Monday, October 20, 2008

Parental repression

One of the favourable developments over the years has been the reduced level of repression in people. Do you find that your parents just refuse to engage? There are certain topics that they will evade or dismiss? The chances are they are repressed. By that I mean they refuse to acknowledge facts of reality or premises that contradict their 'world view'.

I think this is interesting because there are some countries which are refreshingly not like that. The southern Mediterranean countries like Greece being one of the best examples, along with the Philippines. These countries have their own issues, in the sense that values are skewed towards emotional self-indulgence. the polar opposite is Korea and Japan, which are rigid, but highly organised.

You might wonder - Why is this important?
The reason its important is that repression has consequences. It is going to result in a number of behavioural patterns:
1. Needy kids who require validation
2. Self righteous kids looking for validation and to disprove the parents

You might argue that this can be healthy in the sense that it motivates kids to be better. But the reality is that positive role modelling can do the same without a legacy of these issues.
Andrew Sheldon

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The importance of parenting

I think most parents would appreciate the importance of parenting, but I would suggest parents differ a great deal on how to parent, or what they are prepared to do. There are of course different approaches that you could take:
1. Traditional: You might take the attitude that 'I will teach my kids the same as my parents modelled for me because I didn't turn out too bad'. I actually consider this a variant of the next approach.
2. Pragmatic: You might take the attitude that I will do whatever works. I would suggest that most parents take this approach, and it tends to involve the provision of sustenance, clothing, shelter, security, and if you are lucky private school and a bit of a leg up buying the first house or car. I consider this a very low-maintenance approach to parenting, and its not a bad approach if the parents are good role models and have good communication skills. It fails abysmally if they don't because they end up resenting their kids for any burden they place on them. Effectively they are saying 'I didn't ask for this', but implicitly they did; by not being engaged in their kids lives. This dubious approach to parenting tends to define very limited notions of what constitutes parental responsibility. What they never realise is that its not a matter of quantity, but the quality of time for their kids. Kids can amuse themselves, interact with others, whether siblings, friends, or others, but the interaction with a role model is more important. The other failure of the pragmatic approach is its failure to establish any standards of what constitutes good parenting. They have no measure, or more likely very superficial measures, and often those standards are 'peer pressure'. Oh what would the neighbours think if they knew my son stole stereo equipment, or if their daughter got pregnant, or their son was arrested for some indiscretion. These are calls to action, but parents that need to wait for these hurdles to be breached really are disengaged from their children. Usually its due to a failure to communicate or to provide effective role modelling.
3. Loving: There are those whom argue that all that a child needs is unconditional love. I am not a fan of this approach. These people are in effect saying that humans are intrinsically worthy of love regardless of their actions or character. To be is to be valued. Of course they can't consistently apply that philosophy because life requires choice, thus preferences and standards to differentiate. How do you differentiate if you don't have standards (reasons). So these parents end up defying their 'causeless' love. Life is about the pursuit of value in all its forms, material, spiritual, romantic. The earlier a child knows that the more self-reliant they will be. A child is not maligned by a lack of 'causeless love', they are maligned by a contradictory or causeless absence of it. That absence is likely to not undermine their capacity to be loved, but undermine their efficacy in their thinking at a time when their capacity to articulate their fears, or to understand the pertinent issues is beyond them.
4. Rational: This approach might strike people as cold, but actually there is no dichotomy or contradiction between thoughts and emotions in a person (or couple) with integrity, with good self esteem. Generally the people who exude such confidence are those people who were raised with structured, goal-orientated lives. Some people are better than others. Some got the message too late, for others it was contradictory, for some it was compartmentalised, and for others they had to discover the principles from books, and thereafter struggled for years to correct their erroneous thinking, knowing that it was wrong but not fully comprehending why. A great many people just lack the mental efficacy or ambition and give up. And their is a relationship between those values. The rational people is the person who recognises that life requires deliberate rather than arbitrary action. They realise that what man is (his nature) determines the type of action he should or ought to take. There are a great many philosophers who struggle with the idea that you can get a value proposition from a fact. Does not the fact that humans have a rational faculty imply that one should use it? Of course. All the time? Maybe not. Answering that question is the role of philosophy.

