kitchen table math, the sequel: "Hold On to Your Kids"

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"Hold On to Your Kids"

For a number of years, now, I've been thinking that schools per se are a bad idea. Not education, schools.

The way I put it to myself had to do with "age segregation." Every time I thought of middle school or high school, I would think: all those 14-year olds together in one place---eeek!

The age segregation of the middle school struck me as particularly unnatural. K-8 schools seemed a more constructive social grouping, and in fact there is evidence that K-8 schools are more constructive academically, although I'm not going to take the time to look it up just now. (Middle school posts here.)

In any event, age segregation bad is as far as I ever took this line of thought -- until this week, when I ordered Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor MatéDebbie S was raving about it, so I got it.

Neufeld's book is a revelation.

Neufeld puts into words the inchoate thoughts and intuitions I've had re: kids, schools, and parental authority (helicopter parent posts here).

Hold On to Your Kids argues that teens are being raised by teens -- and that our culture sees this historically unprecedented situation as normal and correct.
The chief and most damaging of the competing attachments that undermine parenting authority and parental love is the increasing bonding of our children with their peers. It is the thesis of this book that the disorder affecting the generations of young children and adolescents now heading toward adulthood is rooted in the lost orientation of children toward the nurturing adults in their lives....For the first time in history young people are turning for instruction, modeling, and guidance not to mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults but to people whom nature never intended to place in a parenting role--their own peers. They are not manageable, teachable, or maturing because they no longer take their cues from adults. Instead, children are being brought up by immature persons who cannot possibly guide them to maturity. They are being brought up by each other.
I imagine Neufeld and Maté are going to say that a school, depending upon its culture, can act to increase -- or to decrease -- "peer orientation," but we'll see.

That is certainly what I've observed.

More later.


Anonymous said...

"I ordered Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté after Debbie S started raving about it."

Where does she rave about it?

This Google search: hold onto your kids

turns up no hits that look relevant.

-Mark Roulo

Catherine Johnson said...

She's word-of-mouthing big-time! She needs to get a post up ----

The book is incredible.

Catherine Johnson said...

Neufeld is Canadian, and I think that's why we haven't heard about him here. (Or why I hadn't.)

Reframing 'authority' as 'attachment' is remarkably useful and powerful.

Debbie Stier said...

@Mark Roulo

I've been raving about the book on the run because I've been traveling and just got home. After I catch up on "life" (I'm so behind), I plan to rave about it on my blog.

Hold On To Your Kids is an EXCELLENT book. I have read many many MANY "parenting books," and this one hit home in such a visceral and personal way, I wanted to buy a copies for everyone I knew.

Neufeld directly and explicitly explains what I've felt inside but had trouble articulating (and trusting) and had read "around." He nails it -- i.e. what's wrong with the culture in which I live. (That's not to say ALL American culture is peer oriented/gone awry -- but I can tell you that where I live, the majority is.)

The fortunate kids have parents who have the background and instincts to understand that a peer oriented culture is dangerous -- but those parents are up against the culture (i.e. schools, other parents, etc.) and it can be seriously exhausting and wearing (said from experience).

E.G. When my son was in middle school, the school psych. trotted him into a meeting and said "tell your mother," -- and my 8th grade son (who didn't do a lick of work but had been getting "ok" grades) said to me, "I'm okay with my grades." I was painted out to be the helicopter mom and my 12 year old son was empowered to be in charge of his own educational expectations! Coincidentally, his math teacher at the time waltzed into that meeting late and said "E. is the classic underachiever." At the time, he was. He did NO work; he got decent grades (i.e. A's and B's).

Incidentally, I pulled him out of that school system a few weeks later. That was almost the final straw -- there was one more after that.

The lucky kids can "survive" a peer oriented culture, (though I don't think a child can thrive and reach his or her full potential as human beings under those conditions Neufled describes the culture in which I live and the consequences of such a peer oriented culture.

