kitchen table math, the sequel: only children and peer orientation

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

only children and peer orientation

re: Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté

C (freshman in college & home for Christmas) has been very interested in the Neufeld discussions Ed and I have been having.

The other night we were trying to figure out whether Neufeld would consider C's friends to be adult-oriented. We all thought he would. C is an adult-oriented teen and all of his friends are adult-oriented teens. One of C's friends is very adult-oriented, as a matter of fact, to the point that he specifically wants to chat with Ed and me when he and C. get together.

So then we were trying to figure out why some kids are adult-oriented when so many aren't. It's certainly not as if any of us set out to raise adult-oriented kids on purpose, or even knew there was an 'adult-oriented' option on the menu.

C. thought about it for a while, and then said that "only children" are more peer-oriented than children with brothers and sisters.

That was a shock. In my day, "only children" were presumed to be adult-oriented. Obviously we didn't have the term "adult-oriented," but we had the concept, at least where "only children" were concerned. Pace Neufeld, nobody thought the adult-orientation of "only children" was a good thing...

Assuming C. is right (I have no way of knowing), it strikes me that the explanation may be the changed culture children and teens (and adults) live in. Neufeld argues, and I agree, that our culture fosters peer orientation.

Although the cultural changes Neufeld describes were already happening when I was young, it's probably easier, today, for an 'only child' to become peer-oriented than it was when I was growing up. Parents don't have the same gravitational pull they used to, and even an 'only child' can escape their obit.

Children who have siblings are subject to the same peer pressures, but peer pressure does not eliminate sibling rivalry. Any child who has a brother or a sister must compete with that sibling for the parent's love, and the competition for the parent's love makes the parent more important.

Are siblings a protective factor in a peer-oriented youth culture?

I think it's possible.

9 comments:

Jo in OKC said...

I just have anecdata with n=1. My daughter is an only child and I would consider her adult-oriented.

So, it might be truly that only children are more likely to be peer-oriented, but it's certainly not always true.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

One more n=1. My only child is definitely more adult than peer oriented, and always has been. I think that when he was younger, it was because adults were much closer to his intellectual level than his age peers were. I suspect he'll be more peer-oriented by the time he gets to grad school and selection has whittled down the people he deals with to those of comparable intelligence.

froggiemama said...

I prefer to think of it as being "family oriented" vs "peer oriented", and yes, in the United States there is tremendous pressure to pull children away from their families. Just think of the horror with which we regard adult children who live with their families, which is common in most other countries.

And, yes, I think siblings can really help keep kids family-oriented as oppsoed to peer-oriented. Although I think basic personality makes a difference too, as well as parental expectations. In this area, most parents want their kids to be peer-oriented. My kids, however, are very family oriented. I have three children, who are very close with one another as well as with us. They much prefer to socialize with each other and with us than with peers. My youngest has a very outgoing, social personality and would probably be peer oriented except that she likes hanging out with her siblings so much. My oldest is 13, an age at which kids are supposed to be embarrassed of their parents, but not only is he not embarrassed of us, he LIKES it when his schoolfriends seem me with him. My kids prefer to do family outings over peer outings and spend a lot of time at home, drawing, reading books, even playing outside.

So, I think siblings have a role to play, although the parents have to fundamentally want their kids to be family oriented first. And some kids have personalities that predisposed them to being peer-oriented, so that is another influence.

Catherine Johnson said...

So, it might be truly that only children are more likely to be peer-oriented, but it's certainly not always true.

Well, it may not be true here, either!

That was C's impression, on the fly, just thinking over his friends here.

But I **do** think it's possible that the forces at work on kids have shifted, making the gravitational pull of parents of only children comparatively weaker today compared to the gravitational pull of parents with more than one child ....

That is PURE speculation, obviously!

Catherine Johnson said...

yes, in the United States there is tremendous pressure to pull children away from their families. Just think of the horror with which we regard adult children who live with their families, which is common in most other countries.

Oh, I know!

Grown children living with parents is the ultimate sign of emotional wreckage ---- and that is completely and totally wrong!

I wish to heck I'd saved the study I came across a few weeks ago, before Gordon Neufeld parachuted into my life.

It was a study of adult children who lived with their parents until marriage, I think it was.

The conclusion was that they were in fabulous emotional shape.

Gotta find that -----

Catherine Johnson said...

You know, we really didn't go through much of a "I'm embarrassed by my parents" phase.

I think (if I'm remembering correctly), C. went through a period of being very worried what his peers would think if they saw him with me or with Ed (and now I'm thinking: rightly so!).

But he liked being with Ed and me. We really had no "My world is with them, not you."

He is just NOW starting to be independent, to go out with peers instead of with us --- and I miss him!

Catherine Johnson said...

And some kids have personalities that predisposed them to being peer-oriented, so that is another influence.

Yes, absolutely.

ALTHOUGH......I now think I was misinterpreting C.

All through the teen years, I thought the reason he spent so much time with us was that he was 'shy' or 'socially anxious.'

Well, he's not socially anxious NOW!

I had never heard of Neufeld or of the distinction between peer-oriented & adult-oriented kids, and it never occurred to me that that could be the explanation.

A funny thing: I always noted that C. was not particularly shy around adults. Not at all. He would sit with our friends and talk, and he always liked his teachers and interacted with them easily.

I used to worry a bit about that, too. I would note that he was more comfortable with adults than with kids his age, and I would think AUTISM GENES!!!! OH NO!!!!!

C. is not Aspergery at all, but I would see that and worry instead of seeing that and thinking: GOOD.

cranberry said...

As I recall, C changed to a private school for high school. My children in private schools have to navigate different groups of friends. Thus, no one group is all-important. In comparison, their friends who remained in the public system have been with the same group of peers since preschool.

I'm not convinced by the book so far. There is too much nostalgic longing for a supposed golden era. I find Judith Rich Harris's book much more convincing.

lgm said...

I had to specifically request that our 2000 student high school not group my child in with his agemates from the feeder elementary. Thanks to the 9/11 wave of people moving out of the city for 'better schools', we ended up being in the only owner-occupied, educated parents type of neighborhood zoned for that school. We just did not fit with the high needs population -- all of our childrens' friends from that school live in our neighborhood - so consequently there were no friendships formed with people from outside the neighborhood in that time. Fortunately the middle school and high school drew from more areas, with other families where the students were open to friendships and took school seriously. They are all parent centered kids and can have meaningful conversations with adults or each other.