I of course support the last proposition that 'man should be understood in order to define what is the best approach to parenting. This might sound commonplace, but its surprising the extent to which this is not done. The reason why this approach is not heralded as the 'best approach' is political. If you imply an 'ought', a lot of people get scared that government will impose values on parents. Of course this arises because you have a collectivist government imposing seemingly 'objective' principles on people. No good ever came from imposing things on people. The 'good' is that which is understood rather blindly accepted. That requires negotiations. Governments and corporations tend not to take the time to do that because they think that its not productive. The problem of course is that they think short-range. They fail to see that once you 'really' change a person, you have an advocate who is much more powerful than the sponsor because they are an existing relationship or come from the same perspective as the other prospective adherents. The failure to grasp this is the cause of all the world's brutality, whether perpetrated upon kids, armies or terrorists. What do we know about Bin Laden. We know he was trained to fight by the Americans. The American military - the so called defenders of freedom - are the fascists. Arab cultures are just poorer cousins. America is a dying star. Unless it rediscovers its founding values it will continue to go backwards, and of course I mean that in a collectivist sense. There is nothing stopping Americans from being successful however, since they can always export their wealthy. That's one reason why governments support globalisation. The other reasons are not pretty! The problem knowing so much is you easily go off topic. :)
Andrew Sheldon

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Is it wrong to hit your children?

Parents since time became have debated the issue of whether it is appropriate to hit your children. There is no question in my mind that there is no need to hit children. There are several reasons for this:
1. Striking a child does not convey an argument: It tells the child that they way adults achieve what they want is to impose their will on others. This is the foundation for creating a bully rather than a compliant child. The parent of course feels compelled to raise the stakes as the child becomes desensitised to physical threats.
2. Striking a child conveys low regard for the child: Parents generally strike a child not for gratification but because its easy. Its a simply solution to a problem. It conveys the notion that they are not invested in their children. You might ask why? Well I dare say they didn't think having children would be so much work. They didn't think their child would be so rebellious. The fact that they are is a reflection on the parent. It shows that a parent is out of their depth, that they draw no sense of efficacy from raising a child. This has to impact on their self-esteem, if they already didn't have self-esteem. Parents with low self-esteem tend to produce children of low self esteem.
3. Striking a child shows no understanding of child psychology: Parents need to understand the motive power of children. The intent is no to manipulate them but to guide them. A child is a human being, and as such they have certain needs. They want to be loved or appreciated, they are curious, they want to explore and understand, and they have certain capacities to understand certain information at a certain age. It goes without saying that parental guidance has to be age-appropriate. If the child is not getting the message, its more likely because your message or approach is not age-appropriate. For older children, its readily apparent that kids appreciate their toys, they like being active, they like being the centre of attention.

Might the argument be made that confining a child to a bedroom or denying them toys is equally damaging to their psyche. I think that is true to some extent if the parent fails to convey to the child the reason why they are being punished. It it also important that a parent conveys the information before the child misbehaves. A great many parents will strike a child for not fulfilling their expectancies. This is not an instance of educating the child, but of externalising responsibility. If a parent does not give the child queues they can't expect a child to get it. The most important point is to empathise with the child.
The biggest mistake parents can make is to think that parenting is a natural gift bestowed on them. It is a choice and it is a challenge that requires skills. You have no built-in parental instincts. You need the tools to perform the task well, and if you are prepared you will derive a great deal of efficacy and pride from the task. The reward will be darling children that have every chance to become productive members of society. Children are pretty reslient, but get it seriously wrong and you will be in constant shouting matches, breaking up fights with their siblings, bailing them out of jail or identifying their body at the morgue.
I'm not suggesting that this is purely the result of striking your child. No parent is all bad, if only because they need moments of appreciation or love from their child, those maybe there are parents who resent every monment with their child, and vice versa. The implications are clear though - if you put junk into a child's mind he will unlikely come out a genius. If he is a genius, its not because of you, but inspite of you. Its because he developed positive standards of comparison, not from reflecting on your skills, but by comparing them with the skills of parents with good values. Children born into gettos I dare say have less possibility of developing such positive standards of value, but its not difficult. People are poor for different reasons.
Andrew Sheldon

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Take it or leave it, or comment on it

I have not yet placed a lot of content on this page. Actually there are a great many notes I've written over the years which will take time to post. In the meantime I wanted to acknowledge that I am not a parent, but I have been a child, and have certainly observed parents in different countries.
The argument will be made by someone that "How can you offer advice on parenting when you dont have children". Well I would make the point that I dont profess to be an expert in all areas, if any, though I think I could offer insights that would stretch a great many experts for their lack of thinking skills.
I would make the point that the US managed to fly to the moon without having done it before. Was that really a great leap? I believe it was. It was an exercise in critical thinking because it demanded a great deal of contingency planning. For those not convinced, then I would make the point that most space shuttles explode because of small issues like loose tiles.
Andrew Sheldon

