Anorexia is a mental illness which makes people think that they are too fat. Consequently people underfeed themselves often in an extreme fashion that can be life threatening. This desire mostly attacks young females from any social class.
What if there was a lot more to it than that? Indeed there is much more to it. First, anorexia usually strikes children and young adults who fit a very precise psychological and sociological pattern. Second, the causes are much more complicated than finding oneself too fat and third, we will try to describe the behavior and way of thinking for a typical anorexic.
It’s all about control.
Not just everybody can aspire to anorexia, however in view of society’s trend toward pushing the abnormally thin version of beauty, it might eventually spread to other social classes who are presently content of lacking self esteem and generally going through life with hunger and shame. Indeed at present full blown anorexia is a snob, it almost always strikes in the upper social class. Children from solid to high income families whose parents usually have a high degree of education are more at risk. Anorexic children are usually “low maintenance” kids who perform extremely well in school and are very obedient by inclination. They are usually organized and goal oriented. They expect a lot from everybody but even more from themselves.
Now why would your typical perfect child (mostly females but boys are becoming increasingly at risk) embark on such a terrible ride? Well what you have to realize is that anorexia is not a “diet” disease which would be a simple eating disorder but a “control” disease. You have seen very young children try to take control of their food intake because it is the only thing that they can control; well, you see the morbid version with teenagers. Those high-achieving, self pressure induced teenagers see adult life coming with no guarantee that they are going to do as well and they crack. Sometimes the most insignificant failure and sometimes just the fear of eventual failure triggers it. The scared teenager then proceeds to regain control of his life through rigorous dieting at first and finally loses all control. During the starting phase the teenager will typically document his or herself “healthy” eating and will take interest in getting in shape (aerobics of all sorts and weight training for example).
Weirdly enough if you are looking for reasons, some findings seem to indicate that in case of girls their relationship to their father and how they are perceived by him might play a role. The eating pattern of the father might also be of importance. This would go against conventional wisdom which thought that the mother as a role model was more important. Those findings are new however and are not yet reliable.
As to the average behavior, as we said, you should expect a huge interest for nutrition and getting in shape. You will probably stop actually seeing them eat. They will have eaten before or will eat after for some reason or will feel a bit sick or just not hungry that night. Anorexic are master manipulators and the fact that they are usually bright kids with a record of always doing what is right allow them to get away with not eating.
What to make of it
If you are reading this you probably have the profile to either be an anorexic or to be in a family that might have one in it. So be careful because telling an anorexic to eat will make it fear a loss of control over his eating pattern therefore driving it deeper into his or her obsession.
Indeed at present full blown anorexia is a snob, it almost always strikes in the upper social class.
You might need professional help depending on the degree of severity of the disease. Normally to regain control over the disease two things must be understood from the anorexic. The first is that it is a control issue and not a weight issue. The second one is that anorexics think that losing weight will solve all their problems and worries. The realization that there are no magic bullet that will solve everything is critical. To the anorexic once she or he will be lean enough there will be no relationship problems and every bad thing will go away. As long as wishful thinking continues the disease will flourish.
By the way you are never cured of that. Like an alcoholic the beast will always be waiting for a weakness on your part. It is a lifetime illness even though we don’t want it to be.
What if the only thing weak students ever learned in school was that they were no good? What if the constant pounding of evaluation or the social rejection by society was an unwanted brainstorming of a segment of our student population?
Let us look at it unemotionally from a factual standpoint. Before we try to make our case two things need to be stated. The first is that when they are surveyed on their potential for success in an eventual adult world, kids and teenagers overwhelmingly lean on their school performances to rate themselves. If how well you succeed in school will automatically transfer into a comfortable adult life is still to be proven, the mere perception that it will, is undoubtedly a major factor. Indeed, upon receiving bad marks and a tacit disapproval kids simply stop trying.
The second thing to bear in mind in this discussion is the generally accepted psychological fact that as an individual you tend to become the way you are perceived, and this even more so when you are young.
So still bearing in mind that kids accept the school verdict on their success in adult life (although we wish they would not) and that kids will tend to become the way they are seen by others, let us examine how the unwanted destruction of weak students’ self-esteem actually occurs by following a concrete example.
