Emerging Renaissance

"These are the best of times."

Sunday 2.0 Introduction

There is a new club at North Carolina State University. If you’re interested in learning some proactive steps to taking control of your personal growth, we’ll be meeting once a week to consider a compelling presentation on a wide range of topics — spiritual, psychological, philosophical, and everything in-between.

Click here to go to the Sunday 2.0 homepage, and here for the Sunday 2.0 Facebook group.

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “personal growth”? All kinds of warm and fuzzy connotations are attached to it, but what does it really mean?

Philosophers, artists, and spiritual thinkers have tried to create or discover a roadmap for growth for centuries. One could be forgiven for observing the state of human society and surmising that all these efforts have been in vain. But believe it or not, people actually have come up with some pretty good ideas over the years, but you probably haven’t heard of most of them. Even when good ideas have made it to the mainstream, they have as a rule become so diluted so as to have lost most of their power.

At Sunday 2.0, we’ve done a lot of digging. We have searched out new ideas from a host of sources, both well-known and esoteric. Although we haven’t found a single silver bullet that answers the questions of Growth and Enlightenment once and for all, we have discovered a number of edifying and practical concepts that we believe are worth sharing.

Finding fellow travelers on your journey will make your quest for personal growth more enjoyable and more successful. Join us Sunday mornings for a presentation on some of the most interesting and inspiring ideas we’ve come across. We hope you hear something you can use to make your life better, and we hope you’ll meet people who are on the same path and can provide support and companionship along the way.

September 12, 2010 Posted by | Education, Introduction, Philosophy, Psychology, Relationships, Religion | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Letter to School Board

The following is a letter I sent to the administration of my former high school about eliminating the practice of spanking. Spanking is still legal in Alabama, as it is in 19 other states primarily in the southeastern US. The current bill in congress, while applying to public schools across the US, does not apply to private schools that do not receive funding from the federal government.

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is [Name], and I am a Briarwood graduate from the year 2007. I attended Briarwood for all of my schooling, from K-4 through the end of high school. Since graduating, I have spent some time studying psychology, both formally (through college classes) and informally (by reading a number of books and current journal articles, and by listening to interviews with experts in the field). Conflict resolution, both among adults and between adults and children, has been of particular interest to me.

I recently spoke with Dr. Mosbacker about alternatives to spanking, which I believe (and which research has shown) to be not only ineffective, but a counterproductive means of discipline. I was overjoyed to hear that the practice has been officially discontinued at the high school and junior high level, but I believe there is a good case to be made for change at the elementary level too.

Like any exercise of authority and power, spanking creates external incentives for a child to change his behavior. It may achieve compliance in the short run, but it does not promote genuine understanding of the difference between right and wrong [1]. A child who is spanked does not internalize a methodology for making healthy and sound decisions. He only learns to follow the dictates of authority in the moment [2]. Instead of spanking, teachers could model negotiation. They could explain why certain rules exist, and how they serve the interests of both the school and the child. Children want to cooperate. If they are given the chance to understand the purpose of a rule (and if the rule makes sense), then they are much more likely to participate in following the rules and encouraging others to follow them as well.

If a child is climbing on a fence, the teacher could threaten him with punishment, or she could say something like: “When I see you climbing on the fence, I feel afraid because you could fall off and hurt yourself, and I don’t want you to be hurt. Even if you are a good climber, other children who are not good climbers may see you climbing and want to copy you. I don’t want them to fall and get hurt either. I want you to have fun, but I have to watch the whole playground. I can’t make sure everyone else is playing safe and having fun if I have to spend all my time paying extra attention to you because you’re doing something dangerous.” She could go on to suggest alternative forms of play that don’t involve increased risk.

This approach may seem time-consuming—and at the beginning it is. But because it promotes understanding of the reasons behind the rule, the child can internalize the logic behind not only this particular rule, but perhaps other rules as well. Children want to know why things are the way they are—That’s why they’re always asking!

Negotiation begins when the teacher explains her perspective, but that’s only half the equation. It is equally important for the child to be heard, and to feel that his perspective is understood. Even if the rule doesn’t change, it can be enormously helpful for the child to have the experience of being listened to. If his thoughts and feelings matter, he is much more likely to feel that he has some investment in the school. Children aren’t alone in this. As adults we also feel more invested in our relationships when someone listens to us—our bosses, our neighbors, our spouses…And of course, there may be some chance that the rule is not serving its purpose (to keep the children safe and happy, to promote a secure and stimulating learning environment, etc.) and needs to be amended. Because children experience the teacher-student authority relationship from below rather than above, they may be able to see something that others have missed.

Spanking can also be physically dangerous. There is no safe way to hit a child, particularly a young child. Depending on where they are hit, bruising and even damage to bones and tendons can occur [3]. Even if one is attempting to hit a child in a “safe place” the child might move in the last moment so that he is struck in an unsafe place (such as the lower back, tailbone, or a major nerve, which for young children are still developing and are easily damaged). What if the child were to fall and hit his head or eye against the corner of a desk or table? A teacher may be two, or three, or even four times larger than a small child. What if the teacher overestimates his strength? What if a teacher gets carried away in the moment?

Certainly the school has policies that attempt to protect against extremities, such as recommending that teachers not “spank in anger,” and requiring that two adults be present during the procedure [4]. But the physical, emotional, and spiritual risks of spanking are not reduced by hitting “without anger.” In my experience at Briarwood the “rule of two” was never followed (I was spanked once and saw other children being spanked on at least four other occasions, and there was never a second adult present). There is no way to enforce this policy; children are unaware of it and therefore cannot report violations (or will not, if they fear additional punishment), and teachers may also be unaware of the rule, or they may not wish to enforce it on themselves.

Spanking can harm brain development. Even if no visible physical damage is done to the child’s body, being struck by an adult (or even being threatened with such aggression) causes the release of stress hormones in the brain, including cortisol. Overstimulation by adrenaline and cortisol, particularly during the rapid development that occurs at an early age, has been shown to cause brain damage, even significantly reducing the size of certain areas of the brain. Such brain damage can result in learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and an inability to empathize with others—resulting in aggressive or even violent behavior [5].

