Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What kinds of peer groups and parenting styles are most problematic for "peer orientation"?

In some really insightful comments on my last post, people raised the question of what kinds of peer groups are most problematic in terms of the issues raised in Hold on To Your Kids.

Anonymous 2/10 points out that the groups of unsupervised neighborhood kids of yore were generally a mixed age group, and that it is among same-aged peers that things get difficult.

C_T hypothesizes that what's particularly problematic are "peers-as-displayed-by-modern-media," in which there are fewer of the "parent-figure adults" who in older TV shows were "wise mentors who generally ran things and helped solve their kids' problems." Today's shows teach kids that "parents aren't very necessary" and giving them "fictional teen celebrities as role models."

Anonymous 2/11 points out that, if a kid goes out by himself in this day and age and starts playing with whichever kids he meets, "they won't necessarily be the kids you'd like him to hang out with."

All this seems right to me. Growing up I experienced both unsupervised play with neighborhood kids brought together by choice, and schoolyard (and classroom, and cafeteria) dynamics with large numbers of same-aged peers brought together by circumstances. Only in the latter cases do I recall nastiness, and there was plenty of it to go around. As for the former, though I live in once again a neighborhood full of families and yards and alleys, only rarely do I see anything like what I remember of the neighborhood play of my childhood.

What about the fact that most of today's kids are indoors and in structured activities, relentlessly supervised and micromanaged by parents and other adults? In this age of helicopter parenting, Auntie Ann astutely asks, do we really need to hold on to our kids even more? She proposes that the real problem is different: the low expectations we have of kids, especially for their capacity for responsibility. "When children are responsible for caring for siblings, feeding and milking the livestock, gathering firewood, fetching water, etc.," Autie Ann writes, "they grow into their role in the community."

I'd add that they also had less time back then to hang out with peers, let alone watch child-centered shows on TV that offer up teenaged role models.

The kinds of "holding on" that Gabor and Mate recommend, it seems to me, are in fact in decline: family dinners; interactive family activities and outings. No matter how much time today's kids spend at home rather than out in the neighborhood, and no matter how much time they spend in cars with parents while driven from activity to activity, they're kept out of reach by iphones and ipods and computer screens. No matter how much time kids spend in playdates that are scheduled and (nominally) supervised by their parents, most of the interactions are entirely peer-based, with kids playing with kids and adults socializing with adults, often at least one room away. What Gabor and Mate say we need more of is parents playing with, talking to, and otherwise bonding with children: rather than micromanaging them, building emotional attachments.


Anonymous said...

When children are given real responsibility; caring for siblings, livestock, etc, they are earning their place in the family. Shared responsibility, working for a common goal and mutual respect between parents and children is what builds attachment. Parents need to let kids grow up. When children assume adult responsibility within the family they understand what their parents have sacrificed to raise them, and that builds the bonds between the generations. Perpetual adolescence and reliance on parents is what is destroying family bonds.

Auntie Ann said...

Homeschool families seem much better at this than school families. Their kids seem more attached to the wider world, whereas school kids are attached to school.

C T said...

Well, fan that I am of homeschooling, I must point out that homeschooled families come in many flavors. Some are more attached to the wider world. And some are like a neighbor family that has their children avoid my little ones. Their girls all wear dresses, the only contact they've extended to us is an invitation to attend their church (at least, I think they're the ones who left it at our door), and I've never met the mom, who seems to hide in her house rather than come to the door. Their kids are very polite (except for the shunning, which they seem to be doing in obedience to their parents) and likely not peer-oriented, but I think the wider world is a bit of a scary mystery to them. I guess even the laudable goal of avoiding peer orientation can be taken to dangerous extremes.

Auntie Ann said...

When I was a kid, I remember going to parties and often ending up in the kitchen talking to the parents.

In school, I always seemed to be more attuned to the frustrations, jokes, and workload of the teachers than most of my peers, and many winks were exchanged between the teachers and me.

I don't think my parents had much to do with it--unless it was because they never talked to me like a kid, always with adult words and with real conversations. They weren't hovering or very hands-on. I did my homework and went out to play without them always watching over my shoulder. If I really needed them, though, I knew they'd be there. It was support, not constant direction.

I'm definitely on the Left-Brain side of things, though, so maybe it stemmed from that. That would suggest that some of it is simply what you come into this world with.

What are the causes and effects? And is it just the old argument of nature versus nurture? Are adult-oriented kids that way because their parents were when they were kids too; and it is, to some degree, inherited? Or are they adult-oriented because of the choices their parents made (of course influenced by their own nature) with respect to the upbringing of their children?

Certainly the latter can have a great effect, and I'm sure we all know some amazing kids who were simply raised right. But we could also point to amazing people who had been raised in chaotic households, but still were very adult focused.

How large are the groups that can be influenced by such conscious parenting decisions? Are we talking about the majority of kids or are we just nibbling around the edges?

(Cross-posted on Kitchen Table Math)