Other kids -- perhaps those who are on the more sensitive end of the spectrum suffer gravely and the damage can be devastating.

I speak from experience on this with my other child. This book describes the story of "what happened" in a way that NO ONE else has. This culture would prefer to diagnose and medicate when actually, the treatment is probably more about re-orienting (not easy).

The best (and unintended) part of the "SAT project" that I did with my son was that I embedded myself into his life at a time when a peer oriented culture was giving him the message that he was supposed to be "separating" from me. No one questions the notion that "friends become more important at this age."

Well that turns out to be a TERRIBLE (and unsafe notion) for many kids. I was attached at the hip to my son for a very time consuming project which turned to have unexpected (and beneficial) consequences that went beyond SAT scores. My son was on track to be a peer oriented kid - and an underachiever (as his 8th grade math teacher said).

Thankfully, my gut told me that it was essential to get him out of that environment even if I thought that I could not afford it, and then because of the time consuming SAT project and a different school environment, he oriented towards me.

Anonymous said...

Catherine: "She's word-of-mouthing big-time! She needs to get a post up..."

Debbie: "I've been raving about the book on the run..."

This sounds suspiciously like some sort of "real life" interaction. I've heard about those (kinda like blogging, facebook, and e-mail, right?), but haven't been able to find the site.

Thanks for clarifying :-)

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

"The fortunate kids have parents who have the background and instincts to understand that a peer oriented culture is dangerous -- but those parents are up against the culture..."

I think my wife and I have missed most of this :-)

She told me very early on that we were homeschooling, and one side effect seems to be that our child is less oriented to his peers than is typical.

This atypical orientation *DOES* have drawbacks (and it wasn't something we were planning), but so far we seem to have missed most of the "peers are more important" nonsense.

We'll know in a few more years if we've ducked it completely, or if it is still coming for us :-)

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

[One more thing]

The funny/odd bit about the whole "oriented towards the parents rather than peers" thing is that my child seems to have more personal freedom than most of his age equivalent friends. He walks the mile or so to the local library, is permitted (encouraged! ... required!) to take the local light-rail alone sometimes. His age-mates are generally not left unsupervised like this.

Maybe things change when the kids get to high school?

-Mark Roulo

Debbie Stier said...

@Mark Roulo

Yes...I was out in the wild. It was fabulous, though trying to get back on top of things is overwhelming. But, I still think it was worth it!

Once I read this book I realized that my younger child showed "the signs" of peer orientation very early on, I just had no idea what I was seeing because the culture told me otherwise.

E.G. she didn't cry at 3 years old when dropped off for pre-school. Everyone thought she was "social" and "brave," and she was praised for this.

Neufeld says: BAD sign. It shows a weak attachment. I didn't know that :( I was off working my tail off in corporate America. Ugh.

The first signs of "awry" that I noticed in my younger child were when she was in 5th grade, though I didn't realize HOW awry until middle school.

By high school it was CLEAR that things were very wrong in her life and the labyrinth of "care" began. TERRIBLE care and bad advice on top of bad advice -- everyone tripping over everyone and undermining me -- across the board. It came from EVERYONE (except for Catherine -- and every time I listened to Catherine, she was RIGHT). ...if only I'd listened earlier -- though I'm still VERY hopeful that my younger child can be re-oriented.

From everything I read in that book, which rang SO TRUE for me I could hardly believe I'd never heard this before (and I've read the book 2.5 times now), I think you're clear if you have a (safe) adult oriented child. I say safe adult because not all adults are safe.

Actually, he says not all adults are "adults." There are "grown-up" children or adolescents.

There is one line in there about the benefits of the end. If I had to guess, the publisher thought they should minimize the "homeschooling" angle because it wouldn't be mainstream enough. Just guessing here.

I look forward to hearing what you think after you read it. I can tell you it is THE STORY of my younger child and a lot of the kids I see around me. I feel incredibly lucky that I managed to stumble into a right relationship with my son because, as I said, he was headed down that same peer orientation road.