I really appreciate that you took the time to read my letter. Like you, I want the children who go through Briarwood Christian School to have a safe, happy, and productive time at school. I want teachers and the students they are responsible for to have the best relationship possible. I want school to be an experience that children look forward to, not just one they endure. Thank you for considering the ideas I put forward above. I hope they are useful in beginning (or continuing!) a dialogue about the best way to model love and respect between teachers and students.

I would be happy to speak further on this matter or to provide additional references to anyone who is interested. Thank you again for your time and consideration.

[Name]
Class of 2007

[1] Alice Park, “The Long-Term Effects of Spanking” – TIME Magazine, May 3, 2010, available here

[2] See Dr. Thomas Gordon’s Parent Effectiveness Training, ch. 9-10

[3] Jordan Riak, “Plain Talk about Spanking,” available here

[4] See Briarwood’s policy, available on their website

[5] Alice Miller, “The Political Consequences of Child Abuse,” The Journal of Psychohistory, available here

August 23, 2010 Posted by | Education, Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

One Drawback of Summer Reading Programs

My elementary school summer reading program, by paying us with points and prizes for each page we read, did not encourage us to read for enjoyment or understanding, but for volume–to “finish” a book. Perhaps that’s why I feel resistance to quitting a book, or to pausing to absorb or add to a thought, or to “not reading fast enough.” But if the point is to gain knowledge or enjoyment, rather than to process a high volume of words, why should mere speed matter? Even well-meaning summer reading programs seem to have unintended consequences.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | Education | , , , , | Leave a comment

Stefan Molyneux on Leadership

Preface

Stefan Molyneux is the founder and host of Freedomain Radio, which he describes as “the largest philosophical conversation on the planet.” Molyneux has an M.A. in History from McGill University, and he has lived in Ireland, England, South Africa, and Canada. He is a former software executive and entrepreneur who currently lives in Toronto. He quit his career in software in 2007 to run Freedomain Radio full-time.

Freedomain Radio is a podcast about philosophy—but that isn’t nearly as boring as it sounds. As Molyneux demonstrates, philosophy touches every aspect of our lives, from abstract topics in politics, economics, and religion, to more personal subjects in psychology, relationships, and parenting. In addition to the podcast series, there is a growing community of listeners who meet online to discuss the topics covered in the podcasts. In fact, the community is increasingly active “off-line,” as people meet and become friends with other listeners who live near them. In London, there is Freedomain Radio-inspired “Psychology Book Club,” which meets once a month to discuss works such as Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child and Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication. When I asked Molyneux what he thought set Freedomain Radio apart from other philosophical conversations, he said it was the combination of respect for science and rationality (without falling into determinism) with recognition of the depth and meaning of human experience (without falling into mysticism). “I think that [kind of] balance is really, really unusual in philosophy, and I think it comes out of my immense respect for science and my immense respect for psychology and the pursuit of self-knowledge…I’ve not seen anything like it out there.”

I originally discovered Freedomain Radio and Stefan Molyneux in a political discussion group on Facebook, where someone posted one of his YouTube videos. In this video, Molyneux explained that he believed the cultural and political development of society was governed largely by our individual experiences and personal relationships. His points were of particular interest to me because I had myself been speculating about the effects of self-esteem on politics and religion. Perhaps Molyneux could help me develop this line of thinking further.

After a few weeks of exploring the website and listening to some of his introductory podcasts on psychology, politics, and economics, I realized that Freedomain Radio was one of the most stimulating intellectual resources I had ever found, and I decided to become a regular listener. Since that time I have listened to all of Molyneux’s 1800+ podcasts, and I have become a regular contributor in online discussions. Last summer, I had the privilege of meeting Stefan Molyneux in Philadelphia when he debated former presidential candidate Michael Badnarik on the question: “How Much Government is Necessary?”

A few weeks ago I “sat down” with Stefan Molyneux via Skype, and we discussed his views on the topic of leadership.

Leader Background and Development

Molyneux’s training in leadership can probably be traced back to the experience of being on his high school’s debate team, where he got a good deal of practice formulating arguments and learning to ask tough questions. His experience with debating continued—although much less formally—into University, where in addition to debating fellow students he got into arguments with professors.

Molyneux credits his experiences in the business world with helping him overcome shyness. Early in life, he found most other people to generally be “overwhelming” or “intrusive,” and he didn’t have much of a desire to interact with them. Even as he became more comfortable around other people through playing sports or debating, he struggled with how to share his ideas with other people. “I always thought that I had a lot to offer, but I never thought that I could communicate in a way that would be interesting to people.” Frustrated by his ability to communicate effectively, particularly in the face of hostility toward his ideas, Molyneux slid back into shyness. But the business world turned things around for him. “If you can program really well, or if you can do a really excellent sales presentation and think on your feet, then you automatically have something of value to offer—and it’s not something as volatile or as challenging as philosophy. So in the business world, I recovered somewhat from the re-infliction of shyness that occurred for me in the academic world, where because of my political and atheistic beliefs, I ran into a lot of opposition.” He found that in the business world, where productivity and competence are usually more important than ideology, he “could relax and enjoy communicating with [people] more.” Freedomain Radio would later be forged from the synthesis of his controversial philosophy and his new-found relaxed communication style.

As an entrepreneur, he also learned the importance—and difficulty—of providing value to people in the free market. These experiences (with voluntarism and negotiation) helped to confirm his conviction that voluntary solutions for all social problems can exist in the absence of a centralized state. He also gained a greater appreciation for the amount of work it takes to create value, making him skeptical of big promises by government bureaucrats and politicians to solve the world’s problems.

By far the most important element in the development of Molyneux’s leadership abilities and style is his experience with psychotherapy. Molyneux sees self-knowledge as a prerequisite, not just to being a good leader, but to being a good person. Molyneux views “working on yourself” as training for leadership just like going to medical school or residency is training for being a doctor. Self work helps aspiring leaders to “avoid the ‘sin’ of hypocrisy and the ‘sin’ of substituting authority for the embodiment of the virtues that [they] are pursuing…Because if you don’t embody the virtues that you’re trying to motivate or inspire other people to pursue, then you end up having to manipulate them, and you end up having to bully them…and of course you end up attracting people who would respond to that kind of interaction, which is not [what] you really want when you’re trying to motivate people to genuine excellence.”

