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Monday, December 3, 2012

Insuring That Joyous Children Experience Sadness

In The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran (January 6, 1883 – April 10, 1931), poet and artist wrote,

"Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises
was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,
the more joy you can contain."

Being sad is a common experience in childhood. Sadness is part of the normal process of the child separating from an early symbiosis with the mother and becoming more independent. Every time a child separates just a tiny bit more, he/she will have to cope with a small loss and regret having to get sad for a little bit. So, without a doubt, being sorrow does extract a small price – individual hurt.

Yet, the single mood parents generally put most effort into screening from their child is sadness. These mothers and fathers cannot bear to see their child experience sorrow, so they dash in to relieve the kids' distress every single time. Unfortunately, then the child does not get a chance to learn how to cope with sadness. The strategy becomes often becomes counterproductive, leaving children feeling worse than before.

While we all understand that sadness requires a great deal of strength to bear, we also know sadness, if faced openly, can help families become stronger and more able to handle painful feelings. People must be taught to take a genuine look at the reality of their situations so they we can deal with them. That does not necessarily mean they have to have the solution right that minute... they just need to be taught to remind themselves that there is one.

Not feeling sorrow invites fear into the lives of children. The longer a child put offs feeling sorrow, the greater his/her fear of it becomes. Postponing the expression of the feeling causes its energy to grow. Julia Kristeva suggests that “taming sorrow, not fleeing sadness at once but allowing it to settle for a while... is what one of the temporary and yet indispensable phases of analysis might be.”

(Julia Kristeva, Black Sun, 1989) .

The problem of overprotecting children may then be that “screened-off emotion isn't available to them when they need it.... The loss of sadness makes them a bit manic.” Experiencing sorrow can actually help young people grow in many ways and develop independence and strong coping strategies.
(Karen Masman, The Uses of Sadness: Why Feeling Sad Is No Reason Not to Be Happy, 2010)
Blocking sadness from children can foster detrimental dependency. "Kids need to feel badly sometimes," says child psychologist David Elkind, professor at Tufts University. "We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope."

(Hara Estroff Marano, “A Nation of Wimps, Psychology Today, November 1 2004)

To many parents today, messing up, even in the playground, is wildly out of style. Although error and experimentation are the true mothers of success, parents are taking pains to remove failure from the equation.

Taking all the discomfort, disappointment and even the play out of development, especially while increasing pressure for success, turns out to be misguided by just about 180 degrees. With few challenges all their own, youth are unable to forge their creative adaptations to the normal “ups and downs” of life.

Helicoptering Young Adults

So-called “helicopter parents” continue to hover over their children into their older years. Helicopter parenting is not the product of bad or pathetic people with deranged values. It is not necessarily a sign of parents who are ridiculous or unhappy or nastily controlling. It can be a product of good intentions gone awry.

The simple lesson here is that parents must teach their children proper ways to cope with adversity. If they continue to hover over them and shield them from all unhappiness, they send their children the implicit message that "You are fragile and need continuing help."
Here are some problems that a young adult may acquire from overprotective parents:

* Becoming Risk-Averse
The children of overprotective parents grow older, reach the teenage years, and spend parts of their days beyond the reach of the parents. With this new freedom, these teens naturally face risks, and some of these risks must be faced alone. Many overprotected teens are “risk-averse” – too psychologically fragile and anxious to make proper decisions in the face of risks. They lose opportunities to feel a sense of accomplishment, and, at times, they lose opportunities for real happiness.
* Losing a Sense of Responsibility
Adolescents of overprotective parents do not develop a reasonable sense of responsibility for their actions because their overprotective parents have assumed all that responsibility.
* Losing Self-Esteem
Overprotective parenting can cause the lack of the development of self-esteem in a child. A child must be allowed to face many challenges without any parental intervention. Part of the development of self-esteem in children comes from surmounting challenges on their own, which can be denied to them by overprotective parenting. They are robbed of developing a sense of unique identity since they aren't even allowed to reason and work little problems out on their own.
* Developing the Inability to Persevere
How could perseverance possibly develop if a teen has never been significantly challenged to work without complete reliance on others? Perseverance is an essential life skill.

*Losing Reasoning Ability

"Life is planned out for us," says Elise Kramer, a Cornell University junior. "But we don't know what to want." As Elkind puts it, "Parents and schools are no longer geared toward child development, they're geared to academic achievement."

Why Could Dependency Be Getting Worse?

Many might not believe this; however, a cell phone is a likely tool used by helicopter parents and wimpy teens. Granted, cells have their wonderful purposes – rescue in times of trouble, verification of location and purpose, instantaneous transfer of timely information – BUT are these instruments also responsible for too much silly, manipulative reliance and dependency? So experts believe so.

The perpetual access to parents can cause teens to remain like infants instead of maturing young adults, keeping them in a permanent state of dependency. Whenever the slightest difficulty arises they're constantly referring to their parents for guidance. They're not learning how to manage for themselves.

Hara Estroff Marano reports:

“Think of the cell phone as the eternal umbilicus. One of the ways we grow up is by internalizing an image of Mom and Dad and the values and advice they imparted over the early years. Then, whenever we find ourselves faced with uncertainty or difficulty, we call on that internalized image. We become, in a way, all the wise adults we've had the privilege to know. 'But cell phones keep kids from figuring out what to do,' says child Psychologist David Anderegg. 'They've never internalized any images; all they've internalized is call Mom or Dad.'"