Debbie Stier said...

@Mark Roulo

btw -- what do you see as the drawbacks?

Laura in AZ said...

This is a wonderful book! One of the best I've ever read, period!

Oh, yes, when you don't go with the flow with your child. I too tried with my daughter - from Pre-school through 4th grade. Not knowing she had Asperger's - though she is very high functioning. The schools tried to make her social, tried to make my "square-peg" fit into the "round-hole" of the whole social set-up. When it didn't work, it was my fault. (This was before her diagnosis).

Then when we started homeschooling, everything became so much easier for my daughter, because she had so much less stress! But the accusations came that I was sheltering her (Er... yeah, that's kinda my job), she wasn't getting "socialized" (We were keeping it at healthier levels and not overwhelming her), etc.

It all came down to the arguments given in the book - modern society really believes that especially as children get older they should raise themselves and each other. Parents are only to be "friends" or perhaps "Guides on the Side." We have lost our place of authority. How many parents even ask little 2 or 3 year-olds what they want to wear? Or what they want to eat?

Crimson Wife said...

Neufeld's book is very popular in the homeschooling community. I actually first read it before I started homeschooling, but have run into a ton of fellow homeschoolers over the years who rave about it.

Catherine Johnson said...

Crimson Wife - Thank you! (For telling us about Neufeld's status in homeschooling community---)

I was wondering about that -- he seems a natural fit; he explains ***exactly*** why parents should consider homeschooling, and why all the 'what about socialization' questions have it exactly wrong - !

(Haven't read the other comments yet - )

Jean said...

That really is a great book. I read it several years ago (yep, I homeschool). Funny you should mention it this week--just last Sunday I recommended it to a friend, and then this popped up. :)

Anonymous said...

Mark: "This atypical orientation *DOES* have drawbacks..."

Dibbie: "btw -- what do you see as the drawbacks?"

The big drawback that we have seen is that my child can have problems integrating with groups of children his own age.

In general, he is *VERY* outgoing. If we go to a park, he'll find a group of kids (or teens or adults), introduce himself and play with them. My wife and I are both very introverted and find this strange, but it is clearly a good thing.

He gets along well with kids on his sports teams.

But ... a number of years ago we signed him up for a one week day only "camp" through the YMCA we were using for swimming lessons. As luck would have it, our favorite swim instructor, Melissa, was running the camp.

Our son was *MISERABLE*.

The kids did not want to play with him.

We talked to Melissa about this and she paid attention the next day. Keep in mind that she had known our son for a few years and she is/was very good with children.

Her report: The older kids didn't want to play with him because of his age, and the younger kids didn't want to play with him because his vocabulary and behavior was too grown up for them. He came across as "alien" (her word).

This was *NOT* an outcome we expected. It is a price I'm willing to pay, but the price can be quite real.

Put my child in a mixed-age group and all is well. Put my child in a group of older kids (or adults) and he interacts fine. Put my kid in a age-restricted group without some common bond (e.g. baseball) and things can go very poorly. The good news for us is that this last doesn't happen very often (outside of a school/camp/daycare setting, which we tend to avoid).

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

"There is one line in there about the benefits of the end. If I had to guess, the publisher thought they should minimize the "homeschooling" angle because it wouldn't be mainstream enough."

Also, you want to limit the number of non-mainstream/controversial topics in a book. The book probably sells better *NOT* being pegged as a 'pro-homeschooling' book (though the logical conclusion might well be to homeschool if possible).

I think that the furor over "The Bell Curve" illustrates this. That book had one chapter on black-white difference and that one chapter dominated the discussion. The other chapters (on assortative mating, for example) were lost in the general noise.

-Mark Roulo

ChemProf said...

I do wonder how much of what Mark sees is his kid versus homeschooling, though, since it describes my experience in public school pretty well. When everyone was listening to Grease, I was listening to HMS Pinafore, and was just too weird. The only exception was in groups with a common bond, like choir for me. But it does seem more common for homeschoolers, who aren't surrounded by reminders of which interests are acceptable and which aren't.