A major part of self-knowledge is gaining awareness of our own motivation—including our motivation for improving our self-knowledge or becoming leaders. Molyneux suggests that we should pursue self-knowledge in order to develop our own wisdom, virtue, and happiness. If at the end of that process we decide to use our wisdom to help others, then we can begin to think about becoming leaders. Becoming a “leader” should not be our primary goal. “Because I pursued [self-knowledge] for its own sake, I have a kind of credibility…when it comes to the steps that I think are necessary [for people to achieve happiness]—or at least the ones that worked for me, which I think can be reproduced in others.”

Self-esteem also has a role to play in good leadership. But Molyneux says it is vital that a leader not get his or her self-esteem from being a leader. If our self-esteem is tied to our relationship to other people (i.e., leading them), or based on the behavior of other people in any way, then we run the risk of having to manipulate them in order to preserve our tenuous grip on self-esteem. However, if we are confident of our worth and efficacy independently of our role as leaders, then we are more free to treat others with respect and compassion.

Leadership Perspectives

For Stefan Molyneux, leadership is about inspiring people. In his words, “the kind of leadership that I aspire to…is motivating people to excellence in virtue and excellence in self-knowledge, and I think that the ideal of leadership is self-obsolescence. You want to motivate people to replace your leadership with their own self-motivated leadership…[T]he true definition of excellence is self-knowledge, self-actualization, and philosophical wisdom.”

But “motivating people” is easier said than done. What is the best way to motivate people? In Molyneux’s formulation, motivation is about demonstration: “[T]he way that you motivate people in what I do is…as simple as putting a thin person on the cover of a diet book. You show people the results that you are trying to motivate them to achieve…you have to embody those results as best you can. And so you want to show them the “after” picture. You see on those websites “I got ripped in four weeks,” and there’s some pasty guy in a basement and some bronzed and ripped guy on a beach. You have the before and after, and everybody—prior to being motivated in the realm of wisdom or virtue—is the ‘before’ picture. I know that I was. And you have a look at the after picture, and you say, ‘Do I want that?’ The way that you motivate people is to embody the goal that you’re trying to achieve.” Molyneux believes that if we genuinely desire to help others, and if we have something of real value to offer them, then we will draw people to ourselves who are interested in what we have to offer.

Molyneux even strives to carry his theory of motivation into the realm of parenting. He wouldn’t exactly say that the goal of parenting is to “inspire children to excellence,” but he likes the idea of using what he calls “positive economics” in childrearing. He assumes that children are basically rational and want to please their parents, and that they can be motivated by encouragement and enthusiasm much more effectively and positively than by punishment and withdrawal. Molyneux has long been skeptical of traditional ideas about the need for punishing or “disciplining” children, but since becoming a father some 15 months ago, he finds the concept of “discipline” almost completely incomprehensible. “It is astonishing the degree to which children mimic their parents…Dozens of times a day I will catch [my daughter] doing something that I’m doing, or I’ll say something and she’ll echo it—even if I’m not talking to her…She’s listening to everything. She’s observing everything.” With children it seems, the “need” for punishment (or some other form of “negative economics”) actually has more to do with the behavior of the parents. “[T]he leadership that we bring to our children will, in many ways, help to determine the kind of leadership that they expect—or perhaps re-create—in their own lives as adults.” Garbage in, garbage out.

Leadership Style

In an interview with Profitable Podcaster, Molyneux said that two of the most important characteristics of effective leadership are trust and consistency. For Molyneux “trust” goes both ways. Of course leaders themselves must be trustworthy, but Molyneux also believe that leaders should demonstrate trust in the generosity and good nature of other people. One of the ways he does this is by making all of his content available without charge and relying on voluntary donations to sustain both Freedomain Radio and his personal finances.

Moral consistency is certainly a qualification for good leadership, but Molyneux strives for consistency in other areas as well. He uses his reliance on donations to help motivate himself to consistently produce stimulating material. With most people used to getting things on the Internet for free, and with the vast array of alternatives available, Molyneux knows that he must continue to provide value for his listeners, as everyone is completely free to take their “business” elsewhere.

In his everyday interactions with people, Molyneux also strives for humility. “To the degree that people would hold me in high regard or high esteem, it is absolutely essential for me to not express any kind of superiority to people. If there’s one thing that I want to get right every time I interact with people, [it] is to not give them a sense that I am hurling down tablets from on high…I really do believe that to be treated as an equal by someone who you hold in high esteem is a very empowering thing.” He recounts a story about a time when he met a particular role model of his. Much to his disappointment, he found this man (a prominent psychologist who should have known better) to be arrogant and condescending. In podcasts or listener conversations, Molyneux makes a conscious effort to remind people that he struggles with the same challenges as everyone else. He says that if he is “ahead” of anyone, it is only because he started down the road of philosophy in self-knowledge sooner, and with all the resources available today (“particularly on the web”), people should be able to replicate his successes much more quickly.

Leadership definitely has its challenges. Like any online forum, Freedomain Radio has had to deal with at least its fair share of trolls and spammers. And because of the controversial aspects of some of the ideas it addresses, a few of those trolls have not limited themselves to anonymous online encounters. But Molyneux says the biggest challenge he has faced has been learning how to “deal with a community that is inhabited by such a wide divergence of knowledge bases and skill sets and experience.” On the one hand are the people who have been in the conversation for a long time and understand the complexities of the topics discussed on the show, but on the other end of the spectrum are a lot of people who only started listening recently. And of course there is the full range of experience in between. “I want to have the online community friendly to the people who have been around for a long time, because many of them are friends. But it also has to be friendly to the people who are just starting out, and friendly to all the people in the middle.”

