I wonder while I wander

…musings about this wild and wonderful world


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Perspectives on childhood: the overprotected kid

This is a wonderful article discussing the shift in ‘childhood culture’ over the past few decades, mostly in the US and the UK. In the past, children grew up with much greater freedom and independence. They took risks, looked after themselves, built forts, explored nature, had adventures. They had a world, at least partly, free of adult supervision. As a result, they learned how to face their fears, how to overcome challenging situations, they learned to think for themselves and took pride in their own accomplishments.

This is so different from how most children grow up today. There is so much fear and worry involved in parenting. Everyone is a potential child-molester or child-abductor. Every possible safety risk has to be managed and eliminated. Children’s entire lives need to be constantly supervised, controlled and planned by adults.

How are children supposed to learn to be self-sufficient, to take responsibility for themselves, to test and overcome their limits? Ultimately, how are they actually supposed to grow into functional, capable, adaptable, confident adults?

It is a difficult challenge for parents to balance that impossibly strong desire to protect one’s most valuable ‘possession’ – one’s offspring –  and to give them the independence and exposure to challenge and risk that makes childhood both more rewarding and empowering.

This is a great article for parents, grandparents and those who work closely with children of all ages. It’s definitely food for thought!

THE OVERPROTECTED KID – A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution. | Hanna Rosin | THE ATLANTIC

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Self-esteem: social cure-all or recipe for narcissism?

This article from MEDIUM has given me so much to think about, I hardly know where to begin!

It certainly raised a lot of questions for me. At their core, are humans bestial and sinful or inherently decent? Does high self-esteem help us unlock our true potential or simply inflate our egos out of all proportion? Does increased self-regard make us better, kinder, more functional members of society, or praise-junkies at risk of lashing out when our view of our own greatness is challenged?

As a parent I find the issues raised by this article particularly important to reflect upon when thinking about the values and self-image I’d like to encourage in my children. But beyond the implications for parenting, I think this piece provides a thought-provoking perspective on some key American values and cultural elements. I had taken for granted that fostering high self-esteem was crucial for a child’s development and was inherently positive, but now I’m not quite so sure. Or at least I’m not so sure the common ways self-esteem is currently ‘taught’ are really that healthy for children. I think it is such a ubiquitous part of American culture nowadays (and perhaps other cultures as well) I never thought to question the idea. I just didn’t consider the possibility that the focus on self-esteem could be anything but positive.

Please leave a comment and share your opinions on the pros and cons of the obsession with self-esteem. I’d love to hear other thoughts on these ideas!

The man who destroyed America’s ego: How a rebel psychologist challenged one of the 20th century’s biggest – and most dangerous – ideas MEDIUM

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse


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Oops, I fell into the prejudice trap (again)

I recently wrote a post about the way we let our prejudices prevent us from honestly considering new ideas and alternate opinions; about how we assess potentially new information based on what we want to believe, rather than simply looking at the facts.

Lest you think I’m being preachy and just pointing out flaws in other people, I’d like to share an example of this type of biased and prejudicial thinking in my own life.

I watched a TED talk last week about the evolution of human sexuality which was really excellent and worth at least one post of its own, so I won’t go into details about it now. The speaker was very engaging, well-spoken and humorous. He said some things that chimed well with beliefs and ideas I’d already formed, and I very much agreed with his open-minded approach to the whole topic.

In fact, I found it all so interesting, I immediately had a look on Amazon for his book, so I could read more extensively about his theories and research findings. While checking out some reviews I came across another book by a different author, written as a direct refutation of the first guy’s work and proposing some different views and conclusions.  By further investigating on the internet, it seems these two thinkers have a personal dislike of each other as well as conflicting views on human sexuality.

What I found most interesting in all this was how strongly I reacted in favour of one author and how ready I was to dismiss the other. When browsing on Amazon, I read numerous positive reviews and a few negative ones about each of the books, so in this respect, they looked about even. However, because I’d had an enjoyable 14 minutes watching the first author present his ideas, and maybe even just because I actually came across him and his ideas first, I had already formed a prejudice in his favour. He was clearly ‘more right’ than the other author, and I also felt that I liked her a bit less, because she clearly had it out for this intelligent, funny man I had heard speak. Seriously, what was her problem?

All of this happened in the space of about 20 minutes.

(1) I had been introduced to an idea, (2) learned there was some controversy about it, (3) decided which anthropological study was more valid based on my judgement of the presenters perceived likeability, (4) discounted the opposition as irrelevant and false without actually knowing what her position was, and (5) was eager to share my new ‘expert’ knowledge and new ‘correct’ understanding of an incredibly complex topic with the rest of the world. My oh my, the brain works quickly!

What!? She came to overly hasty and irrationally biased conclusions again? Nooooo! Make it stop!

What!? She came to overly hasty, irrational and biased conclusions again? Nooooo! Make it stop!

Fortunately for me, almost as quickly as I formed all those thoughts and prejudices, I realised what I was doing, and could have a bit of a laugh at how hasty and unreasonable I was being. At least by recognising the conclusions my brain was jumping to, I could take a step back from my initial reaction and try to look at things more rationally. 

To cut myself some slack, I think we, as humans, are hard-wired to make hasty judgements about many things. I mean, if a lion is running towards you, you do NOT want to take a deep breath and try to make a slow and deliberate assessment of the situation, draw a chart outlining your options and the pros and cons of each, or sit and ponder whether or not you are judging the actions and motivations of this particular lion unfairly. You want to make a hasty judgement and get the hell away from that lion!

Even in non-life-or-death situations, if we really thought deeply and logically analysed every bit of information and every experience we went through in life, we’d have no time for actually eating, sleeping, performing a job, just living! It would be complete overkill and ‘ain’t nobody got time for that’ (as the saying goes)!

So, I’m saying it isn’t surprising that we do this. It’s no shock at all that we want to take mental short cuts, make hasty judgements based on what we already know and believe, and just want to get on with our lives. There are many situations where this tendency doesn’t matter too much, or can even be helpful.

However, there are certainly times when it is detrimental to making wise decisions. I know that in my own life it means I can be a bit (or sometimes very!) judgemental towards people who think differently than I do. It also means that during conversation I sometimes don’t truly listen to what others are saying because I’m not really interested in their opinions; I’m just waiting to say what I think and ‘save’ them from the error of their ways!

At the end of the day, I think that developing an awareness of our prejudices and the way our minds work is a necessary first step towards becoming more balanced and fair when seeking out facts and listening to the views of others. It’s a key move towards better communication and deeper understanding with our fellow humans.

One has to start somewhere, after all!