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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Destructuring Society Child by Child

Alison Gopnik writes some interesting stuff in "What's Wrong with the Teenage Mind?"

The very short version is that modern culture is extending childhood well into people's thirties and, during this process, robbing children and young adults of a variety of development experiences that, in the past, made their brains develop into adult brains.

Radical stuff from a UC Berkley Professor of Philosophy.

However, readers of this blog would not be surprised by this in the least.  I have written here (and on the personal blog) time and again about how modern life has changed what's important with regard to raising children and families (see "Anthropological Mom" and "Women are Insane, Men are Stupid").

But Ms. Gopnik takes these ideas a bit further and suggests that we are harming out children by abandoning how they have been traditionally raised.  Harming them by not providing their brains a proper sociological context in which to grow into adulthood.  (Who in adulthood is taken care of all day like you are at a modern school: breakfast, lunch, pickup before dinner?  Prisoners I think...)

I think that this is simple to see today:  Extended childhoods into thirties and soon forties.  Lack of motivation.  Uselessness.

When I was a kid life and your potential future were far different than today.

My friend in best friend through third grade lived on a far a mile away.  I could ride my bike there and we could work on the farm.  That's right - work.  Drive tractors, milk cows, and get paid.

My grandchildren today, with similar ages, can only think about twiddling TV or game knobs.

Why?  Because they live in a world where the life of their parents dominates.  Not that that wasn't true in my childhood, parents obviously dominated their child's lives.  But today its different.

It seems like a parents need for fulfillment, lost in their own childhood, is now replaced by the need to have a full life for themselves and by force create such a life for their child.  But instead of free play and the opportunity to take on responsibility in simulated adult roles today's children are trundled off to "activities" - sports, school, daycare, and so on.

The problem is that these activities are pointless as far as making a child a proper grownup because they aren't real in the sense that they are things adults really do.

In my childhood we participated in the adult world.

For example, my father, an architect, took the kids along in the car as he went to job sites (probably a federal crime today).  Many times we sat for long hours in the car but often we went with him into the construction sites.  There was a lot to learn and see: plumbing, electrical, telephone, building, concrete.  Now my father wasn't a doer in the sense that he did these sorts of things at home - but he designed them.  So I learned (to some degree) how to draw, lay out construction activities, and so forth.

You might think that, well, your father was an educated man - you had more opportunity.

But you'd be wrong.  My friend Joe (I mentioned above) farmed.  He probably still does.   He learned from his father in the same way.

My toys as a child after I could travel with my father involved materials scavenged from construction sites.

Gopnik's point is, I think, that this is lost today.  Adults are too busy today to bother with children in this way so the children do "activities" instead.

Now even at six or seven years old it was clear to me what work was.  I like talking to the various people at the construction sites - I was always treated respectfully.  The men working their knew that "by example" is where future tradesmen, workers, bosses, customers, building owners and so on came from.  Almost like a silent fraternity of knowledge.

I think the 60's "me" generation is to a large part responsible for this.

Parent's before this time treated their children like family members from the start - involving them in the family activities and work (and no, not in the child labor sense).  This developed their brains because it gave them a context to grow into - whether they stayed in the family business or not.

Gopnik says, and I agree, that we are robbing children of this today because the faux lives we create for our children and pointless from the context of "growing up."

Powerful stuff - and well beyond the "Tiger Mom" in some ways.  Though I expect that the Tiger Mom in her own way created something of the same effect.

I see this today as a grandfather.  Other grandparents say - oh look, I've bought a house near little Suzy and her child so I can be with them every day to take them to swim class, day care, etc.

My actions are different.  I expose my grandchildren to real things - work or play - and treat them like someone who wants to be a grown up.  I'm not "so nice" as the other grandparents - I am gruff and colorful - but at the same time I keep an eye on what the kiddies are up to.

Modern life and its attendant elements like feminism have created this, I think.  But Gopnik, at least in this article, does not address the causes.

As a society we have lost our way, particularly in the area of rearing children so it's little wonder we have the results we do today.

This also says a lot about UC Berkley - I guess the radical thinking has gone around full circle (or almost as no one is probing the causes of this yet) back to "traditional thinking."

Alison Gopnik at TED:

What does this say about the value of motherhood?

What if your mother is not their to support this?

What does this say about our society and what we've done to it?

This is perhaps the most profound thing I have seen so far in writing this blog.

Our modern society is doing its best to turn small children into what we think "adults" are but, in the process, actually ruining their innate ability to grow into adults.

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