Summary and Conclusion

Stefan Molyneux doesn’t often think of himself as a leader. He said that’s hard to do when most of his day is spent responding to e-mails, editing and uploading files, and tinkering with computer code. The majority of his work consists of this type of “management,” rather than some kind of glorious leadership “position.” But even the more exciting aspects of his job don’t include telling other people what to do. “[F]undamentally I just aim to be a kind of lighthouse. It is a stormy sea out there that we all swim in, and I try to [help] people…see that at the end of this process—or at least as far as I’ve gotten in the path of self-knowledge and wisdom—there is some peace and some joy…” Molyneux brags a lot about his listeners: “[Y]ou people are just incredible…It’s a completely beautiful thing that there are these little meteors of light and truth hitting the world over, that are causing people to wake up to truth, to reason, to philosophy… [and] to distance themselves from superstition and from irrationality and so on. It’s an incredible thing to…be part of. I’m really proud of the good that’s being done in the world.”

March 15, 2010 Posted by | Education, Philosophy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Socio-Political Effects of Childhood

S. Lee, E. Warren, K. Wright, N. Yielding
North Carolina State University

ABSTRACT

In the following pages this paper will explore the connection between childhood trauma and adult dysfunction, and how it is played out at the societal level—that is, the sociopolitical effects of parenting. After walking through a brief history of parenting, the focus will shift to how changes in parenting styles have led to changes in societal organization. This framework will be augmented with modern research in attachment styles and the effects of childhood experiences on the physiological development of the brain. The difficulties of research in this area will be explored, and we will attempt to explain how the horrors of the past have remained hidden for so long. With a foundational understanding of the relationship between parenting and sociopolitical outcomes in place, recommendations will be made for how parents can interact with their children in a more positive forward and productive way; and we will outline potential programs for increasing awareness on this topic. Finally, directions for future research and the expected outcomes will be discussed.

KEY WORDS
Abuse, Adolescent behavior, Attachment styles, Brain development, Child development, Childhood, Community program, Conflict resolution, Counseling, Crime, Depression, Education, Empathic negotiation, Government, Infant care, Insurance, Mental Health, Parent-child relationships, Parenting, Political views, Politics, Psychohistory, Psychology, Public media, Social environment, Therapy, Traditional child rearing, Values transmission, Violence

SECTION 1: INTRODUCTION

“The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only just begun to awaken. The further back in history one goes, the lower the level of child care, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized, and sexually abused” (DeMause 1982).

Since the beginning of recorded history, humans have struggled for every inch of progress. Only recently has progress become something to be expected, something “normal.” As individuals we face the personal quest of throwing off the shackles of our own historical limitations, the struggle of outgrowing the forces that would keep us small. Those forces are compounded at the societal level, but the quest is much the same. We have come a long way in the past 3000 years—and particularly in the past 300—but many of the habits forged in the infancy of our species are still with us: war, genocide, poverty, environmental degradation, violence against women, violence against children. It is time to outgrow these habits.

Research has shown that an inclination toward violence is the result of insecure attachments of children to their parents (Hay et al, 2003). Many of the greatest dysfunctions in society are themselves forms of violence or have been shown to be the result of violence. During the 20th century alone as many as 260 million people were murdered by their own governments outside of war (Rummell). But “governments” are abstract concepts, and abstractions alone do not kill people. Each of these 260 million murders were carried out by individuals, many—if not all—of whom must have suffered from insecure attachments to their parents (if not much worse). Collective violence–in the form of war or genocide–is thus a composite of individual violence, which is rooted in childhood trauma. It stands to reason that if we could somehow solve the problem of bad parenting, we might solve the problem of violence—and have at least a chance of overcoming our greatest personal and societal problems.

SECTION 2: THEORETICAL and HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Classical works and contemporary studies (Benedict, 1934; Markus, and Kitayama, 1997) argue that parenting styles are responsible for the transmission of cultural values and practices. It is suggested that effective value transmission is measured by whether the behavior of children deviates from or corresponds to their cultural and sociopolitical environment. Studies reveal that the different parenting styles of authoritative, authoritarian, and passive-avoidant approaches appear across both individualistic and collective cultures (Sorkhabi, 2005). Adult competency within one’s culture is the outcome of parenting styles and the transmission of cultural values and practices from one generation to the next. Research indicates that authoritative parenting leads to more competent children (Sorkhabi, 2005) with better fulfillment of goals.

Social dysfunction seems to be an outcome of infant-parent relationships, and the ongoing relationship between the developing child and parents. The theory of attachment styles come into play here. Juffer, Bakermans-Kranenburg, & Van Ijzendoorn, (2005) observed that frightening parental behavior may serve as a catalyst for disorganized attachment approaches in children, and this adaptive approach to the child’s home environment may develop later child psychopathologies (Juffer, F., Bakermans-Kranenburg, J., and Van Ijzendoorn, M.H., 2005). This attachment style is also associated with stress management problems, and later externalizing problematic behavior (Lyons-Ruth, Easterbrooks, & Cibelli, 1997). The model shown below, provides a descriptive look at the parenting styles of mothers in relation to stress and child behavioral outcomes (Assel, Landry, Swank, et al, 2002).

Authoritarian parenting styles are present in households with aversive atmospheres, family conflict (Rosenthal et al., 1996), and adolescent maladjustment (Stewart et al., 2000). It is informative to note the types of parenting styles prevalent in the families of individuals who have taken leadership roles within their community. Poor parenting is related to both child misconduct and adult problem behavior that have been seen in many leaders throughout history. The authoritarian nature of the parenting they received is reflected in their own application of and approach to punishment: aggression, retaliation, apathy, abuse, substance abuse, cheating, lying, and imitation of the perpetrator. Adolf Hitler, Dr. Mengele, and Martin Luther, all of whose parents were abusive, encouraged the strict militant discipline of children that quickly fell into child abuse (Miller, A., 1998). Historical documents show that these practices and parenting beliefs grew into abuse of the leadership role, violent behavior towards out-groups (anti-Semitism, ethnic cleansing), and a community-wide systematic upbringing of children that was harsh, cold, and emotionally distant (Miller, 1998). Harsh parental practices contributed to brain lesions, and slower cognitive development (Miller, 1998). These effects on child outcomes and development will be further discussed below.

