Sunday, July 17, 2011

Optimism Applied to Child Behavior

One phenomenon I noticed again at my last get-together of young parents was the notion that optimism about the future behavior of a child is subtly taboo.  By the same token, pessimism is encouraged and shared.  Observing my boy's pleasant, quiet disposition, they assured me that he will be a holy terror when he can walk, adding of course that he will be worse when he is a teenager.

It wasn't notable for being unusual - I've been assured that having a son will make my life miserable since we announced the pregnancy.  People are pretty disappointed to find that he sleeps through the night, that he has no colic, etc.  What struck me as odd was that it happened in the same conversation as the obligatory mockery of a certain relative of one of the guests, who is "stockpiling weapons for doomsday, when Obama will take all the guns".  I.e., socio-political pessimism about the state of the economy, the prospects for gun control given the Hurricane Katrina example, etc., is silly wingnut speculation, but assertions that a given infant will have behavioral problems is rock-solid logic.

What I saw, really, was leftist social ethics, or rather, what leftists have in place of social ethics.  Lacking a firm hand, leftist mothers predict behavioral problems for all children so they don't have to do anything to prevent dangerous or inappropriate behavior other than constantly saying, "No!" and repeating the child's name.

Reduced behavioral standards are a self-fulfilling prophecy which allows all of us to let our children run rampant while none of us feels guilty for it.  Apparently it is okay for us to feel stressed by our children's behavior, but remorse is out of the question because it implies that a better lifestyle - a more ethical, more thoughtful lifestyle - is possible.  Raising children to be polite, engaged, and curious is a betrayal of the great sisterhood of harried mothers at their wits' end.

All going well, I predict the following conversation in eight years:

"What did you do with him?  I've never seen a boy that age shake an adults hand, entertain himself with books, ask to go to the zoo instead of wanting to stay home with the television.  Is he on something?"

"It's not what he's on, it what he's not on.  He's homeschooled and he isn't allowed commercial television."

"Oh no!  You can't do that!  He'll never develop any social skills!"

"You mean like shaking an adults hand and saying hello?  Not interrupting people?"

"Well ... ummm ... racism ... uhhh ... multicultural...."

I think I will enjoy that conversation.


Unamused said...

Good parenting's our greatest weapon.

bgc said...

In terms of socialization - it is worth thinking about how many children were around - and of what ages - in a hunter gatherer band of about 20-40 people (which is supposedly, probably, the social environment in which humans evolved, and which they are instinctually prepared for).

The answer is, of course, 'none or not many' - and nothing like the large same age peer group of modern society.

I have a pet theory that large peer groups are the cause of much social malaise today - esepcially among young men (who form wild and violent gangs when without the influence of older and wiser leadership); and maybe even more so for women, who are more susceptible to peer pressure than men and will engage in pretty much any kind of lunacy in response to peer pressure (the current rampant vogue for tattooing among women is about as self-maiming a trend as has been seen in human history - horrific - objectively ugly - permanent and visible self-mutilation imposed by nothing more than perceived peer pressure aka fashion).

Olave d'Estienne said...

Unamused, I intend to use that weapon to the hilt!

BGC, your pet theory is quite like mine. I don't see how someone can be exposed to microaggression for 13 years in a row without it brutalizing them, but what is really important is how their strategies to minimize how much they are victimized become habit and lifestyle. The quickest way to not get your feelings hurt is to not care, and not caring is what today's male seems to be best at.

Chillingworth said...

I agree, parents shouldn't let their children make their lives miserable.

Bryan Caplan argues that in the long run, the children's behavior is basically up to genetics anyway, not parenting---well, I guess that's not exactly what he's saying. Anyway I'm only halfway through the book.