A lot of us are the people we are today because of our parents as well as the communities we were raised within. We’ve learnt good and bad traits from those we love as well as respect and it’s very likely that at least half of who we are will be passed down to the children we bear, as well as the ones we mentor.
Furthermore, it is our social and moral responsibility as future parents or future guardians in society to ensure that only the better parts of our behaviour and ideologies are passed down through the generations that will follow our own. However, it is a popular desire that the evolution of our society does not come at the cost of our identities and cultural practices. For this reason, this desire has become a source of the sometimes extreme protection of cultural norms, some of which modern society could do without.
One of these norms, in particular, is the method of child rearing which unwittingly neglects the emphatic care of a child for the sake of discipline and personally, I understand why it exists.
Children can be awful despite their very obvious ignorance of the real world and they do need to be taught to be disciplined as well as respectful. Equally, children do need to be moderately protected for as long as reasonably possible from the extortionist and manipulative hands of reality.
Many parents would rather be seen as the enemy and risk straining their relationship with their child as long as the boy or girl grows to be a good person. In theory, I commend this decision, simply because losing the willing companionship of your child is a heavy price to pay just so you can raise them right. In practice, however, one needs to acknowledge that this may not be the best way to navigate a relationship of any kind with a developing child. Having to resort to a strictly ‘bad cop’ methodology is definitely more likely to do more harm than good as either it will result in the child learning nothing but to fear you or the child learns something but what they learn is that negative reinforcement is the only means a person can get what they want.
What’s wrong with a child fearing his/her parent? Some may ask. Well, according to attachment theory – which is a psychological model which aims to explain the dynamics of short and long-term interpersonal relationships between humans – a parent is usually a primary attachment for a child.
This means that the relationship the child has with a parent will be the immediate model the child will use for every other relationship he or she forms or at least tries to form from when they are young and even in their old age. Therefore, a child needs a primary attachment that helps them develop a healthy understanding of all their emotions and how to navigate through them. Moreover, if the only or most prominent emotion that child experiences with a primary attachment is ‘fear’ then not only will they fail to develop and manage an extensive understanding of other emotions, they will also form attitudes (depending on their character) which only really know how to respond to fear.
This means that their interactions with possible friends, co-workers and so on will always have a level of insecurity and suspicion influencing them, thus making life a lot harder and complicated when it really doesn’t have to be.
A child learning that negative reinforcement is the only means through which a person can get what they want is actually an example of the problematic effects of fear conditioning. It is a problematic effect because people who consistently use negative reinforcement to assert independence or authority end up as bullies, in schools, the workplace and in the home. Or on a larger scale, greedy sociopaths who are responsible for damaging economies and victimising the poor as well as the minorities in society.
Psychology tells us that humans mostly learn through imitation/association. Therefore, if a child grows up knowing that every time a person raises their voice or hits someone, things get done, then this is what they will do whenever they need to achieve results. They will berate their inferiors or use violence against them, believing it is perfectly okay and even if at some point their conscience tells them to stop because they have made a habit of being a negative reinforcer, it will be almost impossible.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to instil discipline in a child, however, we need to know when to draw the line. Not every lax in good behaviour needs to be met with a firm hand and an understanding of other emotions must be formed.
We need to be more mindful of what we do to the ones we love in the name of building their characters and we must understand that sometimes the way you want to love someone is not the way they are meant to be loved.
Most importantly, we can advance the concept of honour and respect without neglecting a basic human need for emotional development.