Parallel research in both developmental psychology and neurobiology has concluded that there are strong links between the mind and brain. Childhood experiences with parents or caretakers have a significant influence on early brain development, even affecting whether entire parts of the brain grow properly. In the same way that damage to the language centers can lead to communication problems, damage to the empathy centers can inhibit the child’s ability to form attachments and negotiate appropriately. The impact of neglect and abuse on early brain development physiologically show how parenting styles directly affect child development psychologically. The following picture (Bruce, 2002) shows the significant differences in brain development between a child raised normally and a child raised with extreme neglect.

Early childhood is a sensitive period during which experiences, good or bad, have especially significant effects on brain development. Interactions with primary caregivers are particularly important. Neglect occurs when there is a lack of touch, responsive gazing, talking and interacting with infants. An absence of all these experiences is a lack of appropriate stimulation for the brain, resulting in damage to the brain and incomplete development. Researchers have demonstrated a more direct approach of visualizing this process. By blocking one eye of a cat during its early months, changes occurred in the brain’s visual cortex that led ultimately to permanent damage to the eye. Because of the lack of stimulation in the brain’s visual center, it became impaired (Weisel, 1982). Similarly, when a child is deprived of care, positive human interaction, and love, the parts of the brain responsible for how a child interacts with people later in life are negatively impacted. In children, the frontal lobes of the brain are responsible for expression and self-regulation of emotions. When children are deprived of affection and positive emotional experiences, the frontal lobe develops improperly; the lack of stimulation causes neurons in specific areas of the brain to die off (Glaser, 1997). In another case, nine month old infants who were left with friendly and playful babysitters displayed no elevated levels of cortisol (a stress hormone which can damage the developing brain at high levels). However, the cortisol level in infants left with cold and distant babysitters tended to rise. This suggests that stress is dependent on the amount of affection displayed by caregivers. Neglect and abuse from parents causes damage to brain development and limits the proper growth of social and emotional competence.

Child abuse creates a lot of stress for children, and stress in turn damages brain development. Stress response causes the brain to release cortisol, which is secreted by the HPA axis, a neurological pathway that connects the brain to the adrenal cortex and is responsible for controlling cortisol (Glaser). It’s been found that a more reactive HPA axis is linked with greater emotional and social competence. Research has shown that human and animal infants who were subject to neglect and emotional deprivation have continually elevated levels of cortisol. Their HPA axis was more often activated to create “serum cortisol,” which combats the effects of cortisol (Glaser). A 1995 study of a group of maltreated children revealed that mistreatment causes a dulling of the HPA axis, resulting in the lack of social competence. They were placed in socially stressful situations and received cortisol reading tests. The tests showed that these children experienced no elevation in cortisol, meaning their HPA axis was not creating the stress hormone. Although this may appear to be positive, it actually shows that the HPA axis has become dull to the point where the children became physiologically habituated to stress. Additionally, constant exposure to cortisol causes death of neurological cells in the temporal lobe of the hippocampus region. The hippocampus is responsible for memory, so constant stress in early childhood endangers one’s ability to retain memories. This suggests that psychological dysfunction in adulthood is based in the physiological mal-development of the brain which results from childhood stress.

SECTION 3: ENVIRONMENTAL SETTING

In addition to considering the theoretical framework and historical background, it is also beneficial to consider the implications of the current social and political setting and how they affect child welfare, as well as the implications they may have on the validity of the research and implementation of suggested programs. In attempting to explain or modify parenting, it is imperative to look at a broader context. In every sociocultural niche, parenting is a continuously evolving process guided by both past and current conditions that dictate which child behaviors are most desirable and which child-rearing practices are most effective at promoting these outcomes (Kotchick & Forehand, 2002).

There are many factors outside the family, such as community risks and resources, neighborhood quality, poverty, and cultural or ethnic background that may shape parenting beliefs and behavior (Kotchick & Forehand). For example, parents may be much stricter and cautious if they live in an unsafe neighborhood but may act differently if given the opportunity and resources to change the situation. Politics and government may play a role in the environmental setting that affects parenting as well; a democratic government will have a different impact on parenting than a more authoritarian government. There are also more specific environmental contexts to consider. Certain stressors such as work, marital relationship, daily hassles, or other life events play a role in the behavior of a parent (Abidin 1992). These are particularly relevant in a modern society where women are entering the workforce and divorce rates have dramatically increased. Parenting styles and behaviors have changed as many families now include two working parents, step-parents, or single parents.

The relationship between parenting and child adjustment has been established in research. However, there have been few efforts to determine and understand the broader environmental and psychosocial processes and factors that affect the development of parenting. Existing research includes the discussion of these types of environmental factors on parenting styles and child socialization, but fails to delve further into the issue to explain how they may directly and/or indirectly affect parenting beliefs and behaviors. More specifically, most of these studies focus on differences in parenting beliefs and behaviors by contrasting social groups, or by identifying cultural, ethnic, or social ‘norms’ rather than further investigating differences among members of the same group. Further research is needed in this area.

Politics may play a role in limiting data collection and program implementation; in countries which encourage free speech and active social participation, gathering data and implementing programs may be less difficult than in countries that are still heavily censored and dominated by the government. With an increasingly interconnected world, it will be difficult to obtain accurate data, as research projects span the globe and attempt to transcend language and cultural barriers. Another factor that contributes to the limitation of further research is that historians have often been biased–or perhaps not biased enough–in their analysis of parenting in the past. Some have justified actions that we now see as immoral or inappropriate but which were common practice in the past. They excuse the behavior rather than investigating further to identify explanations. Also, as with much psychological or sociological research, there is the problem of obtaining accurate responses. Respondents may try to anticipate researchers’ expectations or give responses that will put them in a favorable light. They may also emphasize events differently than the researcher expects, making it difficult to quantify and compare responses. Researchers should try to make questions exact, avoiding embedded value judgments like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ that might bias responses.