It starts in kindergarten where, out of a class of twenty kids, four students will be weak. Say 3 boys and one girl to follow the average in this situation. It is the start of the year and the teacher loves everybody (as well she should). Everybody is cute at that age and the fact that four of them have problems expressing themselves is also cute at that point. Every child in the class thinks this school thing is great and that everybody will succeed and have fun in the process.
Unfortunately things suddenly take a turn for the worse. The four weak students apparently have problems with basic social rules (talk when you are supposed to, observe basic politeness, interact in normal ways with others…). This is the first crack in the submarine. Suddenly Miss Proper (the teacher) nicely reminds them that if they want to be seen as nice people they have to behave according to the rules. Unfortunately, these rules are unclear for our four students and Miss Proper has to show public reprobation.The other kids are quick to note that they do not want to be treated like this so as a result they also show an informal disapprobation. Soon, this disapprobation is met with frustration by the four children who feel cheated by the situation. Expressing frustration through bad behavior the students are met by yet another wave of disapproval by the teacher and the class. The situation looks bleak enough but it is going to get worse, way worse.
Various sorts of tasks are now part of the equation on which marks, formal or informal will be given. The obvious bad marks that the children will get will be a fair reflection of their bad attitude, or so it will be explained to them (over and over). A subtle trend has started to emerge the three weak students boys are keeping more and more to themselves while the weak student girl is still trying to remain friends with the other girls. The year more or less ends up that way.
… we should be more careful before we ask certain kids to put efforts in something that could be called nothing else but a social sucker deal.
After a summer where the four weak students dread going back to school, grade one starts. A fresh start. Well, not quite. Miss Proper has shared information with Miss Wellmeaning, the grade one teacher, so she knows “who will need more attention”. Very soon the same pattern starts all over again. This gets repeated for a few years until the kids get to be, say eleven or twelve. Meanwhile some disturbing trends have appeared. The weak students are becoming different from the others in more ways then one. Funny hairdos have appeared, weird clothes mimicking older “weak students” are now proudly worn (their parents explain to the family that kids nowadays all dress this way), the boys are always together but they also hang around teenagers who like an older version of themselves. The weak student girl on her part has given up trying to fit in the “nice” crowd and now hangs around with the boys. She dresses very sexy, wears tons of make up and is rumored to have some sort of a sex life with fourteen year old boys. For those four students, smoking will soon be followed by recreational drugs. Alcohol and sex will be tried much sooner than in the “nice” crowd.
Indeed, by now, our four students have figured out that school will not allow them anything positive so they settle for what they can, more precisely, drugs, early sexual activities, drinking, problems with the law, a reputation, a social life unhindered by parental restriction. In case you do not like the picture I have painted, the statistics on underachieving students back me up spectacularly.
Why? You say. Imagine going to a place where you are constantly (that is the key word here) told about things that you do not understand. Imagine a place where all the effort we ask of you is pointless. Imagine a place where most of the time a sigh precedes your name. Imagine a place where everybody knows you are a failure. Imagine a place where marks are given daily, pounding the point that you are failing. Then ask yourself if you might not be inclined to find a lifestyle at which you are good at, for which you get recognition and respect from your fellow weak students.
Before you ask (with his good in mind) your weak student to mend his ways, to go back to proper life, to give up drugs and the company of bad elements, be sure that school and life in general has something to offer to replace it.
What to make of it
Reading this you might say we have a pretty negative view of school handling of the weak students issue. Maybe, but remember that we do not offer any solution, because it is not our place. We merely wanted to point out that children first go to school with a certain social background and that for some, that background reads pretty much like a life sentence. School unwillingly and often without knowing only officializes what is already there.
We could easily go into any kindergarten class and identify students who will fail in school before they even starts. As a matter of fact it has been done with stunning accuracy many times. Knowing that, we should be more careful before we ask certain kids to put efforts in something that could be called nothing else but a social sucker deal.
In parting, I would like to point out that this discussion can only apply to the last 30 years. Commenting on before that would be pure speculation due to the absence of statistics on the subject and I doubt it would make a great topic of conversation for parties.
The teenage years are trying years for parents. Teenagers are more rebellious toward authority. It is only normal to experience clash between teenagers and their parents. The parents must not overreact when conflicts, bad behavior and poor communication occur. It is simply part of growing up and it is to be expected.
What if the whole concept of a “teenager rebellion phase” was only a theory? What if the whole thing simply did not exist? What if the theory was accepted just because it is convenient? What if no serious studies backed it up?
