Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Envisioning Our Children’s Needs in the 21st Century

Originally posted on February 29, 2008

Parents tend to rear their children with the mental and cultural tools they know about. For my parents’ generation, the goal was to get the kid raised in one piece, ideally resilient enough to go to college and get a good job. One category they didn’t know about was “validating the child’s individuality.” Sure, if there was some talent many parents would arrange for lessons, but also many parents arranged for lessons even if there were no talents.

I’m intrigued with the way so much in psychotherapy addresses less-than-effective parenting, and I wonder if some of these stories of distant parents or emotionally harsh parents, etc., were and are not reflections of more recent expectations of what children need. The problem is that identifying that need tends to be biased by contemporary knowledge and values, not the worldview of our parents’ generation. We tend to take for granted certain things that they had to fight for, and in turn, they hardly understand or appreciate aspects of life we think are socially normative.

I wonder what it is our youngest generation (my grandkids, ages 3 – 8 ) will think they need. What if what they think they need is beyond the awareness of most young adults?

For example, here is one idea proposed by my dear wife, Allee: What if kids need to be with peers with whom they are congenial and who are wholesome? They don’t know that they need this. Maybe they need to be removed from peers who are too rough, too quick to inhibit their talents by their teasing, too crazy. (Maybe mainstreaming kids—especially the more behaviorally disordered kids, really takes a whole lot more out of the learning experience of everyone else in the classroom than anyone wants to admit.) It’s not a matter of just filling kids’ time with classes or extra-curricular activities; the challenge is to figure out ways of helping kids have time with peers that will reinforce positive character elements.

What if “they let me watch MTV” will be viewed in the future as a form of permissive imaginative abuse? It’s one step away from “they let me hang with kids in groups where sexual activity was considered “cool,” modesty devalued, stealing and cheating a norm.”

The problem with free choice is that there are several sub-groups to choose from within the world of a nine-year-old: There are the cool, high-status kids. (In some neighborhoods, the high-status kids are pretty wholesome; in other neighborhoods or schools, they’re the gangsters, the bullies,  the druggies, the cruel “queen bee” in-groups that create weird fashion rules, or the party types who promote premature sexual experimentation, drug and alcohol use, and other risk-taking behaviors.) That may vary with neighborhood and tone, and it might be appropriate for adults to assess what actually confers status in a given school or neighborhood. It well may not reflect the ideals of the grown-ups.

Young people are struggling with peer-group relations and different types of status. For kids, there are others with whom one is not compatible. Some of these are nice kids, talented kids, and some are rowdies. There are other kids with whom one  would be compatible, especially if  hanging out with them were made into a positive experience. I confess that a well-run church-affiliated group often offers this kind of wholesome youth activities program, even though I am not always sympathetic with the particular dogma of a number of religions. Yet youth groups tend to emphasize generally positive values and social action, and tend not to dwell much on the particularities of belief. Of course there are exceptions: There are also badly run church-affiliated groups; but many are very positive, while there has grown up a relative lack of group activity programs for young people—especially programs where the kids make friends and can continue to visit or do things with each other. (Making a friend in a summer day camp and not having access to her afterwards is better than not making such a friend—but it doesn’t deliver what we’re talking about: What is the community spirit and ethical quality of the child’s peer group?

There is relevance here in knowing a little about “sociometry”—a little-known specialty in social psychology that seeks to not only assess patterns of rapport among people, but to foster ways of implementing the findings. That is, sociometry tries to set up ways to allow people to choose those with whom they want to affiliate. The problem is that some groups that have high status because of media and other phony cultural inputs are really unhealthy environments. So there’s a balance needed.

Returning to the general topic: What other things might the emerging generations be needing that we as grown-ups should consider that we could learn to offer? I confess that we may fail in this attempt, and we need to forgive ourselves with a sense of humor, history, and philosophy. What’s new is that we can recognize that we are living in a more rapidly changing world, one in which it is possible that our mainstream repertoire of social norms and interpersonal and parenting and educational skills may not fit for what young people need, young people growing up in a far more electronically connected, intense, “postmodern” world. The idea that we should even review our helping repertoire and consider how they might be upgraded is itself pretty new.

I’d be open to hearing from you what other facets might be worth re-evaluating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *