Monday, September 29, 2014

“They’ll Be Fine”—Two Takes on Indifference to Psychology

The chiding phrase “they’ll be fine” can be found abundantly on the Internet aimed, deservingly so, at the hysterically paranoid helicopter parents who hover endlessly over their children.

In a different way, the phrase is also used dismissively when, say, a child must be away from the family.

Consider the helicopter parents first.

The anxious, and now self-righteous, helicoptering has become so pronounced that some hoverers use the law to have working moms arrested if they dare leave their nine-year olds alone to play in a crowded park (1, 2).

One such nine-year old left in a park was sent to foster care and the mother went to jail. How good is that for the child (or mother)?

And four children, ages five to ten, were recently taken from a widow who left the children home alone while the mother pursued her college education attending night classes; the children were split up by social services, bounced around, and possibly even abused in the bureaucratically indifferent and incompetently run foster care system.

Power over others, as this mother observed, not empathy or protection, is what the busybody hovering is all about.

The hoverers also ignore that since time immemorial, older children, sometimes as young as six or seven, have cared for the younger ones.

My derisive and acerbic emotional response to such totalitarian and tyrannical motivations is to say to these busybody hoverers: “Why don’t you just have the secret police (the local SWAT team) arrest these evil parents in the middle of the night and then shoot them?!”

Never mind that kids under five in the 1950s were five times more likely to die than their counterparts are today, or that child-abduction is no more likely now than sixty years ago. Injury or even death from riding in a car is far riskier (1, 2).

Facts don’t matter.

Psychological harm by being left alone? Please. These are not infants or two-year-olds. Independence is what the above children are learning.

Police-state spying and informing are what the modern puritans are promoting.

Scolding the coercively minded hoverers by saying “the children will be fine” seems too mild. “Back off and mind your own business” might be more appropriate.

On the other side of the coin the expression “they’ll be fine” sometimes is used to dismiss concerns over sending a child to daycare while the parents work.

“It won’t hurt ‘em” is the reply to objections.

At first this usage may seem to be opposite the excessive concern of hoverers. However, both hoverers and dismissives ignore the importance of psychology in the development of a child. Both are looking only at the physical side of things, the former at the threat of physical harm, the latter at physical safety, which seems to be all that matters to a dismissive.

Children who are subjected to long hours of daycare can feel hurt and can and do feel abandoned by their parents. No, physically they do not appear to be damaged—“they seem fine”—but the conclusions children draw about themselves and others when parents leave and do not come back for a long time influence their subsequent development.

Conclusions such as: “My parents are not coming back.” “What did I do wrong to make them put me here and go away?” Or,  “Adults like my parents are too busy to spend time with me; I must not be very important to them.”

These conclusions, unless checked and discussed by the parents with their children, become entrenched guides to future personality growth and subsequent behavior.

To be sure, most parents need to work, requiring them to leave their children behind in the care of others.

Awareness and acknowledgement of the psychologies involved—that is, careful and serious discussion with the children of the issues and alternatives, not dismissiveness—is what is required.

Hoverers fear the children might die. Dismissives say they will not. The evidence speak otherwise, challenging these two extremes.

The facts of psychology especially call for more attention to the mental and emotional sides of children, not just the physical.

Postscript. There are also plenty of hoverers and dismissives in relation to the family pet. Hovering dog owners, for example, never go anywhere without the dog and may even give up an enjoyable vacation to keep the dog from experiencing separation anxiety. Dismissives, on the other hand, insist that “it won’t hurt ‘em” to kennel the dog while the family goes away.

Contrary to what the “men of hard science” say, higher-level animals, especially dogs, do have minds and psychologies and can suffer hurt similar to that of a child. They can also be taught to tolerate staying alone or in a kennel. Or, in the case of separation anxiety, a well-known phenomenon among competent animal trainers, they can be taught not to chew up the family’s prized possessions!

Awareness of what might be going on in the mind of the family’s best friend and doing something to reduce possible anxiety can go a long way toward preventing those unwanted welcomings upon returning home.

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