One of the problems regarding social skills’ development in children is the fact that children today are spending far too much time with other children their age. In the past, children would mix with other children of all ages which was beneficial for developing their social skills because a younger child could learn from an older child. These days, because children spend most of their time among other children of the same age, it becomes a little like the blind leading the blind. How is a child to learn social skills from another child who also lacks it?
Another commonly misguided belief is that aggressive children were from “bad homes”. Bronson and Merryman found that it isn’t quite as simple as that. In fact, many of the solutions being implemented to manage aggressiveness in children are actually backfiring.
Even in the best of homes there is bound to be conflict between parents – whether it is simply bickering over who forgot to pick up the dry-cleaning or pay the bills. Children are highly attuned to such conflicts, however, it isn’t necessarily as bad as we think. Research revealed that children who were able to witness the resolution of the conflict were often better off than those who were “spared” the conflict when parents took up the argument in another room. Even arguments that occurred entirely away from the children failed to escape their notice – although the children do not know the specifics, they are aware that some sort of conflict has taken place.
What is important to a child is not the conflict but that the conflict was resolved. Being able to witness the resolution of the conflict not only improves the child’s emotional security, but it also helps to improve the child’s pro-social behaviour in school – so long as the arguments between parents do not escalate, insults are avoided, and the conflict is resolved with affection.
Nurture Shock also seems to have debunked the whole belief that corporal punishment is bad. Many studies on corporal punishment have been done largely on Caucasian children. To make a blanket statement that corporal punishment is bad, they needed to test the theory on children of all ethnicity. What they discovered was corporal punishment only seemed to have a negative effect in the white community. A study on African-Americans showed that the more those children are spanked, the better behaved they were and this was contradictory to the findings with Caucasian children.
Why is this so? Apparently it has to do with the motivation for discipline. In the black community, spanking was seen as something that every kid went through. It was accepted as the norm. In the white community, spanking was taboo and saved only for the worst offenses; it usually involved a parent who was very angry with the child and had lost his temper. The message this conveyed to the child was something akin to: “what you have done is so deviant that you deserve a special punishment, which is spanking.” In other words, children react more to their parents’ reactions than they do to the argument or the physical discipline.
The final point was on parenting styles of fathers. These days, there are three broad styles of fathering – the Progressive Dad, the Traditional Dad and the Disengaged Dad. The general belief is that the Progressive Dad ought to be the best of the three. These fathers are very involved with child rearing and it has been shown that children with co-parenting fathers have better sibling relationships, feel good about themselves, and do better academically. The negative points about Progressive Dads, however, was that they had poorer marital relationships and they rated their family functioning lower than the Traditional Dads. It was theorised that their higher involvement with the children led to increased conflict over parenting practices, which in turn affected the kids.
The other negative arising from the progressive Dads was that they were inconsistent with their disciplinary actions. Progressive Dads were not as good at establishing forms of discipline or enforcing them. It was hypothesised that these fathers knew what not to do – e.g. scream or hit – but they weren’t sure what else to do. His reaction therefore ends up being a mixed bag of trying something new and caving in at the wrong time. The inconsistency and permissiveness meant that children of Progressive Dads ended up acting out in school almost as much as children of Disengaged Dads. So although the Progressive Dad may be the better Dad in some ways, they, too, have their own flaws.
What are the conclusions?
- Decreasing violent TV programs and increasing “educational” ones have merely refined a child’s skills in relational aggression.
- Removing marital arguments with the intention of reducing a child’s exposure to parental conflicts deprives them of the chance to witness conflict resolution between two individuals who love each other.
- Peer aggression alone is not an accurate measure of social development. By lumping children of a similar age together, we are forcing them to socialise themselves. We have created an environment that drives children to seek peer status and social ranking and this sometimes involves the use of aggression.
- Children who spend too much time with other children of the same age will necessarily take longer to develop their social skills because they don’t have a proper model to mimic.
- The form of discipline administered is less important than the parent’s reaction to the child.
- Progressive Dads can be great in some ways but they, too, have flaws which can have negative effects on a child’s social development.
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.