Teenage Apocalypse / An Invention of Western Psychology

From TIME / Family

Parents Do What’s Right for Them, (but not what’s right) for the Kids

Differences in (modern western) parenting styles have more to do with personal history than any objective scientific “fact”.

We like to think that the choices we make early on as parents — cry it out vs. co-sleeping, stroller vs. sling and so on — reflect deep truths about what’s best for our children. But they don’t. What these decisions do reflect, however, whether we want to admit it or not, are pretty deep-seated facts about ourselves. Our parenting preferences matter deeply to us  — they boost our self-esteem, or perhaps soothe and heal us from having been parented in a way that didn’t meet our needs.

Few parents will readily admit to such a selfish-sounding, unscientific-seeming truth. And yet, as Kate Pickert points out in her piece “The Man Who Remade Motherhood,” William and Martha Sears have made no secret of the fact that it’s their own childhood histories — paternal abandonment in his case, severe mental illness in the family, plus anger, violence and loss in hers — that have been the major drivers of the separation-avoiding, conflict-resolving attachment-parenting philosophy they’ve spread to millions of families around the globe. According to Ann Hulbert, author of the 2003 book Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children, every single prominent parenting “expert” from the 2oth century has a similar story of either reaction against or reverence for their own parents to tell and all similarly wove those subjective experiences into iron-clad theories they believed to be based on scientific “fact.”

Pediatrician Luther Emmett Holt, whose 1894 book The Care and Feeding of Children was one of the first highly influential how-to parenting guides written by a nonreligious leader, was a farm boy with a distant father and a devoted, highly vigilant mother who inspired his deep belief that motherhood should be a practice of exquisitely regulated rules and schedules with as little kissing and coddling as possible. Dr. Benjamin Spock, on the other hand, rebelled against the “emotional austerity” of his Holt-inspired upbringing by spinning a new theory of idyllic, warmly connected American home life.

All of which means that the major pendulum swings between hierarchical and egalitarian American parenting styles over the past century have had more to do with the largely undigested inner stuff of the (almost exclusively) men whose theories drove the changes than they did with any outside realities drawn from an actual body of scientific fact. They had, for that matter, little to do with the experiences of mothers who, as the century advanced, lived increasingly complicated lives.

That’s why Spock, who believed he was empowering mothers with his famous dictum “Trust yourself,” came to be rejected in the 1970s as a purveyor of the worst kind of old-time psychoanalytic paternalism. That’s why William Sears, for all his insistence on flexibility and admonitions to “do the best you can with the resources you have,” strikes so many of us as impossibly demanding for any woman who wants or simply needs to keep out-of-home work a viable part of her life. Like Sigmund Freud himself, like all the men who have labored over the centuries to tell us who we are and why we do what we do, those who take it upon themselves to define good mothering practice have ended up telling us a whole lot more about themselves — what they want or lack, what did or didn’t happen for them as children — than about the nature of motherhood. And whether or not we decide to follow their advice similarly tells us more about our own subjective needs than what we think are the needs of our children.

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“The Teenage Apocalypse” Parasitic Capitalism at it’s finest:

15andpreggers 23925909 9781626250833 christianhelpforteens My-Teens-Out-of-Control-Large-2d teenager1

“Teenager” as a developmental stage of life is a Western (predominantly American) invention gone crazy (life as a pyramid of levels again)  – not only have psychologists encouraged this fiction, they are raking in huge profits from the misery that “child-raising theories” have created. The “marketing concept” also drives billions in revenue for manufacturers, the entertainment industry, fashion, and “self help” therapy and publications.

There are no “teenagers” in traditional societies, “primitive” societies, and hunter-gatherer groups that have been studied.  (See Jared Diamond, The World until Yesterday.)

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We like to think that the choices we make early on as parents — cry it out vs. co-sleeping, stroller vs. sling and so on — reflect deep truths about what’s best for our children. But they don’t. What these decisions do reflect, however, whether we want to admit it or not, are pretty deep-seated facts about ourselves. Our parenting preferences matter deeply to us  — they boost our self-esteem, or perhaps soothe and heal us from having been parented in a way that didn’t meet our needs.

Few parents will readily admit to such a selfish-sounding, unscientific-seeming truth. And yet, as Kate Pickert points out in her piece “The Man Who Remade Motherhood,” William and Martha Sears have made no secret of the fact that it’s their own childhood histories — paternal abandonment in his case, severe mental illness in the family, plus anger, violence and loss in hers — that have been the major drivers of the separation-avoiding, conflict-resolving attachment-parenting philosophy they’ve spread to millions of families around the globe. According to Ann Hulbert, author of the 2003 book Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children, every single prominent parenting “expert” from the 2oth century has a similar story of either reaction against or reverence for their own parents to tell and all similarly wove those subjective experiences into iron-clad theories they believed to be based on scientific “fact.”

Pediatrician Luther Emmett Holt, whose 1894 book The Care and Feeding of Children was one of the first highly influential how-to parenting guides written by a nonreligious leader, was a farm boy with a distant father and a devoted, highly vigilant mother who inspired his deep belief that motherhood should be a practice of exquisitely regulated rules and schedules with as little kissing and coddling as possible. Dr. Benjamin Spock, on the other hand, rebelled against the “emotional austerity” of his Holt-inspired upbringing by spinning a new theory of idyllic, warmly connected American home life.