Let us start by examining the theory behind the “teenager crisis”. Psychologists speculate that the child reaching puberty realizes that in order to reach maturity (socially and otherwise), he will have to distance himself somewhat from his parents. To do precisely that he needs to go against some of the household dogma or even against society’s accepted rules. This clash with authority, although not always pleasant, is very much needed for the proper social development of the child. So much so that the absence of a clash should worry parents.
Now, a few things needs to be considered. First, this is a widely accepted theory in our culture. To everybody, even people less read in psychology, that “makes sense”. It sounds logical and it explains a lot of things. Furthermore everybody is happy with it. The teenagers are. The adults are. So, why question it? Well for one thing we have to realize that an intellectual theory, as tempting and self-serving as it can be is only that … an intellectual theory! We are very far away from a physic law. For instance, if you drop any object in the air, that same object will go down with a gravitational acceleration of around 9,81 meters per second once friction is removed from the equation. You can demonstrate it, it is a law. If you can only talk about it even with great conviction, it is only a theory.
Second, the fact that most people agree with it does not necessarily translate in a serious validation of a theory (please see almost any other article on this website). That many people say it does not make it so and to say it over and over does not help. Some people will accept something as the truth if they hear it often enough.
Third, and maybe the most important, if a theory fits perfectly with what we want to hear, it is no reason to embrace it blindly. Parents just love the “teenager crisis” theory because it becomes, as it were, an emotional blank check to use on any problems they might encounter during those (arguably) dreaded years.
To our knowledge, no serious studies have been conducted to clearly establish a significantly higher occurrence of hostile acts during the teenage years compared with other periods in children-parents relationships. If that statement seems naive to you please consider the following observations:
- Young children very frequently object to what you want them to eat. It is in fact a major cause of stress in a household.
- Young children often object to the clothes you want them to wear.
- They throw tantrums that would be terrible by teenage standards (yelling, screaming, hitting, throwing themselves on the floor, saying that they will kill you or will stop loving you, etc…)
- They have contempt for their official bedtime and will sometimes even physically resist it.
- They have mood swings or will remain grumpy for periods of time.
- They will remain between themselves not wanting to be with adults. they will also talk against adults with a “us against them” mentality.
What makes it less noticeable is that we have a physical superiority that allows us to take it in stride because we do not feel as threatened. Mind you, parents who are momentarily having problems with a child will state that it is a “phase” meaning by that, that the problematic situation is not a bad handling of a situation. No, not at all, it is just a phase that the child will grow out of. You, of course, nod politely either because you are polite or because you fear it might happen to you.
This bears repeating, no one has, to our knowledge, proven (or bothered trying) such a thing as a formal teenage rebellion phase. It has not been done!
If you go into most high schools, the principal will be able to tell you that students who are behavior problems are usually less than four percent of the student population. Hardly a compelling statistic for advocate of the “teenager crisis theory”.
At home, most parents, while acknowledging the existence of a “teenage syndrome” report that communication has not worsened in the teenage years within their family. So, on one hand everybody acknowledges the theory but the perception does not warrant it from a statistical point of view.
One element that helps the “teenage theory” is the trend in the last twenty years to depict teenagers as stupid rebels in movies thus creating (and effectively promoting) a false image of the typical teenager.
What to make of it
Any relationship is difficult. A relationship in which one party must ascertain authority is even harder. So, to make the case that teenagers, because of their age or social position are harder to deal with still remains to be seen. It is quite possible that teenagers are indeed tougher to deal with than the rest of the population but until we see solid statistical evidence comparing age groups obtained by scientific observation, it remains speculation.
This bears repeating, no one has, to our knowledge, proven (or bothered trying) such a thing as a formal teenage rebellion phase. It has not been done!
Oh and please … hormonal changes and important ones at that occur at all ages even though they are not the same.
The Institute would welcome any input from our readers on solid research.
Children go to school. At school they have one teacher when they are young and many when they get older. Obviously you need good teachers to motivate the students and help them learn their subjects. In general we could say that teachers are important even though it’s hard to say how important they can be.
What if teachers had a much more important role that what you think? What if they had a terribly important role of which they are usually completely unaware of?
Indeed some people think that what the child perceives as approval (approval being global and not precisely related to marks) or non-approval by the teacher(s) is a strong factor to take into account when predicting this child’s success in the adult world.