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Why Bill Gates should not be president

Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.
Rule 1: “Life is not fair - get used to it!” Why? Life was less fair 200-300 years ago and it was because of those valiant people who just didn’t accept things that they made a difference, which is why we have the freedoms we have today. That’s not to say we should hedonistic do as we please or neglect our long term survival for the sake of current causes, but isn’t there a place for dissidence. Bill Gates advice actually shows the hallmarks of a ‘politician’ who has been compromised by the process that has consumed him. Might he be pursuing a political career. What other challenge is there for someone of his standing?
Rule 2: “The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself”. True. But then would it not serve the world to have greater empathy for others since enlisting others is an important aspect of leadership. If you want to enlist others, then you need to have concern for other people.
Rule 3: “You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both”. True. But I don’t think many kids have such expectancies. More likely its parents who offer their kids such perks, afterall it is the parents who are empowered to offer these benefits.
Rule 4: “If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss”. False. Actually your teacher has more power because as a child you don’t have full mental capacity, and few legal rights to do as you please. You are obliged to go to school. If you are not satisfied with your job, you can easily leave if you can find another, if you live at home, or have savings. Should you? Not in the first instance. I ‘talked too readily’ so I would advice kids to negotiate like an adult. My experience was however that I didn’t have such good role models so I lost confidence in them. Still looking for them. The problem is – the more I learn – the higher my standards rise. Even Bill Gates doesn’t qualify.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity. True, but not convincing advice if you don’t suggest why. ‘Flipping burgers’ gives you immediate cashflow that serves your goals. It is a menial task that does not define you, just as ‘taking out the garbage’ does not define your worth or identity.
Rule 6: “If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them”. False. Parents had a responsibility. A great many of them default for lack of personal development, which stems back to their parents. I think the more important point is that it does not serve you to externalise responsibility for your life. I see nothing wrong with raising your dissatisfaction with your parents as its part of conflict resolution. Actually I think the response of the parents is more telling.
Rule 7: “Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room”. Nonsense. Parents become ‘boring’ because they did not expand their minds to match the challenges of society or parenting. Instead they resorted to ‘discipline’ rather than explaining, and in the process they lose the child’s respect. We are not discussing pre-teens here. They are a different case. The problem is growth is becoming even harder. We need to know and do so much more today than in the past, which demands higher levels of ‘social organisation’ but the ethical framework is not in place to handle these challenges. Kids are going to be the biggest victims as a result of these changes because they have the least voice.
Rule 8: “Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life”. True. And why is that wrong Bill? It is wrong because its an objective reality. Life requires challenge, demanding a realistic self assessment of your capacity to accomplish tasks. Such schools as Bill describes are actually setting children up to fake reality. There are a certain type of ‘fake’ parent who would we want to delude their kids as well as their own sense of reality. What they need to know Bill is that its the ‘parents fault’ – see Rule 6 Bill.
Rule 9: “Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time”. Nonsense. Adults established the summer break. This rule would be better framed. Life requires you to have a purpose. Perhaps the most deprived person is the person who has yet to frame a purpose. A purpose exists at many levels though, and much depends on whether they have the basic character values which will allow them to identify and pursue a purpose when they see one. Parental support helps. A child with a purpose is more inclined to pursue that goal after school and during summer break.
Rule 10: “Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs”. Wrong. I don’t think there is anything wrong with television per se, I think the problem is that the content is not helpful. There is too much content that reflects the values of Bill’s generation. So it might not reflect our lives, and certainly we should not attempt to mirror the lives of actors, but as a medium of communication, its conveying someone’s values. The problem with TV is that it does not serve you if you have an appropriate long-range purpose. The answer for parents is to help their kids find a purpose, and then you might be surprised by how little TV they actually watch. But there is nothing wrong with TV.
Rule 11: “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one”. Inaccurate. Well I don’t see much value in being ‘nice’ or ‘mean’ because neither conveys how you really feel. One is attempt to please; the other is an attempt to vent anger. Better advice would be to recognise the value that people serve in your life, and to understand them. But really its more to do with failure to develop a child’s independent intellectual development.

Andrew Sheldon

Monday, March 24, 2008

The ethics of parenting

I just wrote a post in response to a book review. Th article started on the ethics of capitalism or markets, but somehow I managed to stray into parenting. I'm quite the contortionist. See this post.
Andrew Sheldon