But yes, especially for a social kid, it is a real cost. I realize that this experience leads to my own decisions about where to put my three year old -- yes to focussed activities like an art class or gymnastics, but no enthusiasm for a more general preschool.

Debbie Stier said...

Mark: I am interested to hear if you think your son's experiences are a "drawback" after reading the book. Without thinking too deeply about it (I'm supposed to be filling out FAFSA right now!), I think the authors would not consider what you describe to be a drawback, but rather a positive it's the rest of the bunch that are at the disadvantage (though it might not have appeared that way in the midst of those circumstances nor would any of them have realized it!).

The last chapter addresses this directly.

Grace said...

Glenn Reynolds has an article about the rise of alternative schools. Apparently his daughter switched to an online high school.

Putting kids together and sorting by age also created that dysfunctional creature, the “teenager.” Once, teen-agers weren’t so much a demographic as adults-in-training. They worked, did farm chores, watched children and generally functioned in the real world. They got status and recognition for doing these things well, and they got shame and disapproval for doing them badly.

But once they were segregated by age in public schools, teens looked to their peers for status and recognition instead of to society at large. As Thomas Hine writes in The American Heritage, “Young people became teenagersbecause we had nothing better for them to do. We began seeing them not as productive but as gullible consumers.”

Again, we may have had no alternative in the 19th century. But now many alternatives are appearing:

He goes on to list the growing number of options we have today.

Anonymous said...

Debbie: "Mark: I am interested to hear if you think your son's experiences are a 'drawback' after reading the book."

Of course it is a drawback to have a difficult time interacting with age peers under certain (not uncommon circumstances)! :-) The question is: Is this a reasonable tradeoff? I think that it is, but the cost is quite real.

ChemProf: "I do wonder how much of what Mark sees is his kid versus homeschooling, though, since it describes my experience in public school pretty well."

There are a *LOT* of variables at play here. My belief is that my child is more "adult oriented" than his age-peers. The primary adults here are my wife and I, but he appears to be *MUCH* more likely to engage with random adults than his friends. Generally, this turns out to be a big win. He gets to do things that his peers do not.

What is the cause for this adult orientation? This is hard to tell. We do homeschool, and one result is that he and my wife are out a lot (because much/most homeschooling doesn't happen in the home ...). The people he interacts with when everyone else is in school are almost always adults (for the obvious reason). He has grown up with the notion that adults are the main population he interacts with.

A second variable is that my wife and I are consciously raising him to be independent ("free range", if you will, though our plan began before the term was coined). As such, we tend to encourage him to interact with other people (and other adults) directly rather than using us as proxies. If he has a problem with a Little League coach, we expect him to bring it up with the coach. We'll practice the necessary conversation with him, but he is expected to hold it (with mom or dad nearby in case he struggles).

And we don't discourage him from starting random conversations with strangers. Even adult strangers.

So ... the net result is our kid seems to be much more oriented towards adults than to his age-peers.

*) On balance I think this is a good thing and would not do things differently.

*) I don't really know what contributed to this. It might even just be the way he is.

*) But there are still some costs (even though we are willing to pay them).

-Mark Roulo
An example of how random conversations with strange adults can pay off:

In early 2010, my son and wife went up to San Francisco to be "background" extras for some San Francisco Giants commercials. This was on a school day, so there weren't a lot of other kids his age around.

My son started chatting with a random adult about baseball, the SF giants, players he had watched in minor league baseball and Lord only knows what else. It turned out that this random adult was in charge of finding/selecting some kids to be in 30 second TV spots. He asked if my child wanted to be in one and off they went (after checking with mom) ...

Stuff like this happens to him a lot. He got a 30 minute ride in an airport firetruck one time ...

Anonymous said...

Hmmm ... reading my last post, I may not have been clear about my primary point, which is this:

I think children having an adult orientation is good, but it is not without costs.

-Mark Roulo