It goes like this. To the child’s mind the teacher is more or less the appointed judge of society (the adult world to the child). The perceived opinion from the teacher then becomes the appraisal of society toward your expected future. In other words if the teacher thinks well of you you are within your rights to expect a great future. If you perceive a negative opinion you may unconsciously have some misgivings about your future.
When you think about how predominant a role self confidence plays in children’s accomplishment you have to give some concern.
What to make of it
First it would seem, in that regard, that every teacher does not have the same importance. The early teachers seem to have more importance and expectedly, they lose importance as the child grows older. Charisma plays a role too as it magnifies the impact of a teacher.
Second do not think that, although an important one, teachers are the only factor influencing future success. The relationship with the parents along with socioeconomic backgrounds among others are also important factors.
In finishing this discussion we suggest that talking to a child about teachers approval might render the child better equipped to handle the often non-verbal teacher’s opinion. If teacher’s approval is as powerful as some might think it could deserve a few efforts.
Young people should not smoke. With all the information available they should know better. Sometimes though teenagers experiment smoking and it is just because they are in a rebellious phase so it does not really mean anything.
What if it meant something? What if smoking were the sign that your teenager is already in trouble? What if statistics proved it in overwhelming fashion?
In North America basically one third of our teenage population smokes. This is roughly the same percentage as pot smoking. Are those two statistics directly related? Well, yes and no, let us examine it. When asked if they were regularly smoking pot regular smokers said yes in a ratio of 75%. When we asked non smokers if they did pot, only 3% of them answered yes. Basically what it means is that smokers are 25 times more likely to smoke pot than non-smokers.
It does not end there. Smokers have a much higher risk of dropping out, getting caught in criminal activities, misbehaving in school, doing hard drugs (in rehabilitation clinics there is a 98% cigarette smoking population), engaging in sexual activities at a much younger age (the ratio of unwanted pregnancies among young female smokers is astonishing). In short, the future of a smoking teenager statistically looks very bleak and parents should recognize the danger, to be able to deal with the situation adequately.
Because smoking is only a sign and not a cause getting the teenager to quit will do nothing to solve the problem (although it might be a positive move from a health standpoint). You have to realize that the teenager is not smoking alone. The fact that the teenager is smoking means two things that are more or less related. The first thing is that the teenager, at this point, is not confident to do well in the adult world and because of that is not even likely to seriously try. This issue can not be addressed in one conversation. It is a long process of strengthening the teen’s image in order to change that perception. As I said if a child is smoking rest assured that the self-image of that child has been troubled for a long time and you have a steep hill to climb to get back to normal.
The second thing to consider is that if the teenager has been smoking, it means that the child has been surrounding himself or herself with individuals who do not trust their future in the adult world and are therefore a bad influence on the child. Slowly but surely, the child must accept to make changes into his or her circle of friends. It is impossible to change a child self-image if that child by his or her choice of friends still adheres to psychological beliefs that are self defeating.
The bottom line is that nowadays (and only nowadays) if a child is smoking, the odds that this child will experience a happy youth (or a happy adult life at that) are almost nil.
In passing along these statistics I see two major difficulties. One is that parents who love their children simply do not want to face the facts. They dismiss the information out of love thereby negating themselves maybe a last chance to solve a problem. People do that everyday… with terrible consequences. Chances are that if you are intellectually able te read this web site you are normally the kind of parent who would be able to help a child deal with his or her lack of self-esteem. You are also not supposed to have a kid who smokes but that is not a very nice thing to say, is it?
The second thing is that you have to understand that although smoking has not changed, what it means definitely has. The person who smoked 30 years ago did not have a self image problem. To look at a 49 year-old smoker who seems to be doing well (even if it is you or your spouse) to rationalize the smoking of a 16 year-old is suicidal. The old smoker is not on a par with today’s young smoker. Not by a long shot. Smoking by itself is not bad. What it means for you is another thing but if you do not like it … dismiss it as rubbish.
What to make of it
The bottom line is that nowadays (and only nowadays) if a child is smoking, the odds that this child will experience a happy youth (or a happy adult life at that) are almost nil. Smoking is literally a cry for help that should not go unheard by parents ar adults in position of responsibility.
In this entry I have used both the terms teenager and child indiscriminately because obviously if you have a smoking 10 year-old you face the same problem, only magnified.