SECTION 4-a: RECOMMENDATIONS for PARENTS

Information on proper parenting styles and techniques could fill an entire book. But in light of the importance of the topic and its relationship to broader sociopolitical trends, it is important to put forward some recommendations for how parents can go about creating more secure and loving attachments with their children. Following the recommendations, potential programmatic approaches to educating parents and training them in these skills will be explored.

First and foremost, adults are encouraged to seek counseling in order to deal with their own histories, to ensure that dysfunctional family patterns are amended, while positive family patterns are enhanced. Such counseling will be most productive and useful if carried out prior to having children, but should be pursued in any case. Research has shown that patterns of interaction are passed down in families from one generation to the next (Bakan, 1971), often without full awareness of the parties involved. Most people are familiar with the stereotype of the woman who was abused by her father as a child, who then grows up to marry an abusive man much like her father, who ends up abusing her children in much the same way she herself was abused. Sadly, there are many patterns which run in families this way, including anger management problems, low self-esteem, and physical abuse. An exploration of personal and family history, combined with parenting classes, will greatly decrease the chances of re-creating such dysfunction, eliminating a host of problems for the children before they even begin.

Infants need (1) nourishment, (2) safety, (3) cleanliness, (4) wellness, and (5) emotional attachment. In the modern West, most middle and upper-class children receive the first four (although this has not been the case throughout most of history, and remains a problem in the developing world today (DeMause 2008)). However, between busy schedules, a lack of parenting training, and failure to process their own histories, all too many parents do not provide infants and young children with sufficient emotional care. Infants and young children need unconditional love. If infants and young children experience their needs, cries, creativity, and enthusiasm as threats to their parents’ love then secure attachment will be almost impossible. Parents are encouraged to respond to their children with comfort and curiosity from the beginning.

As children grow older and begin the process of individuation from their parents, some degree of conflict is inevitable. By contrast, the way in which parents choose to solve these conflicts is not inevitable. Rather than (1) spanking, (2) raising voices, or (3) giving timeout, it is recommended that parents seek alternative methods of conflict resolution. In the event of conflict between themselves and their children for any reason, parents are encouraged to negotiate with their children by (1) asking questions in attempt to understand what the child was thinking and feeling before, after, and during the action that led to the conflict, and (2) explaining to the child what the parents’ expectations were, being sure to discuss their own thoughts and feelings. For more information on the destructive nature of spanking children, see Guthrow (2002), Blacklock (1997), or Hyman (1997); of raising one’s voice at a child, see Sigsgaard & Silver (2005); of subjecting children to timeout or other punishments, see Hyman (1990), Morgan (1940).

In the event of conflict between adults, parents are encouraged to model positive dispute resolution behaviors in front of their children. Conflicts that the child or parent observes in the family, at school, at work, or in the community at large, can become teachable moments in which the parents and child discuss the pros and cons of a variety of conflict resolution strategies. If parents find themselves unable to engage in productive dispute resolution, particularly between each other or with their children, they are strongly encouraged to seek couples’ therapy as soon as possible.

Finally, questions are a natural part of childhood and growing up. Parents are encouraged to respond to a child’s questions to the best of their ability, and to invite and encourage curiosity on the part of the child. If the parent does not know the answer to a question, they are encouraged to respond honestly and say “I don’t know.” They can then attempt to direct the child toward an alternative source, such as a teacher, the library, or a respected website. Age-appropriate responses are best, but keep in mind that it is easy for adults to underestimate the capacity of children to understand difficult concepts.

SECTION 4-b: PROGRAM IMPLEMENTATION

There are a variety of ways to encourage adults to seek counseling and deal with their histories before having children; counseling can be provided either via private consultation or via community support programs. In private counseling, adults can get personal, in-depth help from a trained psychologist. This approach may be better for adults with complex and difficult personal issues or for those who are unsure of the source of their issues. To encourage people to take advantage of therapy, insurance companies could cover the cost of counseling, based on the fact that children who grow up in a more secure environment are less likely to engage in dangerous behavior and are therefore cheaper to insure. The government could also offer tax incentives. In community support programs, adults can gather in small groups to embark on the path to self-discovery with the help of other non-professionals. In addition to the individual benefits, this would allow for bonds to be formed between group members that could bring about a stronger sense of community. Research supports this approach to public health by revealing the tremendous importance of community development–and the relative insignificance of high-tech solutions–to the health of the population (Donaldson, 2006).

It is important that parents respond to cries of infants with comfort and curiosity rather than frustration or resentment. One way to do this would be to develop educational classes for parents-to-be; a psychologist or child development specialist could train parents to understand the source of their infants’ cries, what they can do in response, and how their responses affect the infants’ development. These courses may be provided through health clinics or private business ventures. This program could also be targeted to adolescents so that they are aware of the full responsibility of taking care of children even before having them. The lesson could be incorporated in educational lectures for middle- and high-school students, most likely as part of psychology or human development classes.

Parents and parents-to-be could be trained to focus more on negotiation rather than spanking, yelling, or a related form of punishment. Like the previously mentioned program, courses could be offered through health clinics, covered by insurance, and promoted by the media. Children’s programming and public service announcements could promote the message of “negotiation versus confrontation.” These media efforts could also promote the idea of creative self-discovery to obtain knowledge.

SECTION 5: DESIGN and METHODOLOGICAL ISSUES

The effectiveness of the above recommendations is testable. Young parents and school-aged children are the ideal target population for a cross-cultural, longitudinal study of parenting approaches and child behavioral outcomes. The study may be extended to include infants (to assess attachment styles within the parent-child relationship), school-aged children (to assess environmental variables along with the short-term result of childrearing as it is displayed in child behavior), adults (to assess adult dysfunction), and parents (to assess parenting beliefs and practices). According to past research (Yarrow, 1963), such topics as child achievement striving, dependency, independence, and parent-child relations of warmth-coldness and acceptance-rejection are often addressed as part of the standard approach to assessing parenting practices. The purpose of this research is to review the relationship between parenting approaches and the child’s development of self and treatment of others; this includes the development of a child’s worldview. Overall, key variables include parents’ beliefs and practices, the immediate effects of those practices on children, and the resulting adult behavior.

