Friday, September 03, 2021

Protection vs Preparation

I'm reading a book about preschool education in the USA, and it said something that struck me as interesting to discuss. It said that a lot of debate on how to care for children has been focused on finding a balance between protection and preparation.

Which is interesting, because although the author of that book is right that people treat those as dichotomous, I really don't think they are at all. I think they're orthogonal to each other.

There are a lot of things that can harm children and have absolutely no benefit to prepare them for the future. For an obvious example, a car accident - suffering a car accident is more likely to make the child less able to meet future challenges (eg, if they acquire a permanent disability). 

For less obvious examples, I've heard many people try to claim that various forms of childhood abuse can "toughen kids up" (ie, serve a benefit for preparation), but this is absolutely not borne out by the research literature at all. Trauma doesn't toughen you up, it makes you more fragile, more likely to fall apart in response to future stressors. This is true even for those people who get through a trauma without developing a diagnosable mental health issue - although they may be fine now, they're more likely to develop issues in response to further stressors.

And this includes peer abuse. A lot of people call it bullying, rather than a form of abuse, but a persistent pattern of hurting someone else in the context of a power dynamic is definitely a form of abuse. And like other forms of abuse, it has no redeeming value.

Allowing two children in conflict to sort it out without adult assistance can sometimes be a good idea, but abuse is different from conflict. And even with conflict, while leaving kids to sort out conflicts by themselves can prepare them for future conflict situations at the cost of not protecting them from the current conflict, you can also accomplish both of those goals at once. I've read several resources on child caregiving that argue that a caregiver should learn how to mediate child conflicts. 

What this means: instead of stepping in to solve the conflict, you step in to help coach the children through how to find a solution between themselves. This seems like a strategy that accomplishes both protection and preparation - the adult's presence inhibits the children from doing actions they know are obviously harmful to each other, like physical violence, while the adult is also teaching them a strategy they can apply to future conflicts where the adult is not present.

And there are plenty of options like that. For example, when I first started learning to drive (a process I'm still working on), my Dad didn't just hand me the keys and wish me well. He rode in the passenger side, ready at a moment's notice to grab the wheel from me to protect me. After all, as I observed above, being in a car accident isn't generally a good way to prepare for adult life. Being coached through the process of driving a car, by someone who will actively prevent you from causing a car accident, is a far better way to prepare for driving independently.

Would I have been safer if I didn't drive at all? Perhaps. There are situations where preparation and protection can be at odds, but that's true of any two parenting goals. I don't think it's necessarily more true of protection vs preparation, though, and certainly far less true than people think - because people often don't see the options like mediation of child arguments, and because people mistakenly think that trauma can be beneficial.

I plan on homeschooling my child, in large part to protect them from the potential for harm in mainstream schooling (or special education!). Between peers and teachers, abuse in school systems is unacceptably high, and if I have the choice to avoid putting my child in an abusive situation, I will. 

I've been told that this is overproduction, and my child won't be prepared for adult life. But a few days ago, my mother woke up shaken by a nightmare about being a high school student. My mother is 57, and none of her adult life has hurt her as much as her schooling did, over forty years ago. I know far too many adults who are trying to recover from their schooling to consider it worthwhile to put my child in the same environment. After all, think what we could have accomplished if we weren't recovering from school!


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