All of which means that the major pendulum swings between hierarchical and egalitarian American parenting styles over the past century have had more to do with the largely undigested inner stuff of the (almost exclusively) men whose theories drove the changes than they did with any outside realities drawn from an actual body of scientific fact. They had, for that matter, little to do with the experiences of mothers who, as the century advanced, lived increasingly complicated lives.

That’s why Spock, who believed he was empowering mothers with his famous dictum “Trust yourself,” came to be rejected in the 1970s as a purveyor of the worst kind of old-time psychoanalytic paternalism. That’s why William Sears, for all his insistence on flexibility and admonitions to “do the best you can with the resources you have,” strikes so many of us as impossibly demanding for any woman who wants or simply needs to keep out-of-home work a viable part of her life. Like Sigmund Freud himself, like all the men who have labored over the centuries to tell us who we are and why we do what we do, those who take it upon themselves to define good mothering practice have ended up telling us a whole lot more about themselves — what they want or lack, what did or didn’t happen for them as children — than about the nature of motherhood. And whether or not we decide to follow their advice similarly tells us more about our own subjective needs than what we think are the needs of our children.

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What the Pygmies Can Teach Us About Child Rearing

Why do we push our young ones while asking little of our older kids?

By Erika Christakis @erikachristakis Jan. 30, 2013

With narcissism levels on the rise among college students, and kids everywhere growing up with inflated egos and deflated life prospects, it’s hard to make the case for giving kids yet more pats on the back. But a growing body of research suggests we still have much to learn from traditional societies where babies grow into resilient and caring adults through a steady diet of nurturing.

Jared Diamond’s new book, The World Until Yesterday, describes some of the lessons we can learn from today’s hunter-gatherer societies that most closely approximate the way people lived in our ancestral past. While they vary in important ways, most of these societies share a leisurely childhood where infants are constantly held by their mothers or other caretakers and where young children have enormous freedom to play.

These traditional practices are important to understand because many indices of poor health in children — such as obesity, depression, ADHD and teen suicide — have increased dramatically in the U.S. over the past 50 years. At the same time, play, which has wide-ranging cognitive, physical, emotional and social benefits, is under siege from shortsighted school policies, changes in family structure and technology use, and other 21st century pressures. Although it’s tricky to make causal leaps, evolutionary psychologist Peter Gray links the decline in play to a rise in children’s psychopathology via lost opportunities to make friends, learn self control, develop intrinsic motivation and other basic developmental functions.

According to Diamond, babies are nursed on demand in the hunter-gatherer world, are never left to cry (88% of !Kung baby cries are responded to within three seconds), and children exhibit few of the psychological scars of contemporary life. Loneliness and depression are virtually unheard of and children learn empathy through noncompetitive games and the care of younger siblings. Kids in traditional societies have few rules or expectations; in some hunter-gatherer societies, such as the !Kung and Aka Pygmy, young children are even indulged when they slap and insult their parents.

The nuclear family is much less important in hunter-gatherer societies too. Nonparental caregivers play a much bigger role in child care than in contemporary industrialized societies, usually starting immediately after birth. Diamond cites a study of the Efe people, whose infants were passed around among nonparental adults an average of eight times per hour.

Of course, we’ve heard many of these recommendations before: skin-to-skin “kangaroo” care helps premature infants grow. “Breast is best.” Co-sleeping has had its moment too. What’s new is the argument that our modern child-rearing practices are rubbing up against 6 million years of human evolution (when the protochimpanzee and protohuman lines first split apart). The fact of the matter is that babies really weren’t designed to sit in car seats for extended periods of time or to sleep alone in their own bedrooms. And they certainly didn’t evolve to compete with an iPhone for adult attention. The hue and cry over attachment parenting, with images of neurotic yuppies breast-feeding well into elementary school, obscures a basic reality: modern life is not really compatible with the healthy child development we evolved to have.

Why is it so hard to meet the needs of babies and young children? Most obviously, a child-centric approach to human development demands a lot of resources in industrialized societies where the nuclear family bears the burden of child rearing. On-demand breast feeding and 24/7 physical contact are costly luxuries for well-off families, and even where possible, many contemporary parents would sooner dig ditches than live in such constant proximity to their offspring. Our culture is organized around devices, such as baby monitors and strollers, that keep infants at arm’s length.

But there may be more than technology and economics at work. It’s hard to avoid the sense that all this, well, infantilizing is just a bridge too far. If children are losing their moral compass and failing to “launch” into adult roles these days, how can we justify further amplifying the period when our kids are most indulged?

It feels counterintuitive. But cuddling babies is not the same thing as coddling teenagers. Hunter-gatherer childhoods are easy and playful, but adolescents are expected to go out and hunt lions. We seem to have things backward in our contemporary world, pushing our very youngest to do things that don’t make neurological or developmental sense while asking relatively little of our older kids. Human beings are endlessly adaptable, and it’s unrealistic to think we could or should step back in time. But if we want to stop the current slide toward depressed, unhealthy young people, maybe we shouldn’t ignore 6 million years of evolution either.

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