Taking Children Seriously

Parental Aversions

Posted by Sarah Fitz-Claridge
on the TCS List on Thu, 20 Dec., 2001, at 16:31:30 +0000

A poster wrote:

Let's say a parent has a deep aversion to violence (“pretend” or otherwise) – even the sounds of violence (again, pretend or otherwise) causes the parent physical and emotional discomfort. How would a child who wants to play violent video games and a parent who experiences this sort of discomfort reach a common preference?

That's a special case of this question:

“Let's say a parent has a deep aversion to certain forms of innocent enjoyment and learning on the part of her children – such that even the sight/sound of that innocent enjoyment and learning causes the parent physical and emotional discomfort. How would a child who wants to learn and enjoy herself in those ways and a parent who experiences this sort of discomfort reach a common preference?”

In other words: “If a parent has an entrenched theory that children should not enjoy themselves and learn in certain ways that are, objectively, innocent and harmless, and her children want to do that, how can they find a common preference?”

Or: “If a child loves Brussels spouts and his parent feels very distressed and sick at the thought of her child eating this accursed vegetable, how can parent and child find a common preference about the eating of Brussels spouts?”

Or: “If a child likes playing chess, but her parent has such an aversion to chess that even the mere sight of a chess board would send her into extreme distress, how could they find a common preference?”

Or, as others have already said: “If a child loves books and reading, but her parent has an aversion to them, how can they find a common preference?”

The answer is, to the extent that the parent is not open to criticism, they can't.

A parent in such a situation should:

  1. recognise that she has a psychological handicap – a hang-up, an area of irrationality in her thinking;
  2. see that it is HER problem not her children's and that it would be immoral to spoil her children's lives by making them bear the consequences of her own hang-ups;
  3. realise that it would be a very bad thing to pass on this handicap to her children;
  4. strive to overcome this hang-up on an on-going, wholehearted basis, while supporting her children in doing the things that trigger her irrationality;
  5. also perhaps find other adults, who do not share this dreadful handicap, to engage with her children in this sphere, to make it less likely that the children will become “infected” by her irrationality;
  6. think about the handicap, talk about it as a handicap to her children, and try to think her way out of it. For example, in the case of a hang-up about violence, she could start trying to distinguish between violence and pretend/play/acted violence. She could think about the fact that in a play fight, the parties are all enjoying themselves. She could think about what fun the actors in a violent film were having when they made the film. She could ask herself why she has an aversion to pretend “violence” but not to the coercion she feels compelled to engage in in this connection with her children.

N.B. Yes, it is possible to overcome or work around irrationalities in connection with violence. I myself used to be extremely squeamish about violence in films, etc. I no longer am.

Even if a parent can't change her psychological reaction to something, she can sometimes change her behaviour in connection with that thing. This in itself can feed into changes in her psychology in this connection. My psychological reaction to spiders – and all living creatures likely to crawl on me, fly into my hair, bite me or (horror of horrors) make a home in my knickers – used to be little short of terror. (Glad I don't live somewhere there are actually dangerous creatures... It was jolly scary spending time in Sweden where there were potentially-fatal-disease-bearing ticks.) Anyway, I was so determined not to pass on this ridiculous irrationality to my children that I succeeded in changing my outward behaviour in front of my children. To my surprise, I discovered that over time, I actually became less phobic. Aren't children wonderful?! Who would have thought they could effect such a “cure”?

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