Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Who But the Parents Finds This Surprising

My take on this is about the frame than the article, which is about good parents who have children that just aren't nice people with no identifiable underlying cause.

What I take issue with is this:
...the notion that some children might be the bad seeds of more or less decent parents — is hard to take.

It goes against the grain not just because it seems like such a grim and pessimistic judgment, but because it violates a prevailing social belief that people have a nearly limitless potential for change and self-improvement.

Does anyone really find it surprising that some people are just bad and that it's not the result of any outside influence? Isn't this idea central to the old nature vs. nurture debate no one bothers much with anymore? Did society move at some point to thinking absolutely everyone was capable of expressing bright and shiny goodness and I didn't notice?

I'm pretty sure society thinks the same as it always did, some people are plain rotten and it doesn't matter much why (except in how to reduce this in the future). It's not anyone's fault, just the way it is and always was. That's why we need nasty bad things like government, to help keep the nasty bad people in check. If it weren't for that, we'd all be living in a utopia of bright and shiny goodness with no need for anyone to tell all the bright and shiny good people what they should and shouldn't do.


  1. I think the frame is valid and important. It's an especially important one for mothers, who are usually the one's who are blamed or feel guilty for the failings of their children, whatever they may be. I worked on a campaign for Shaken Baby Syndrome, which is a type of child abuse in infants. It occurs when care-givers get frustrated that an infant is crying and they can't make it stop. Infant crying occurs on a bell-curve. Infants that cry more are more likely to be shaken. Infant crying patterns are a totally naturally thing that occurs in all mammals. It helps secure food and attention. Care-givers feel social pressure that they should be able to stop the crying in all cases (but mother's often think: "if you were a good mother, you would know what the baby wanted" the baby cries so much because it must have something wrong with it." Research shows that's impossible.
    That's a little off topic, but I think this article was really to parents about their limitations. And that's good. Society has unrealistic expectations of children in many ways, which can cause depression and unhealthy behavior, even child abuse.

  2. Hmm, there are perhaps a few threads I should pull out on this. I agree the article was good, and I agree with what you said especially about too high expectations on children, but I still have some issues. I think a very effective frame was chosen, it validates the feelings of the mothers while still saying that they shouldn't blame themselves. My issue is that I think the idea that there is a prevailing social belief about limitless self-improvement is a myth, and I don't like myths. I don't think there's a social belief that parent's are mainly responsible for how their children turn out, I think society in general realizes that there are many factors the parents only being one. The specific frame, of everyone being able to improve, I think is also one that is not society wide.

    Of course, this is a little too simple. I think there is a social belief that parents are responsible for their minor children, though I consider this to be a myth as well in stronger versions (what you're saying about crying being one of these stronger versions). There may also be a prevailing social beliefs among child psychiatrists and the specific segments of the population going to child psychiatrists for this problem, that doesn't make it a general social belief.

    On the whole though, even if useful in a specific instance I think any myth is damaging on the whole because it presents an inaccurate view of the actual world and validates itself by some sort of good it causes, which makes it sticky and hard to change. I may actually do a post on myth making later today, this has got me thinking on the subject.