Sunday, 2 April 2017

How to make a bad person

When my Irish friend arrived a few years ago, she expected Hobbits and bungees. Or maybe Hobbits on bungees. Instead, her first memory is seeing warning signs reminding people not to hit their kids or shake babies. What sort of place needs to remind its citizens not to abuse children?

I told her hitting a child is already illegal. It's called assault. That for some strange reason we didn’t acknowledge it until parliament passed a special law against it. I support this law, whether it's enforceable or not, because at the very least parents who hit their kids now know they’re breaking a law. And even though they think it’s a dumb law, it serves to marginalise them from society, and I'm all for marginalising assholes who hit kids.

There is always something else a parent can do. If the kid is about to play fit-the-fork-in-the-power-outlet, grab the kid and pull them away. Two-year-olds don't understand reason, true, but it may surprise you to learn how many children who weren’t smacked do not kill themselves in electrical outlets despite being curious. The logic that kids are too dumb to figure out the world is a failure to understand how kids think. Children process the world differently from adults, but they do process it.

Unruly kids who are smacked might become model and well-behaved children. It’s also quite possible for those kids to be horribly maladjusted, however. The objective of parenting is not to raise well-behaved children. In my opinion, it's to raise insightful, independent, open minded people who will make a positive contribution to their world. Given the prevailing circumstances, that may require them to agitate, instigate, and otherwise behave poorly in society. Good behaviour isn’t always desirable in a good citizen

And it’s worth asking what else happens in the child’s mind after being struck? Perhaps they learn how to use violence to get your way? Or if the child knows they’re actions will result in violence, maybe they’ll hide it more effectively. So the lesson becomes how to be more deceitful to do whatever they want and not get caught. A child will also learn that the only people to pay attention to are the people who can hurt them. Isn't that precisely the opposite thing a parent wants a kid to learn?

This passage from The Last Psychiatrist has an excellent point:

"After seven or eight or twenty five "not acceptable behavior" monotones, Dr. Dad can't take it anymore; he explodes. "Goddamn it! What the hell is the matter with you?! What are you doing?!!" All the anger and affect gets released, finally. The problem -- the exact problem -- is this: the explosion of anger came at something relatively trivial. Maybe the kid spilled the milk. 
So now the four-year-old concludes the worst thing he did all day was spill the milk -- not kicking his brother, or lying or stealing. Had he not spilled that milk, Dad wouldn't have gotten angry.   
Add this up over, say, a year: mostly flat, neutral monotones, peppered with unpredictable yelling patterns, inconsistent explosions, and now the kid can't form a hierarchy of good and bad. In fact, what he learns is that good and bad are defined almost exclusively by the reaction he gets from others (e.g. Dad) and not the behavior itself.   
You say: 'but the kid's not an idiot, he's going to know that stealing is worse than spilling milk.' Well, how is he going to learn that, except from you? You say: 'just going through life -- every kid eventually learns it.' Yes, they learn that it is worse, but not why it is worse. The conclusion is that the hierarchy of bad and worse is determined by the severity of people's reactions.
You say: 'the solution is Dr. Dad needs to work on maintaining his calm, and not exploding.' Well, it's not going to work: he's human. Eventually the electric bill will be too high, or his wife cheats on him, or he has the flu, or he's stuck in traffic all day. And he'll explode (or, the alternative: he'll check out. "I'm not dealing with this anymore.") 
Contrast this with the reaction of, say, a hypothetical "angry Dad" who has six beers a day after work: he's always pissed off. Always. Even though he flips out over spilled milk, he flips out over everything. The consistency of his anger makes the anger attributable to him -- "Dad's insane" -- not to you or your behavior. You don't infer from this that what you did is good or bad, you'll have to learn that elsewhere. 
But just as you've identified Dad as "Angry Dad" you might also infer that he hates you, that you are a bad person. This is clearly not a good thing, but the point is that you develop an identity from it, you get defined (negatively.) The inconsistency of the parent's anger is confusing. Why this thing, and not the other thing? Why so much consistent (same kind and amount) affect talking to an auto mechanic yet so little affect -- especially consistent affect -- with me? 
So you have a parent who works long hours, tries hard to be neutral even in punishment, gives little in the way of emotional information about a kid's identity, but is so obviously clear about other people but who once in a while explodes, inconsistently, over unpredictable things. 
Here it is again, where it all goes wrong: the child develops an identity which is about the reactions of others. 'People's opinions of me are based on how I make them feel.'"

