit testing. We live in a dynamic world. Boundaries often drift over time. For a child, what is not adaptive at 12 may be adaptive at 16. This is equally true for lower organisms and even for learning algorithms in real, dynamic environments.

And predictability is a permanent requirement. There is no "progress" to be achieved, despite current "theories", since it is a basic feature of adaptability.

Anonymous said...

Ares Olympus believes the planet will be destroyed by too many humans. they change the climate. Thai is the locus of his viewpoint.

Ares Olympus said...

TW: Predictability is one of the most important factors determining human performance.

Performance seems a strange word in this context, but I assume this discussion comes from Stuart's statement "And yet, it turns out that children need security and predictability. That is, organization and routines… aka structure."

Predictability would seem to mean predictable in cause-and-effect. If I walk too slow to school, I will be late. If I study for a spelling test, I can get a good grade.

Lessons can change as we get older, or may reuse old lessons in new circumstances to see what happens. Some consequences are predictable like the laws of physics. Others are more rules-of-thumb that often work, but no guarantees. Like if I speed less than 10mph over the posted limit, I won't get a ticket. And for women, if I cry in front of a police officer, he may be more lenient.

I do see that morality is limited by our ability to predict potential consequences from our actions. If you can play out scenarios in your mind, you can avoid the worst outcomes, while still testing others that might work with less risk of failure. And parents can use their own "theory of mind" to help their children create clear narratives on how things happen in sequence. OTOH, false cause-and-effect narratives exist like "If my father is angry, I must have done something wrong." and those need clarity too, and parents may have no idea what false narratives need attention.