Finding subjects within the target population may begin by building community awareness of the importance of the research, possibly through the media. Invitations can be sent to the parents of school-aged children to request that their families take part in the study. The process might also begin by contacting parents through mail and sending out surveys. (See Appendix B for an example of such a survey.) Of course, surveys have a host of limitations, but they might yield sufficient preliminary information. For other assessments of parent-child attachments, see the (US) National Longitudinal Survey of Youth’s (NLSY) Mother and Child Supplement, through which the attitudes, practices, and family values are revealed by the viewpoints and perceptions of the parent (Dooley, M.; and Stewart, J., 2007). As suggested, reports tend to be obtained from the mother-child relationship (Yarrow, 1963). Dooley and Steward (2007) have conducted a study assessing family income, parenting styles, and child behavioral-emotional outcomes using the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Child and Youth (NLSCY). The complete Construction of Parenting and Behavioral-Emotional Scores (Wiley & Sons, 2007) includes questions pertaining to positive parenting, consistency in punishment and reinforcements, hyperactivity of children, and emotional disorders.

Due to the multi-dimensional nature of the research, a number of different assessments may be delivered in order to better gather as much and as in-depth of information as possible. The results of parenting practices can be measured by indications of child conduct and mental health as diagnosed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV). The effects of intervention may be evaluated by comparing program participants to a control group. One group will consist of the children of parents with effective parenting styles and the other will consist of children and parents who were not a part of the intervention and did not receive counseling on effective parenting styles. Positive outcomes in the children include the display of: competence, independence, cooperation, assertiveness, and initiative, along with the ability to understand others.

SECTION 6: ETHICS and CONFIDENTIALITY

Throughout the program’s implementation, the confidentiality of families will always be held to the utmost respect and privacy. Anyone in the position of counseling will be held responsible for maintaining privacy with every family participating in the program. Surveys and questionnaires may be taken anonymously. Aspects of the program that is conducted where personal information is disclosed will be private; all information disclosed to the program’s psychologists or consultants will be kept private, as in any doctor-patient confidentiality system. However, if there are immediate dangers seen to the welfare of children, appropriate responses will be taken for the sake of the child’s safety.

SECTION 7: CONCLUSION and OUTLOOK

Research into the effects of childhood trauma is becoming increasingly common, and literature on parenting will take more of this research into consideration in coming years. As parenting practices become more rooted in what is objectively best for the child instead of parents’ inherited prejudices, child-parent bonds will continue to improve. Secure attachment to parents will lay the groundwork for improved adult relationships, resulting in less violence and depression, and greater independence and creativity. The historical relationship discussed above between improvements in parenting and leaps forward in society, reasonably leads to the expectation that the emergence of “actively empathetic” parenting will have major impacts.

If children are shown love and respect instead of rage and annoyance, they will learn the power of negotiation rather than brute violence. As adults, children who learn how to negotiate and who are not emotionally disposed to violence will neither participate in nor condone acts of violence. At the level of the individual, this translates into healthier relationships and a happier life. At the societal level, it means significant declines in the rate of violent crime and perhaps the end of war. Governments will either become more peaceful in the way they operate, or they will lose their moral legitimacy completely, and be replaced by voluntary institutions. Children who are shown empathy will have more empathy for others. As adults they will seek and discover real solutions to problems ranging from poverty, hunger, and homelessness, to dispute resolution, economic instability, and environmental degradation.

APPENDICES

APPENDIX A: The relationship between improvements in parenting and the decline in violence

From: DeMause, Lloyd. (2008). The Origins of war in child abuse. Retrieved from http://psychohistory.com/
Chapter 3: The Psychology and Neurobiology of Violence

The emergence of new parenting styles leads to declining human violence.

APPENDIX B: Sample Survey

CONSTRUCTION OF PARENTING AND BEHAVIOURAL-EMOTIONAL SCORES
CHILD BEHAVIOURAL–EMOTIONAL OUTCOMES 159
Adapted from: Dooley, M.; and Stewart, J., 2007. Copyright # 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Health Econ. 16: 145–162 (2007) DOI: 10.1002/hec

Positive Parenting (Score Range: 0-20, Higher score indicates more positive interactions)

1. How often does parent praise child?
2. How often does parent focus on child for more than 5 minutes?
3. How often do they laugh together?
4. How often does parent do something special with child?

Ineffective Parenting (Score Range: 0-25, Higher score indicates more ineffective parenting)

1. How often does parent get annoyed with child?
2. What proportion of talk is praise? (reversed)
3. What proportion of talk is disapproval?
4. How often does parent get angry when punishing child?
5. Does punishment depend on parent’s mood?
6. Having problems with child in general?
7. How often repeatedly punish for same thing?

Consistency (Score Range: 0-20, Higher score indicates more consistency)

1. What proportion of tasks does parent ensure are completed?
2. Does parent follow through with threatened punishment?
3. How often does child get away with behaviour that should be
punished? (reversed)
4. How often does child avoid punishment? (reversed)
5. How often does child ignore punishment? (reversed)
Conduct Disorder (Score Range: 0-12)

1. Gets into many fights
2. When another child accidentally hurts him/her reacts with anger
3. Physically attacks people
4. Threatens people
5. Is cruel, bullies or is mean to others
6. Kicks, bites, hits other children

Emotional Disorder (Score Range: 0-16)

1. Seems to be unhappy, sad or depressed
2. Is not as happy as other children
3. Is too fearful or anxious
4. Is worried
5. Cries a lot
6. Appears miserable, unhappy, tearful or distressed
7. Is nervous, high-strung or tense
8. Has trouble enjoying him/herself

REFERENCES

Abidin, R. (1992). “The Determinants of Parenting Behavior.” Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 21(4), 407.

Assel, M. A., Landry, S. H., Swank, P. R., Steelman, L., Miller-Loncar, C., Smith, K. E. (2002). How do mothers’ childrearing histories, stress and parenting affect children’s behavioural outcomes? Child Care, Health, and Development, Vol 28 (5), Sep, 2002. pp. 359-268.