We all know that teaching is a very demanding job. Sometimes poorly rewarding financially, today’s teaching has to deal with society’s social problems. Teachers have at heart our kids future. In short, that our kids be the best equipped knowledge-wise is at the top of their priority.
What if making the students learn was nowhere near the top of their priorities? What if their first priority by far and away was class management? Impossible you say. Well let us look into that.
If you think of it, the very foundation of a class is how people accept authority and abide by the rules. Without it nothing gets learned or accomplished. And because it is not easy to continually assess progress, teachers naturally turn to classroom discipline which is a very much easier thing to assess.
It is a well-known psychological fact that power is a self-feeding creature.
Profiling tells us that where there is interaction there is a power struggle, tacit or implicit. Such is human nature. Remember that this is an ongoing struggle in the sense that it cannot be won once and for all. The leadership gained must be defended at every moment thus exacting a great stress on the teacher. Do not get me wrong, the leadership struggle can be fought with humor, niceness, anecdotes or any other positive strategies but it remains nonetheless a constant pressure that keeps conventional learning a low priority. Needless to say the teacher who uses intimidation tactics will probably be under even a harsher stress. Add to that that certain school authorities are sometimes perceived as too lenient and unsupportive of their teaching staff and you will realize that pressure on teachers has just increased a notch. Obviously a worried teacher tends to be more power hungry.
While we are on the subject of power, let us examine it some more. It is a well-known psychological fact that power is a self-feeding creature. You often see it, for example, in the carceral world. Prison guards are given great powers over prisoners. Perversely, soon enough, great powers do not seem adequate. Under a certain strain, prison guards are soon looking for total power (or the most complete they can get). Although you may shudder at the analogy the same basic patterns applies in a classroom.
It thus follows that anything relevant in a class will be studied through the scope of the power struggle. Do you give homework? Yes, if it solidifies somehow the stronghold you have on the class. Do you use that new teaching method? Yes, if it keeps the students busy and under control. Do you present yourself as a warm human teacher? Yes, if you are loved for it thereby increasing your control.
Cynical? Not at all. The students on their side are just (as unconsciously) waiting to seize control. What’s more you would do exactly the same in the confines of your own social capabilities if you were the teacher.
What to make of it
What you have to understand is that humans tend to react as animals do in any subject that is even remotely linked to their survival. For instance the teacher in any given class has to uphold a control on the class. Upon that control rests his professional life. The keyword here is life. The teacher’s life is threathened. If the students seize some of the power, say by whispering among themselves, the anxiety level increases. If the anxiety level remains high for a long time, or if the situation comes up repeatedly, the teacher in question will crave power to soothe his anxiety, this is an undesirable emotional state from an educational point of view. On the other hand if the teacher uses repression (yelling, giving detention, intimidating succesfully) in a manner that reduces his anxiety, the concept that power protects his well-being is getting reinforced. This is why good teachers often end up wanting more and more power. Their very situation (their emotional safety being so to speak at the mercy of events or people on a constant basis) makes them crave power.
Money works pretty much like this. When people are confident they do not need to save so they spend thereby helping the economy. When people’s jobs are threathend they will save more (livelihood which can be seen as a hunting ground that an animal would fight for). On an individual basis people who have suffered the Great Depression have been marked for life. Those people will usually save money for the rest of their life. Some of those people accumulate enormous amounts of money without it lessening their insecurity, they just go on saving. The point is that the higher the perceived threath the higher the demand for control.
This is why confident individuals are less impacted by the increasing need for absolute power. This is also why principals should make great efforts to lessen the worries among the less confident portion of their staff. What they do is usually the opposite. The principals sees the increasing demands of less confident teachers with justified misgiving and they try to take away from the teachers some of that power. The teachers seing that freak out, get into personal arguments, dig their heels and give in totally to their fears. Now they crave power more than ever and it spins downward from there.
Obviously, the more secure you are the less likely you are to get into the total power craze. As long as people will perceive themselves as being in a vulnerable position that tendency will weight heavily in the balance. If you think that wanting absolute power is not in your personality, it usually is because you have not felt threathened. Were that to happen you would have to fight it.
Because kids are involved we would like school not to be governed by human psychology’s basic laws. Unfortunately teachers are human and children are just that as well, so the same occasionally sad laws apply.
Remember, as teachers go, that the ones with the most solid self-image can stay away from power struggle more easily than others.
