Friday, February 18, 2011

Kids say the darndest things!

     "When I grow up I want to be a painter, a doctor, a princess and God," my 4-year-old granddaughter Quin tells her mother explaining her life goals.  "This child has incredible aspirations," I think out loud as my daughter giggles describing the thoughts of her After hanging up the phone I wonder, "What will our world look like when Quin is God?" Deeper thinking leads me to believe that Quin's world is a place I want to live.
     In Quin's world everything is pink, people ride pretty horses and unicorns and everyone gets cuddles, kisses and hugs as they meet and say goodbye. Quin's world offers candy and gum for all who desire it, a simple belief that all people are kind and trusts that people will do what she wants them to do if they say please and thank you.
     In this magical world my granddaughter controls, hitting is bad and sharing is good. When one does something wrong, one needs to sit in a chair and think about what he or she will do differently next time and an apology fixes everything. The people in this world forgive quickly, love easily and smile often.
Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget explains Quin's world point-of-view by suggesting that children pass through four stages of development as they grow. Quin is presently in the preoperational stage of development, which children enter at age 2 and exit around their 7th birthday.
     In this stage of development, a child is egocentric the child considers things from their own point of view and imagines that everyone shares this view because it is the only one possible. The center of a child's world is based on their belief that the world, and the people in it, is there to satisfy the needs of that child. It is this belief that allows Quin to believe that she can be God.
     Moral realism - the strong belief of right and wrong - is active in this 4-year-old. The child believes everyone shares this foundation. Children begin to respect and insist on obedience of rules at all times and are not able to take anything such as motives into account.
     This accounts for the terrible 2s, the horrifying 3s and the fabulous 4s. Two and 3-year-olds are black and white thinkers meaning there are only two answers to all questions - yes or no, I love you, I hate you, stop or go. Thinking in the world of gray (a little right and a little wrong) does not exist for young children. As the child ages, decentering occurs and the child, around the age of 4, begins to look at their world in shades of gray instead of all black and white. The 4-year-old begins to understand others' point-of-view and becomes less combative and more understanding - fabulous.
     Often children bite other kids during this stage of development because they don't understand their action is causing another's pain. The child lacks empathy. Often parents try to reason with a child in this developmental stage and offer other options besides biting but the child continues to bite. When a child bites another child, offering the biter an opportunity to see the result of their bite often stops the biting. Show the child the bite-mark; have the biter watch the other child cry and continually saying, "Your teeth did this, bad, no, don't bite again," often slows or stops children from biting.
     One of the cutest things that happen during this stage is animism. Animism is when a kid has the belief that everything that exists has some kind of consciousness. Children often believe a car won't start because it is tired or sick, or they punish a piece of furniture when they run into it because it must have been naughty to hurt them. A preoperational child often assumes that everyone and everything is like them. Since the child can feel pain and has emotions, so must everything else.
     I laugh when my wife makes one of our grandchildren hit the table or kick a rock that had the evil audacity to hurt them. The kid feels better, the tears stop and the rock seldom suffers from the encounter.
So, Quin is the God of her world. Her egocentric thinking allows her to believe that she controls her world and everyone around her feels just as she feels. Her world, full of pink-ruffled tutus, loving adults, unicorns and hugs is a pretty great place to live. I don't think I will bust her bubble by informing her that her, "God goal," might be out of reach.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Okay, I have to share a little love.

