Study this, kids’ edition

It’s been a while since I’ve given you a “Study this” post, covering recently-released psychological research, so here are two research updates, both involving kids:

First, it’s been “discovered” that kids who listen to blaring music tend to do more drugs, drink more alcohol, and have more risky sex than other kids.  Wow!  Really?  Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll go together?  You’re kidding!  The researchers on this would probably say it indicates something about how a high sensory-stimulation threshold generalizes across stimuli.  Yeah, okay, let’s still hope that our tax dollars didn’t pay for this “aha!” moment.

Second, and more interestingly, research still in progress is attempting to generate a set of classification criteria to identify psychopaths in early childhood.  As an evaluator of adult psychopaths, I think it’d be great if we could intervene that early in the lives of psychopaths, but I don’t think it’s really feasible.  Little kids do things that certainly appear psychopathic sometimes, and those things certainly bear correction and watching, but some degree of narcissism and selfishness is developmentally typical in early childhood.  True psychopaths make conscious, calculated decisions to harm other people for their own gratification, knowing full well the extent and the permanence of the suffering that they cause, and a little kid’s mind generally isn’t fully-developed enough to make those kinds of calculated decisions.  I don’t think that a kid needs to have reached a certain chronological age in order to be labeled a psychopath, but I’m definitely skeptical of applying that label to kids in the single-digit years.

P.S.  There was also a lot of hype in the past month, much of it owing to a rather sickening Time Magazine cover, about “attachment parenting,” whose devotees do things like breast-feed and sleep in the same bed with their elementary-school-age (and beyond!) children.  It shouldn’t take a Ph.D. in clinical psychology to realize that that’s nutty, but in case anyone’s not sure, it’s nutty in my opinion.  More generally speaking, there seems to be an anti-establishment movement in America right now that’s questioning just about every American tradition (e.g. questioning whether capitalism is better than socialism, questioning whether an able-bodied/minded person should really have to get a job and provide for himself, questioning whether a kid — given the choice — would or should prefer to be raised by a married mom and dad rather than some other family structure, questioning whether there’s anything wrong with a five-year-old breast-feeding and sleeping with mommy and daddy, and on and on and on.).  There’s kind of a snarky, elitist attitude that I often encounter among some college students and faculty who arrogantly and/or naively presume that all of the previous generations of Americans, the ones who built the country into the freest, most prosperous nation on Earth, had it all wrong, and that those sipping lattes in the student union or occupying Wall St. (places that exist thanks largely to the fruits of those previous generations’ labor) today have it all figured out.  I generally encourage people to resist the sometimes-liberatingly-novel allure of such contrarian notions and keep in mind that, most of the time, our traditions became our traditions because they’ve worked.  That doesn’t mean that our traditions shouldn’t be analyzed and scrutinized — understanding why the successful ones work is key to preserving them — it just means people ought to double and triple think their logic before they conclude that a particular tradition isn’t worth preserving.  In their zeal to present themselves as geniuses who’ve figured out what generations upon generations of previous parents have missed, the “attachment parenting” folks focus so intently on the worthy goal of forming secure attachment bonds between parents and their children that they miss the larger point of parenting, which is to prepare children to ultimately detach from their parents and be fully-functional, independent, secure, productive adults.

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