What if it were not that simple? What if intimidation was not the case of a few bullies but a tacitly accepted structure of power in any school.
Here is how it goes. Profiling states that under any relationship (yes even a loving one) you will find some sort of a power struggle. Some are more spectacular than others but they are there nonetheless.
In the average family the power struggle is widely accepted and constitutes nothing less than the mechanical functioning of the household. The dominating principle is that you can do anything or get anything if you are strong enough to do so. The parents’ authority is based on physical superiority or the ability to scare. Mind you, that does not mean that the atmosphere is always bad. Remember that, at this very moment, many dictatorships in various parts of the world are enjoying social serenity. The acceptance from the people of the state of the power struggle might be open for debate on a philosophical level but the social peace often can not be denied.
What happens unfortunately is that most children are raised in a household that bears more resemblance to the real world and its sad system of power struggle. What it means is that most children through interacting with their parents and siblings are familiar with an aggressive type of power struggle. Useful tools for this type of interacting are yelling, bullying, emotional blackmail, various sorts of manipulations, lies or even mild psysical control taking.
Because statistically the children raised like that are in bigger numbers it follows that they tend to impose their type of power struggle. In a twisted way, it is only fair.
The reader of this website, if he or she is old enough to have children, will on average tend to favor a type of power struggle that is less aggressive. Before you congratulate yourself, do realize that democracy type parents do in fact have a greater power over their child than the dictatorship family. How does the democracy power struggle type works? It works through talking and making your point in a conversation where everybody has the right to express his or her opinion. At some point, one of the parties (usually the weakest one intellectually due to age difference) surrenders to reason (but unfortunately also to the other person).
While that structure of power yields great results academically, financially and in some ways socially, it puts the child at a clear disadvantage strategically when that child starts going to school. Obviously humans have great adaptability and children usually learn to either fight or flight. Teachers cannot ease the transition by explaining it either because they do not have a clue or because it is too ugly to explain. Maybe parents who read this website could try to ease the transition between the two worlds by explaining it in a calming manner.
If you feel sad over that situation it goes from bad to worse. The picture of a bully asking for somebody’s lunch money does not describe day to day school reality. You see, the most damaging threats are the ones that are not made. It is the sweater that you cannot wear because you will get laughed at, while somebody higher on the hierarchy can, because of his social status. It is the question you cannot ask in class because your social status does not allow it for you personally. It is the cruel joke made at your expense that you good-humoredly go along with.
Do not be misled by the benign appearance of these examples. They go on and on everyday and shape not only the mood of school life but also the personality of most students. In such a social structure the so-called “well-raised” kids appear to be at a clear disadvantage.
On average you should find the “25-50-25″ rule as to the intimidation process in a class. Quite simply it means that you have roughly 25 percent of potential victims in any given class. Probably to balance it out you have an approximate 25 percent of bullies (with a more or less obvious style). The remainder is the 50 percent that will adhere to one group depending on the situation. As you probably guessed by now they rarely go against the intimidators for fear of reprisal but do not initiate anything themselves.
It is odd to think that to my knowledge no attempt has been made to link tacit intimidation (also assimilated to peer pressure by some researchers) and the suicidal and depression rate among children and teenagers. Tacit (not overtly violent) intimidation is constant and painful but it does not seem to get the publicity it deserves.
What to make of it
Some people theorize that tacit intimidation plays a greater role than it is given credit for. Sadly enough, very little is done about it. By the same token the way intimidation works is for the most part misunderstood. If you are interested read the entry on “The way intimidation works”.
Nowadays getting a good education is of the utmost importance. No longer can we just rely on physical labor to earn a living. Consequently kids should work very hard in every subject because scholastic knowledge plays a bigger role than it used to.
What if the things that kids mainly learn were not at all the ones we take for granted? What if the things they did focus on most were ugly mean things that did not go along with our values?
Well that very situation might be happening as we speak. Obviously going to school means adapting to a given group social dynamics and as such a kid will invariably be faced with what is called social hierarchy. Quite simply, after having learned in the first few years of his life that every human has roughly the same value, school reality will correct him on that. Slowly at first but surprisingly rapidly, the child learns that a very precise social order will establish itself in the class.
That social order depends on the class or school social-economical background but it will be based on things such as: perceived physical beauty, leadership, capacity to intimidate, clothes, who you associate with and many other things. Some may seem trivial to you as adults but if you look closely you will see that it mimics the social patterns and hierarchy of the adult world.
