I went back to the very first year I started to post blogs (November 2011) and (with a few additions) found the following one. I wanted to see just how much I am starting to repeat myself — and I am, of course. But this one struck me as worthy of a repost. I was attempting then, as I am now, to provoke thought and this one seems to fit the bill!
Sigmund Freud is looked down upon by a great many modern psychologists because he based many of his theories on his analysis of neurotic Victorian women who had sexual hang-ups. He is especially vilified by the angry feminists who see him not as the father of modern psychology but as enemy #1. At the university where I worked for 37 years, I had a colleague in the psychology department, for example, who had a profile of Freud mounted on her bulletin board with a red circle surrounding it with a diagonal line cutting across. She refused to teach anything the man wrote, she hated him so much. But Freud had a number of important things to tell us about the human animal. One thing he insisted upon was that character is pretty much formed by the time a child is five years old. Let’s consider the implications of this for today’s world.
What happens, typically, in those early years? In many cases working parents drop the kids off at day care, which is often little more than glorified baby-sitting, and then pick them up at the end of the day too exhausted to spend any quality time with them. So they set their children down in front of the TV where they watch ill-mannered kids mouthing off to their parents, or violent cartoons that send visceral messages. Mostly they are bombarded by hundreds of chaotic images each minutes until their brains are addled and their attention spans shrink. But what they can make out they imitate. All animals learn from imitation, as we know, and as we too are animals we also learn from what we see. So the kids finally go to grade school with their brains stunted by too much TV and their character weakened by being ignored by their parents, watching weak role models on television, and thinking violence is a matter of course.
In school overworked and underpaid teachers are told to help build learning skills in these ill-prepared students while at the same time helping to mold the character that has been too often ignored at home. When this does not happen, as is often the case, the parents blame the schools for their own failures and the students are left to fend for themselves as uneducated and flawed adults. Meanwhile the parents holler aloud when the teachers want more pay and better working conditions. “Raise my taxes?? Not on your life!”
In sum, we have kids growing up in families where the parent or parents work. They are handed over to day-care and come home to empty houses, eat junk food, and sit down in front of the TV. They watch whatever comes on, and being the animals we all are, they imitate what they see on TV. As they head to school their parents expect the harried teachers to instill good behavior in their kids — kids whose brains have been fried, as Dr. Jane Healy tells us, before they ever sit down in first grade. The teachers are supposed to teach them reading, writing, and arithmetic — while also raising the child to be a good adult. Sometimes it happens because there are dedicated, underpaid and overworked teachers out there; but most often it doesn’t. The result is then a spoiled brat whose parents cannot deny him anything because they have been told that discipline is a bad thing and they feel guilty about leaving them alone so much. The child often has ADD, craves attention, is prone to violence, and has no idea whatever how he is supposed to behave in the world around him. He may even grow up to be president!
What I have sketched here is based on generalizations, of course. And generalizations always allow of exceptions. There are bright and capable kids who have turned out to be good students and well-adjusted adults in spite of working parents, TV, violent games, and day care. There have also been adults with weak character who have turned out to be bad eggs in spite of being raised at home with a loving parent or two. But there is usually a core of truth in generalizations that are based on careful observation and the expert testimony of people like Dr. Healy, author of Endangered Minds, who work with kids daily. And the increasing failure of our schools and the growing numbers of out-of-control kids who turn into narcissistic adults raise profound questions about our priorities and the obligations we have to our kids and to one another.
Well worth repeating, Professor. As I read, I applied this to my own life. I well remember when my son was in 2nd grade, I was at home after school, but because my mother was suffering with bone cancer, I placed my energies into refinishing a piece of furniture.. I sanded a lot and then cooked, etc. It wasn’t until a teacher sent a note asking for a conference, did I realize something was wrong. She said that my son’s behavior had changed, and she named the many things he had done to receive negative attention. Pondering this change, I realized that we were no longer reading 4 or 5 books on the porch each afternoon after school. (we were the library’s most-frequent visitors!) I realized that my ‘quiet time’ w/the refinishing had replaced quality time with my children. I returned to the normal routine, and he became a model student. A grand lesson for me.
Half dozen years later during planting or harvest season, my children returned home as ‘latch-key’ children for about an hour before I reached home. I never liked that, but we managed. It’s so very important to dote on those young souls whenever possible.
Especially when they
are very young. The various windows shut fairly quickly!
(P.S. – Sanding helped w/my concerns and relieved my inner stress about my mother, since she lived in another state.)
I know whereof you speak!
Good post, albeit a bit depressing since in most households today, both parents must work in order to survive. A question comes to mind, though. If a child’s character is mostly formed by the time they reach the age of five, where does that leave our criminal justice system that we like to believe actually capable of reforming those who have engaged in violent behaviour?
From what I have read no substantive changes can be made later in life. Subtle changes with considerable effort, yes. But deep changes, no. Also, lack of discipline in those early years results in a character flaw, whereas excessive discipline (up to the point of abuse, obviously) results in a neurosis — which is treatable. Character flaws are unalterable, sad to say.
quite insightful, Hugh. Thank you for expanding on that topic.
Hugh, thanks for re-posting. As I was thinking of this I was remembering the 30 million word initiative, where a child of affluent families hears 30 million words more than those who have less affluence. Yet, that may be challenged in homes where both parents work or their is only one parent.
Educating children takes a village, but a key role is on the parent’s shoulders. The gift of reading is paramount. With that said, with one parent or divorced parent families, the role of instructor is even harder. A working mother is the hardest role bar none. She misses out on teacher conferences and school events.
Where I see an easy and needed place to volunteer is in elementary schools. Reading, tutoring or assisting are just a few avenues.
My mother and father were divorced when I was 2. My mother then raised two kids alone and worked at the same time. I worked at odd jobs, including the delivery of daily papers in Baltimore, until I was old enough to get a job after school, which I did at 16. It can one done.
Hugh, kudos to your mother and family. The job is a hard one, so when single mothers lead their family to opportunity it is marvelous to see. Working homeless mothers is the fastest growing group of homeless people in the US. I have witnessed mothers doing the best they can, but need help climbing the ladder. I also recall my father-in-law having to work at age 12 to deliver a German speaking newspaper in Detroit growing up and giving his wages to his divorced mother.
Yes, it can be done. It still is hard. What these homeless mothers found it was easier sans an abusive or absent father once they got some help climbing the ladder. Keith