Let me put it this way. Parents smack kids when they are seven years old for misbehaving, but they stop corporal punishment when the kid reaches 14 because she’s "grown out of it." Bullshit, at 14 she’s finally big enough to kick your geriatric ass and impose her will on you, so now you change the rules. This sends another message to the kid -- don't trust your parents, because all they really want to enforce is control.

The old "spare the rod, spoil the child" isn't wisdom. It's a stupid pithy phrase substituting brevity for thought. Is there a reason we shouldn't apply this phrase to adults? If I see you “acting out” by running a red light or cutting me off in traffic, is there a reason I shouldn't follow you home and kick your ass? Oh, because if I do it's called assault.

If you have to hit a kid more than once, the hitting obviously doesn't work, or the first time would have been enough. You’d think a kid would get the message. But somehow they don't, isn't that funny? Why do you think that is?

I'll tell you why. Because the child integrates violence into their relationship with the parents. If the smacking stops, then to the child it means the relationship is fraying. The parent has lost interest, does not care and is becoming distant. So they act out in order to get hit again. The child learns that smacking = love.

There is only one reason parents smack children: because the parent has lost the ability to control themselves and want to strike. The parent is overcome with frustrated anger and hits not as a way of defusing the situation, but as a way of blowing it up. The parent joins in the escalating cycle the child is experiencing.

In other words, a parent who smacks a child is an adult too dumb to outsmart a kid.

It’s a problem with the parents, not the kids. I've seen parents hit their kids in supermarkets and restaurants, and I stand with the kids. I wouldn't listen to a fucking word those parents said either.

The problem is threefold. First, hitting destroys any trust the kid had in the parent. He views the parent as a natural force to be avoided -- a function of fear, not trust. Second, the application of smacking is almost always inconsistent and correlated strongly with the parent's foul mood. It teaches that the punishment system is something to be subverted. It trains kids how to get away with things, not reasons against doing those actions in the first place.

Third, it conflates love with pain and abuse (sometimes you have to hurt the things you love, and sometimes the things you love have to hurt you). The lesson is: hurt is part of love. But it's not. It's a pathology. If you love something, you should take the time to understand it. If you subconsciously resent something, then it's easy to beat the shit out of it. Get my drift?

I'm not talking about physical punishment, I'm talking about hitting. I see nothing wrong with "drop and give me twenty" type of punishment. It teaches that exercise can be a way to control a kid’s behaviour, blow off some steam. And it helps them see how they may be misbehaving because they need more exercise. But more importantly, it preserves their bodily integrity, boundaries and personal space.

And of course children hit each other. Humans are animals and below a certain age, they don’t have the social skills to organise each other's behaviour. So they get frustrated and lash out. Children hit because they lose control of their anger. But they’re just kids. Monkeys hit each other too. A few years later they’ll learn to communicate more effectively with each other and stop resorting to violence.

Whereas children who are smacked develop an entirely different relationship with violence. The violence becomes part of their reasoning, not a function of its breakdown. They integrate it into their personality and never grow out of it. They simply learn to deploy their behaviour more effectively without getting caught.

Again, parents don’t know how to raise kids because unless they’ve done it before. So buy a damn parenting book or talk to a child psychologist. I hate how an Irish girl’s first impression of this country is child abuse.

1 comment:

Alvinasarah said...

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