Why is it important? Because that state of affairs will efficiently program children as to their social importance in later life. Confidence and self-esteem building (or destroying for that matter) will have a significant impact on a child’s life. If you are among those who believe in the first years of your life being more determinant in that respect you will only give more credit to the reasoning.
How does it work concretely? I guess the easiest way would be to follow a child throughout a school day to fully realize how big a part social hierarchy plays in a school setting (or for that matter in any other setting).
So Ben (the average Joe or the average Ben) goes to school. From his house he goes to the bus stop where, let say, five people are there. Of those, three are socially out of reach because they are older. Two are girls and you do not talk to girls (Ben is 8 but he will almost wait 10 years until he feels confident enough to really talk to girls). The remaining one is Ben’s age so he talks to him but discreetly as to not disturb the older boys who are talking as if they owned the bus stop. The bus arrives and Ben goes to his tacitly reserved seat at the front of the bus (the oldest and coolest having taken the back of the bus … as they should being the coolest and all) and waits until he gets to school. Among arrival at school he goes to the unofficial eight year old area. This area is also subdivised. The toughest (behavior challenged kids) kids have the best place and according to their social importance every child will choose the appropriate place. People are matchmaking in the schoolyard according to their social rank. That concept is such a solid one that it even has a name: a sociograph. That graph representing who associates with whom will be found at every occasion where people are free to choose their place. Gym class (where there are no set desk assigned to everybody), cafeteria of which the cruel and precise social order is often depicted on T.V., recess or during an informal break granted by the teacher in class, are all reflections of the social order.
The bell rings, people go to their class. The teachers by now have assimilated social hierarchy so there is a complicated but precise way in which class rules are applied to everybody. Gym class then comes up with the ever famous need to form teams. Two or four captains are chosen among the dominant kids. Because the gym teacher has himself chosen the captain, he has once more made a little more official what was already understood, not everybody is at the same level. With the clueless help of the gym teacher the captains will litterally classify and rate students winner to loser. Ben is still young to know (or to care) but girls, who live the same thing, are watching boys evaluating them to figure out exactly which one of them they will deserve and consequently have a right to when they get to be teenagers.
In any case Ben spends his days in school and oddly does not like it. When he rarely talks about it, adults with a concerned and disapproving look on their face ask him what the problem is, he cannot put his finger on it. For some reason he feels a “pressure” in school for which he has no explanation.
What to make of it
It might be argued that the first step to dealing with a situation is to understand it first. Indeed parents or teachers could try to explain to children the mechanism of social hierarchy and make them realize that the insidious and often negative programming it brings is not nearly as damaging if you are clearly aware of it. Someone who is, so to speak, at the bottom of the food chain could stop the negative impact (at least partially) by realizing that the whole concept relies on lame and superficial foundations. Obviously my explanations would have to be translated into children-language.
So you see school does teach you things that have a tremendous impact on your life. They are just not those you think!
Children need to be disciplined. The punishment need not be harsh but a child learns to behave by consequences. Therefore it is the parent’s role to punish unwanted behavior until it disappears.
What if punishment did not play a significant role in influencing a child’s behavior? What if, in some cases, punishment even reinforced the unwanted behavior?
Let us take a closer look. Psychologists tell us that all people act according to their self-image in everything we do. From trivial things to essential things that have tremendous impacts on our lives we simply follow our image. As you can imagine kids are no differen. They act according to their image which can be good or bad depending mainly on the parent’s opinion. But how does that impact our discussion?
Simply put, punishing your child, by itself, will do nothing to change his or her behavior in any permanent way. Only a change in the way the child perceives itself and its familial context can achieve that. As for the “permanent” concept do not forget that self-image is an ever fluctuating thing that can always go in any direction depending on circumstances.
But surely, you say, you are not one of those people who suggest that we should never ever punish kids under any circumstances? Well … yes and no. I am walking on a very thin ice here. Let me start by saying that I am not trying to discuss the moral right of parents to discipline their children. The issue is one of effectiveness on behavior modification. If you fail to understand that distinction, the whole point of this discussion is lost.
