Category Archives: Age

My Childhood Death Spiral

Followup toAffective Death Spirals, My Wild and Reckless Youth

My parents always used to downplay the value of intelligence.  And play up the value of – effort, as recommended by the latest research?  No, not effort.  Experience.  A nicely unattainable hammer with which to smack down a bright young child, to be sure.  That was what my parents told me when I questioned the Jewish religion, for example.  I tried laying out an argument, and I was told something along the lines of:  "Logic has limits, you’ll understand when you’re older that experience is the important thing, and then you’ll see the truth of Judaism."  I didn’t try again.  I made one attempt to question Judaism in school, got slapped down, didn’t try again.  I’ve never been a slow learner.

Whenever my parents were doing something ill-advised, it was always, "We know better because we have more experience.  You’ll understand when you’re older: maturity and wisdom is more important than intelligence."

If this was an attempt to focus the young Eliezer on intelligence uber alles, it was the most wildly successful example of reverse psychology I’ve ever heard of.

But my parents aren’t that cunning, and the results weren’t exactly positive.

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To What Expose Kids?

State courts recently rebuked Texas Child Protective Services and told them to return 440 kids to their polygamous Mormon parents.  The main complaint I’ve heard is that these teen girls can not really consent to polygamous marriage because they were not exposed enough to the rest of the world.   For example, Will Wilkinson:

About kids raised on isolated compounds by religious fanatics … It is tyrannical for parents to attempt to reproduce their ideologies and prejudices in their children, especially when this requires social isolation and emotional coercion. … They just have a political right to not be stopped, within bounds.  Many parents, though they intend the opposite, are in fact guilty of wrongful disregard for the development of their children’s psychological freedom.

Of course responsible parents know they should expose kids to more than just the local neighborhood.  But parents’ judgments on optimal exposure surely depend on their judgments about that outside world.  Someone who sees outsiders as mostly immoral heathens will choose less exposure than we as outsiders would choose for those same kids. 

So is the principle here that parents should go beyond their simple judgment when choosing to what to expose our kids?  For example, should we let polygamists argue for their way of life directly to our kids?  Should we let pedophiles argue their case directly to our kids?  Or is the principle here that we know we are right and those other parents are wrong, obligating us to make those parents give their kids what we judge best?

I wonder, could different cultures make a deal where they each give the other cultures X hours to make their case to their kids?   Of course with many cultures of differing sizes there’d be the issue of what fraction of that time each culture gets to use.  And of course unreasonable cultures might be excluded from the deal. (But what criteria could characterize "reasonable"?)  And if such a deal is not possible, even among some reasonable cultures, what exactly would that say about what we think about who should be exposed to what? 

Added 29June:  Will responds here.

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Joe Epstein on Youth

More on our overconfident kids from a thoughful essay by Joseph Epstein:

So often in my literature classes students told me what they "felt" about a novel, or a particular character in a novel. I tried, ever so gently, to tell them that no one cared what they felt; the trick was to discover not one’s feelings but what the author had put into the book, its moral weight and its resultant power. In essay courses, many of these same students turned in papers upon which I wished to–but did not–write: "D-, Too much love in the home." I knew where they came by their sense of their own deep significance and that this sense was utterly false to any conceivable reality. Despite what their parents had been telling them from the very outset of their lives, they were not significant. Significance has to be earned, and it is earned only through achievement. Besides, one of the first things that people who really are significant seem to know is that, in the grander scheme, they are themselves really quite insignificant.

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How Honest With Kids?

A Mother’s day article a few weeks back posed an interesting question: 

Some months back, I was invited to a party with 20 or so other mothers. … a few of the women began reminiscing about their own youths, comparing the transgressions they’d committed in their teens and 20s and debating whose were the most egregious. … As we pursue the goal of protecting our children from some of our more boneheaded and/or high-risk antics, we face one of the essential dilemmas of parenting: What do children need to know about their parents’ pasts, and when do they need to know it? …

So, should you admit to your child what you’ve done? … If you cop to something, anything, will this give your children tacit permission to try it all? Remarkably few — if any — researchers have explored this topic. … So it’s odd, really, that there is no consensus on what to do when one of the million little interchanges involves the question of whether the parent is — oh, say — familiar with the taste of strawberry-flavored rolling paper. Experts, exploring their own gut instincts, differ. …

And let’s face it: Parents lie to their children all the time, offering up many comfortable fictions. When we read them fairy tales, we are, in a sense, lying. When we lead them to believe every story has a happy ending, we are lying. Our culture puts so much emphasis on frankness and sharing that it’s easy to forget the real uses of evasion and stalling and deftly changing the subject, which are social skills on which civilizations — and, sometimes, families — rely.  Because the truth can be harsh and destructive, and why force it upon them?

So how honest should parents be with their kids about their younger "indiscretions"?

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Overconfidence & Paternalism

Paul Graham tries to explain paternalism: 

Parents know they’ve concealed the facts about sex, and many at some point sit their kids down and explain more. But few tell their kids about the differences between the real world and the cocoon they grew up in. Combine this with the confidence parents try to instill in their kids, and every year you get a new crop of 18 year olds who think they know how to run the world.

Don’t all 18 year olds think they know how to run the world? Actually this seems to be a recent innovation, no more than about 100 years old. In preindustrial times teenage kids were junior members of the adult world and comparatively well aware of their shortcomings. They could see they weren’t as strong or skillful as the village smith. In past times people lied to kids about some things more than we do now, but the lies implicit in an artificial, protected environment are a recent invention. Like a lot of new inventions, the rich got this first. Children of kings and great magnates were the first to grow up out of touch with the world. Suburbia means half the population can live like kings in that respect.  …

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Lying to Kids

The insightful Paul Graham:

One of the most remarkable things about the way we lie to kids is how broad the conspiracy is.  All adults know what their culture lies to kids about: they’re the questions you answer "Ask your parents." If a kid asked you who won the World Series in 1982 or what the atomic weight of carbon was, you could just tell him. But if a kid asks you "Is there a God?" or "What’s a prostitute?" you’ll probably say "Ask your parents."

Since we all agree, kids see few cracks in the view of the world presented to them. The biggest disagreements are between parents and schools, but even those are small. Schools are careful what they say about controversial topics, and if they do contradict what parents want their kids to believe, parents either pressure the school into keeping quiet or move their kids to a new school.

The conspiracy is so thorough that most kids who discover it do so only by discovering internal contradictions in what they’re told. It can be traumatic for the ones who wake up during the operation. Here’s what happened to Einstein:

Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies: it was a crushing impression. 

I remember that feeling. By 15 I was convinced the world was corrupt from end to end. That’s why movies like The Matrix have such resonance.

What if one wrote a clear simple web page explaining to young kids the important lies they are told?  How popular would it be with kids?  Yes, even if kids like the page it might take a while for word to get around about it, but I suspect it would face a much bigger problem: very few kids really want to see through the lies.  Hat tip to Kat

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