“Why modern involved parenting has failed to produce a generation of angels”
What makes a child more aggressive and what can we do to help them learn to get along with other children? It has always been the belief that children who watch violent shows (e.g. Star Wars, Power Rangers) are likely to be more aggressive, while children who watch educational shows (e.g. Clifford the Big Red Dog) would not only be less aggressive but more pro-social – being able to share, be helpful, etc.
The studies revealed some interesting surprises. While it was true that children who watched less violent media were not as aggressive physically, they found that children who watched educational shows designed to teach children how to be more pro-social actually ended up making them more relationally aggressive. Children who watched more of these “educational” shows ended up being more bossy, controlling and manipulative.
How did these educational programs get it so wrong? Upon further examination, it was found to be due to the fact that many of these shows spent the bulk of the episode setting up the conflict and too little time resolving the conflict. Young children with poor concentration spans often only see the conflict but failed to make the connection to the “moral” of the story at the end of the show. These children end up modeling the “bad behaviour” instead of learning not to do it.
What was shocking was that the more “educational” shows children watched, the crueler they were to their classmates. The correlation between the “educational” shows and relational aggression was even stronger than the correlation between “violent” media and physical aggression. Not only were “educational” shows failing to produce the desired effect on children, it was even worse than allowing children to watch violent TV shows.
What about negative interactions between peers? It appears that being too protective can also have a negative effect. A policy for “zero tolerance” (toward bullying at school) found that it had a negative effect on children. Although bullying should not be accepted as a normal part of childhood, implementing a policy for “zero tolerance” is not the solution. This is because children are young and they make mistakes. Inflicting severe, automatic responses for these mistakes erodes their trust in authority figures. The children end up being more fearful of “accidentally” breaking the rules which increases their anxiety.
There is a complex relationship regarding bullying among children. Ironically, most of the meanness, cruelty and torment are not inflicted by the “bad” kids or those most commonly labeled as bullies. They are mostly inflicted by the popular, well-liked, and admired children. Contrary to the idea that non-aggressive children were simply being “good” children, it was theorised that these children merely lacked the savvy and confidence to assert themselves as often.
Aggressiveness is used to assert dominance, to gain control and protect status. It is not necessarily the mark of a child who lack social skills but the contrary – it often requires a child to be extremely sensitive to his/her peers. To be able to attack in a subtle and strategic way, the child has to be socially intelligent – the child needs to know just the right buttons to push to drive his/her opponent crazy. I guess it is a little like how it is with the smarter children that lie because it requires greater intellect to come up with a plausible lie and to keep the story believable compared to simply telling the truth.
So if the popular kids are more aggressive, then why are they admired and held in such high regard? Because they are seen as being independent and older because of their willingness to defy authority. Children who always conform to adult expectations are often seen as wimps. However, this doesn’t make the popular children worse. These children not only use antisocial tactics for controlling their peers, they are adept at prosocial skills. They cleverly deal the right balance of power (kindness and cruelty) to achieve what they want.
If we take this and the information about social lessons from “educational” TV shows and view them together, it seems to suggest that those “educational” TV shows may not be so far off the mark after all if it teaches a child more about sociology and refining the art of handling others.
This is just my interpretation of the book Nurture Shock. For an in depth discussion straight from the horse’s mouth, I recommend you purchase the book “Nurture Shock” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.