Psychologist Bernardo J. Carducci, professor at Indiana University Southeast and founder of its Shyness Research Institute, believes that over-reliance on cell phones undermines the young by destroying the ability to plan ahead. "The first thing students do when they walk out the door of my classroom is flip open the cell phone. Ninety-five percent of the conversations go like this: 'I just got out of class; I'll see you in the library in five minutes.' Absent the phone, you'd have to make arrangements ahead of time; you'd have to think ahead."

(Hara Estroff Marano, “A Nation of Wimps, Psychology Today, November 1 2004)

Could cells even foster depression? The ability to plan resides in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the executive branch of the brain. The PFC is a critical part of the self-regulation system, and it's deeply implicated in depression, a disorder increasingly seen as caused or maintained by unregulated thought patterns – lack of intellectual rigor.

Cognitive therapy owes its very effectiveness to the systematic application of critical thinking to emotional reactions. Further, in the setting of goals and progress in working toward them, no matter how mundane they are, positive feelings are generated. From such everyday activity, resistance to depression is born.

In addition, cell phones – along with the instant availability of cash and almost any consumer good the heart desires – promote fragility by weakening self-regulation. "You get used to things happening right away," says Carducci. You not only want the pizza now, you generalize that expectation to other domains, like friendship and intimate relationships.

My Take

In addition to harming a child, social historian Peter Stearns of George Mason University worries about how extreme vigilance has taken some of the joy from parenting.

“Children, however, are not the only ones who are harmed by hyperconcern. Vigilance is enormously taxing—and it's taken all the fun out of parenting. "Parenting has in some measurable ways become less enjoyable than it used to be," says Stearns. 'I find parents less willing to indulge their children's sense of time. So they either force-feed them or do things for them.'

“Parents need to abandon the idea of perfection and give up some of the invasive control they've maintained over their children. The goal of parenting is to raise an independent human being. Sooner or later, he says, most kids will be forced to confront their own mediocrity. Parents may find it easier to give up some control if they recognize they have exaggerated many of the dangers of childhood—although they have steadfastly ignored others, namely the removal of recess from schools and the ubiquity of video games that encourage aggression.”

(Hara Estroff Marano, “A Nation of Wimps, Psychology Today, November 1 2004)

Consider the childhood of today. Most people no longer work (even at home) at young ages. They stay in school for longer periods of time and spend more time exclusively in the company of peers. Children are far less integrated into adult society than they used to be although we have allowed media and marketers to have free access to them.

Stearns argues we've introduced a tendency to assume that children can't handle difficult situations. "Middle-class parents especially assume that if kids start getting into difficulty they need to rush in and do it for them, rather than let them flounder a bit and learn from it. I don't mean we should abandon them," he says, "but give them more credit for figuring things out."

Parents, themselves, have created many of the stresses and anxieties children suffer from, without giving them tools to manage them. Young adults must learn to think for themselves. In most ways, children of today are not really any more fragile than children from past generations. I strongly believe most of them are competent of learning to handle sorrow and some unavoidable hardships.

And, last, I believe children need social engagement even more today, but not the kind that fosters parental dependence. Young adults need social engagement with many other caring adults in their community so that they can experience the realities of the world.

When I in high school, I had extended contact with proprietors of gas stations, restaurants, markets, and recreational facilities. I had contact with parents of my friends. I had contact with my adult neighbors. I had contact with members of the fire department, emergency services, and enforcement agencies. I had contact with ministers and church officials. I had contact, outside of school, with my teachers and administrators. All of these people “kept an eye on me” and helped me develop lasting social skills. I truly believe they all cared for me, and, this care, to me, made a positive difference in my life.

Studies of children and adults around the world demonstrate that social engagement actually improves intellectual skills. It fosters decision-making, memory and thinking, speed of mental processing. We need to encourage youth to get off the cells and put down the video game controllers.

Otherwise, we will live with more helicopter folks who make some pretty stiff demands. Such parents want to control everything in their child's life. Consider the reality of the situation.

Hovering parents seek to make
this a vanilla world of overly dependent,
non-thinking, non-reasoning wimps.

They will continue to demand to …

Make sure the playgrounds their kids play on have rubberized surfaces so their children can't scrape their knees;

Be certain all communities provide organization leagues for every conceivable sport and activity so Dick and Jane won't be forced to have fun on the sandlot;

Make sure all public areas of social contact supply children with sanitizing gel so they don't get germs and come down with a common cold;

Force schools to quantify, qualify, and correctly deal with all incidents that remotely “smell” like someone has wronged a child in any vague way;

Remove all potential obstacles to academic achievement so that “Baby Einstein” will have an easier road to good grades;

Be certain to provide and assist with personal cell phone access for all children at all times who feel the need to prevent any discomfort;

Wholly insure no child will never, ever experience the devastating effects of feeling the tiniest bit of any sorrow that may lead to the dangerous circumstances of thinking for himself/herself.

Believe me, in that kind of world, I feel some deep pain for the children. Kids must learn to sing the blues too – in doing so, they deepen their wells for potential happiness.

"I'm goin' down the road feelin' bad"
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