The essence of my argumentation lies in the following distinction: your children will not change a behavior that is tacitly accepted even though it is punished. For example, you punish your eight year-old son for having said something rude to his teacher. The punishment you handed, you think, fits the crime but in your mind (even if you are upset) you believe that “these things happen from time to time and that his teacher is somewhat responsible for it by not being authoritative enough”. What happens then? You son perceives that it is perfectly acceptable to blow up in class if you are willing to pay the price for it (accepting the punishment you just handed him). He will stay with the same image of himself which is the image of someone who allows himself to blow up in class.
What to do then? First ask yourself if your family values do not really allow you to have a son who blows up in class. This is a question that needs to be answered honestly because maybe you used to blow up in class or maybe you profess admiration for people “who show character” a bit too much. If all this social searching tells you that this type of behavior is unacceptable in your family you need to really show it by discussing it with the child making sure that the child realizes why it goes against family values. Once this is done, a meeting with the teacher might be set up to give the child a chance to do just that, that is explain why the outburst was unacceptable for him. For this meeting to be effective, the child must agree on its purpose. Forced apologies is a punishment and not a change of image. Should there be some kind or punishment given on top of it is irrelevant to our discussion.
In ice hockey in the NHL, fights are punished with time spent in the penalty box. Fights are treated in a business like manner which in effect officialize and condone them. Punishing you child without clearly stating what is acceptable or not will not change behavior at best and, at worse, will reinforce bad behavior.
What to make of it
Our prison system punishes on one hand while it tells convicts that they are bad and that we expect them to behave badly if they do not have a gun to their head. Could it be that we reinforce the negative image that prisoners have of themselves? It is possible that there is no other way. I do not dispute that for the moment, I only want to point out that unless we come up with a way to impact how the inmates see themselves we will keep enjoying the same success we are experiencing now.
Remember your effectiveness as a parent lies in your ability to clearly indicate to your child what is acceptable whether it be in a verbal or non-verbal mode.
The pretty girls get more dates and are more popular among boys. It has always been that way and always will be.
What if what makes a girl popular was not at all what you expected? What if it were based a lot more on male psychology than on male sexuality? What if it had to do with sociology more than with sexuality?
Indeed what makes a girl popular in terms of getting asked out (this usually concerns teenagers rather than female adults but this is not always the case) is not what people usually think. In fact women will very often do moves that on the surface are very common sense while they are sadly counterproductive when you look at them in terms of efficiency.
Let us start with the factor which has the most impact on a woman’s social life, male psychology. At the risk of alienating the male segment of our readership let me state one thing. When it comes to sex male is a coward. The first thing on man’s mind when it comes to initiate contact with a sexual target is a defensive concept. In short, the man assesses his likelihood of getting a positive response, in other words, will I get a yes? And if I don’t get a yes, will the turn down be crushing or humiliating?
Is it surprising to see such a way of thinking from men considering that they are generally expected by society to make the first move? Women who have tried initiating contact and know the uncertainty of the procedure probably see my point a little better.
The irony is this. A man sees a woman to whom he is interested. Upon a more thorough examination he classifies the woman as ‘too beautiful’ and therefore out of his leagues; he then proceeds to go away. The woman, in turn, having sensed that she was under close scrutiny concludes that she should either dress better or be more beautiful while her looks were her very downfall. We often see something like this in various high schools. A beautiful girl who just happens to have big breasts attracts the attention of a boy in her history class. Now, the boy, full of the wisdom of the male teenager knows that having big breasts is a sure sign of a vast sexual experience at best and a sign of a sex goddess who has tried every page of the Kama-Sutra. Upon realizing this the boy obviously crawls away while the girl embarks on yet another diet to make her social life what it should be.
A good way to summarize it is that an efficient girl conveys the concept that she will say yes or will say no in such a way that the male will go home with his ego intact. A great beauty is often counterproductive if you understand that males love to look at beautiful woman but will often be intimidated by them. For a very sexually confident male target (which so happens to be a bad deal in long term relationship, but that is an entirely different subject), great beauty is a good asset but for a more conventional target that same beauty could be toned down for efficiency’s sake. Is it manipulative? It is not for me to judge. This is simply what can be observed by hidden cameras helped by ulterior questioning in order to assess what was on people’s mind at the time of observation.
What to make of it
Men like sure things and who can blame them. It is fascinating that woman spend so much time on being attractive and so little time on trying to give a feeling of accessibility. If they took in consideration man’s cowardness they would be that much more efficient.