Bakan, David (1971). Slaughter of the innocents: a study of the battered child phenomenon. Boston: Beacon Press. pp. 115-117 Retrieved from http://www.nospank.net/bakan2.htm

Benedict, R. (1934). Patterns of culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Blacklock, Neil (1997, August 18). Facts and arguments. Globe and Mail, Retrieved from http://www.nospank.net/blklock.htm

Bruce, Perry (2002). “Childhood Experience and Expression of Genetic Potential.” Brain and Mind. pp. 79

DeMause, Lloyd (1974). “The Evolution of Childhood.” In Lloyd DeMause, Editor, The History of Childhood. New York: Psychohistory Press.

DeMause, Lloyd (1982). Foundations of Psychohistory. New York: Creative Roots.

DeMause, Lloyd (2008). The Origins of war in child abuse. Retrieved from http://psychohistory.com/

Donaldson, S. I., Berger, D. E., & Pezdek, K. (2006). Applied psychology: New frontiers and rewarding careers. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Dooley, M., & Steward, J. (2007). Family income, parenting styles, and child behavioral-emotional outcomes. Health Econ. 16: 145–162. (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/hec.1142

Glaser, D. & Prior, V. (1997). Child Abuse Review. 6

Guthrow, John (2002, December). Correlation between high rates of corporal punishment in public schools and social pathologies. Retrieved from http://www.nospank.net/correlationstudy.htm

Hay, Dale F. et al (2003). “Pathways to Violence in the Children of Mothers Who Were Depressed Postpartum.” Developmental Psychology, 39.

Hyman, Irwin A. (1990). Reading, writing, and the hickory stick: the appalling story of physical and psychological abuse in american schools. pp. 12-13, 139-140 Retrieved from http://www.nospank.net/timeout.htm

Hyman, Irwin A. (1997). The Case against spanking: how to discipline your child without hitting. pp. 58-62

Juffer, F., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M.J., & Van IJzendoorn, M.H. (2005). The importance of parenting in the development of disorganized attachment: Evidence from a preventive intervention study in adoptive families. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 263-274.

Kotchick, B., & Forehand, R. (2002). Putting Parenting in Perspective: A Discussion of the Contextual Factors That Shape Parenting Practices. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 11(3), 255-269.

Lyons-Ruth, K., Easterbrooks, M.A., & Cibelli, C.D. (1997). Infant attachment strategies, infant mental lag, and maternal depressive symptoms: Predictors of internalizing and externalizing problems at age 7. Developmental Psychology, 33, 681–692.

Markus, H. R., Mullally, P. R., & Kitayama, S. (1997). Self-ways: Diversity in modes of cultural participation. In U. Neisser & D. A. Jopling (Eds.), The conceptual self in context: Culture, experience, self-understanding (pp. 13–61). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, Alice (1998). The political consequences of child abuse. The Journal of Psychohistory. 26 (2) Fall. Information taken from: http://www.psychohistory.com/htm/06_politic.html

Morgan, John J. B. (1940). Child psychology. Revised. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc. p. 178 Retrieved from http://www.nospank.net/morgan.htm

Rosenthal, D. A., Ranieri, N., & Klimidis, S. (1996). Vietnamese adolescents in Australia: Relationships between perceptions of self and parental values, intergenerational conflict, and gender dissatisfaction. International Journal of Psychology, 31, 81–91.

Rummell, Rudolph J. (1998). Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900. Munster: Lit.

Sigsgaard, Erik & Silver, Dorte Herholdt (Translator) (2005). Scolding: why it hurts more than it helps.

Sorkhabi, N. (2005). Applicability of Baumrind’s parent typology to collective cultures: Analysis of cultural explanations of parent socialization effects. International Journal of Behavioral Development, Vol 29(6), Nov. pp. 552-563.

Stewart, S. M., Bond, M. H., Ho, L. M., Zaman, R. M., Dar, R., & Anwar, M. (2000). Perceptions of parents’ and adolescents’ outcomes in Pakistan. British Journal of Developmental Pshcology, 18, 335–352.

December 17, 2009 Posted by | Education, Politics, Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Best of Freedomain Radio

The following is a list of my favorite podcasts from Stefan Molyneux’s Freedomain Radio, for those in search of his best material or a condensed stream:

The Best of Freedomain Radio

Note: “The Best of Freedomain Radio” has been changed from a POST to a PAGE. The new page can be accessed by clicking the link above, or by clicking here.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | Debating, Economics, Education, Philosophy, Politics, Psychology, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Thoughts on Procrastination

Every few weeks it happens again. I have two tests in the morning and one the following evening, plus two papers due within the next three days. Everything in school seems to come due at the same time.

Like others I have struggled against the shadowy beast of procrastination, and when it comes to this topic it often feels like something is wrong with me. But even when I restructure my life and frame of mind to try to keep from procrastinating, it always seems to come back. I can try to write papers, study for tests, or work on projects early, but that doesn’t work. We either haven’t covered all the material for the upcoming test, and so studying is premature, or the project hasn’t been assigned, and so beginning it early is pointless.

Part of the problem is that teachers and professors procrastinate too. Students have a hard time knowing how to adjust their work because some professors take a long time to hand back prior assignments. Other professors are slow to return emails. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that; I just think teachers should be held to the same standard as their students. We lose big points if an assignment is late or we’re not ready for a test. But when a professor returns papers later than promised or gets stuck in traffic and is late to class, they lose…popularity? the respect of their students? That difference is hardly fair, especially considering who is paying and who is being paid.

You would think that sometime in their hundred or more years of existence, public universities would have figured out how to keep tests from all being on the same day—if catering to students’ needs was part of their goal. However, as it stands I think we can safely say that if an institution goes a hundred years without solving a fairly simple “problem,” then it must not consider massively inconveniencing its students to be a problem.

With the structure of universities, the procrastination of teachers, and the general lameness of school curricula (both at the high school and university level) working against them, students are bound to “procrastinate”—and that’s not even accounting for psychological roots of actual procrastination. After the first three causes, psychology makes procrastination at school almost inevitable. Maybe the self-blame isn’t as warranted as I thought.

March 8, 2009 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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