Childhood Indulgence - Blueprint for Dysthymia
Rousseau observed that the surest way of creating a miserable child was to accustom him or her to get everything he or she desires. The child who has only to want in order to receive believes himself or herself to be the owner who regards all others as his or her slaves. Rousseau believed that it was most important to distinguish between what a child “needs" and what he or she “wants.” The needs should be richly nourished, but to cater to his or her every whim was a blueprint for creating a young tyrant. These observations are well-supported by psychological research on the effects of excessive permissiveness. Children from such backgrounds may suffer a variety of problems:
Still, it would be incorrect to say that permissive child care practices in and of themselves place children at risk. For example, there is abundant research evidence that democratic child-rearing techniques foster responsibility and moral development, and that, without a reasonable amount of freedom, a child cannot develop autonomy. Thus, it is an oversimplification to talk about “permissive versus strict” because there are so many other variables that interact with this.
Some adults are not so much permissive as they are indifferent. Their lack of involvement with their child’s behavior is a measure of their disinterest in their role as parent, teacher, or counselor. In a real sense of the word, these are “care-less” adults. Such adults will not likely have much influence on youth. Research shows that young people only seek help from adults that they see as caring and nurturing.
Other adults are overwhelmed by their own problems and the difficulty of managing children, and retreat from an active role in the daily life of the child. This pattern is becoming much more common among the large number of unmarried teenage parents. Still children themselves, many of these “premature mothers” lack the social maturity and personal resources to meet the responsibility of parenting.
In some cases, adults may get vicarious satisfaction out of the antics of a child’s wild behavior. Again, this is not so much permissiveness as reinforcing a child in mischief or evil. A prominent example in history is the childhood of Louis XIII of France. As a small boy he was taught sexual tricks which he eagerly performed for the entertainment of adult onlookers. At 14, Louis was married and forcibly put in his wife’s bed by his mother while young men gathered around to cheer him on with ribald stories.
Professionals working with abused children often encounter situations where adults have lured the child into substance abuse, theft, or sexual activity. In these most severe cases of care-less parenting, children fail to internalize moral values. Lacking a conscience, seemingly incapable of concern towards others, such youth are given labels like “psychopathic” or “affectionless.” They are among the difficult children to teach or treat, since they are cut off from the human bonds which make one human.
Adapted from Reclaiming Youth At Risk: Our Hope for the Future. Brendtro, Larry K., Brokenleg, Martin, and Van Bockern, Steve. National Educational Service: Bloomington, IN. 1990.
“Personal Reflection” Journaling Activity #2
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