     What is love?  One might love a child, a wife, a song, a flower, a car—but what is real love and why does one love?  Can one love and hate at the same time?  Is love psychological or biological?  Might one search for true monogamous love while another enjoy frequent and casual love with many partners?  As Mark Twain pens,Love is the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired."
     I believe I know what love is.  I’ve been deeply and passionately in love with my beautiful wife for 28 years.  I have nurtured a playful, thoughtful, guiding and loving relationship with my daughter for the past quarter century.  I worship every smile, giggle and tear of my two grandchildren and unconditionally love the two heroes who raised me.  Love great food, the work I do, my dog and summer but is love a noun or verb?  Before answering this question we must examine love.   
     I remember my almost first kiss.  Being a late bloomer, I did not really kiss a girl until my sixteenth year of life.  Having not been kissed previously, I wonder how to be sensitive but not eager, ruggedly manly but not cave-mannish, chivalrous while not attacking.
     My victim, Charlotte was a beautiful girl who understands kindness.  She talks freely and laughs often.  I decide her kindness will be rewarded with my first gentle, soft, slow kiss, which I learn and practice by watching mushy romance movies with my mom and observing the confidently passionate seniors at my high school.  I dream about kissing a girl and watch what my kiss might look like in the bathroom mirror. I am ready.  Charlotte disagrees. 
     Sitting in my Mustang at the end of our fourth date I prepare myself.  With eyes closed, I move my head toward hers and instead of lip I hit cheek.  Charlotte must have thought me too forward and turned to offer her jowl instead of lips.  Embarrassed at misreading her intentions I never call her again—my loss.
     My psychological and biological attraction equals physical aggression as I misread my friend’s intentions.  I crave physical interaction due to peer pressure, curiosity, a strong likeness for Charlotte and testosterone overload while my partner craves more conversation, nonphysical intimacy and nurturing.  I throw away a maturing relationship because of embarrassment and the desire for physical intimacy.  As a sixteen-year-old child, I am emotionally, psychologically and biologically ignorant.
     Love is understanding, listening and really hearing, paying attention and caring.  I was not really listening.  Love is active—a verb.  We actively create love and without action, love dies.   
     Biologically our bodies and brainstem understand one function—to make more of us and carry our genes into the future.  We physically desire certain traits, which create more of us as we search for those traits in a mating partner. 
     Men in 37 cultures from Australia to Zambia, judge women as more attractive if they have a youthful appearance.  Evolutionary psychologists say men are drawn to healthy, fertile-appearing women.  Women with smooth skin and a youthful shape suggests many childbearing years to come.  Women with these traits stand a better chance of sending their genes into the future. 
     Regardless of cultural variations in ideal weight, men everywhere feel most attracted to women whose waists are roughly a third narrower than their hips—a sign of future fertility.
     Women feel attracted to healthy-looking men, but especially to those who seem mature, dominant, bold and affluent.  Such attributes say evolutionary psychologists, connote a capacity to support and protect.      
     Psychological love is different.  In one’s mind, one learns to love from past exposure and experience.  One might first look at their caring blue-eyed mother and want to be around more people who look and act like her ensuring future nurturing.  When this same mother punishes, her caring blues eyes turn into strict, condemning eyes that the child wishes to avoid. 
     One laughs and plays with a neighborhood girl and loves looking at her brown, squinty eyes.  Her eyes represent fun and kindness.  One now finds brown eyes kinder than blues eyes as their view of attractiveness develops.  
     One begins to build a schema of what one finds attractive and what one finds frightening or unattractive.  The child now likes brown eyes, which make them laugh instead of blue eyes, which love but punish. 
     Now in fifth grade the child begins to play with a skinny girl with straight dark hair and straight little teeth.  The child’s new attractiveness now revolves around skinny brown-eyed girls with small teeth and dark hair.  The kid is psychologically creating their personal likes and dislikes.  They are learning through experience and brain maturation what makes them happy or unhappy in a partner. 
     The child is not just writing their future but restructuring their brain.  As they age their brain is webbing.  Neurons are searching for connections that create who the child mentally is while building the cognitive adult they will become.  The child’s brain isdeciding likes and dislikes and connecting strongly to the likes and not connecting to the dislikes.  Experiences are making the person.  Nurture is leading nature.
     One might form poor neural connections if exposed to negative experiences.  If loving parents also abuse, one might form neural connections or learn to accept punishment as pleasure and confuse abuse with love.  One might accept partners who abuse, demean or disrespect if parents lay this roadmap during childhood.
     The biological link to physical love is fleeting while offering extrinsic satisfaction.    Psychological, cognitive love is intrinsic.  Lust is not love.  The need to procreate (lust) is an animalistic human response to an unrequited desire.  Psychological love separates humans from animals.  Love is active.  Emotional love offers internal warmth, like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night.  I choose the blanket.         
     The Hip Hop group, The Black Eye Peas, ask a question about love which most question in this hurtful, unfair world we live, in their song, “Where is the Love?”  The lyrics ask, “People killin', people dyin', children hurt and you hear them cryin', can you practice what you preach, and would you turn the other cheek?  Father, Father, Father help us, send some guidance from above, cause people got me, got me questionin', where is the love.”  Our Father answers this question about love in His book, I Corinthians, 13.
hat is love?  “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous, or conceited, or proud; love is not ill-mannered, or selfish, or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs: love is not happy with evil, but is happy with truth.  Love never gives up: its faith, hope and patience never fail.  Love is eternal…there are faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.”    

Thursday, February 3, 2011


     I stumble three steps back as the second kick hits squarely on my chest.  The oxygen leaves my body with an audible heave as I gasp for air that isn’t there.  I feel shocked, surprised and helpless.  Keith grins preparing, Bruce Lee style, for another blow.  I manage to squeak out a wispy, “Why,” as the third kick, which I never see lands on my temple and I hit the ground, scared at what might happen next.  Keith stands over my helpless, prone body and calmly says, “I’m going to do this to you everyday.  Goodbye.”  Keith walks calmly into our sixth grade classroom and I begin to cry. 
     Keith is in my class but I don’t really know him.  We never talk and have never had a problem with each other—until this day.  I cannot recall one negative interaction with this boy prior to this rainy, spring day that changed my life forever.  I’ve become the victim of a bully.
     A fifth grade girl is crying on the bench at the school where I work.  I sit next to her and ask what is wrong?  She tearfully says, “Someone is going to kill me.”  I comfort her as we walk to my office in search of privacy.  Once in my office I ask her to explain.  She calms slightly while pulling a cell phone from her pocket.  Without talking, she searches the phone for a text, finds it and hands me the phone.  The text reads, “You stinky ####, everyone at school hates you, I asked them, and we all wish you were dead.”   I ask, “Did you show this to your mom?”  The scared little girl responds, “No, if I do, mom will take away my phone.”
    Bullying comes in many forms including physical assault, intimidation, Internet, cell phone and texting harassment (cyberbullying), unrelentless teasing and threats.  The victim of a bully might lose their integrity, feel unsafe, question their life’s purpose and often become withdrawn and anxious.    
     Dan Olweus, provides this commonly accepted definition for bullying in his book, Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do.  “A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions and has difficulty defending oneself." This definition includes three important components.
  • Bullying is aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions.
  • Bullying involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time.
  • Bullying involves an imbalance of power or strength.
     If a child gets into a fight or is teased by another child, this does not necessarily constitute bullying.  If the child being teased can look the other child in the eyes and tell the child to stop and the child stops, the problem is resolved.  Teasing becomes bullying when a victim stands up for himself or herself, asks the aggressor to stop and the aggressor continues or increases the teasing, violence or threats.  A child who is larger or holds power over another child and makes that child do something they do not what to do can be considered bullying too. 
     Bullying comes in two forms, physical or technological.  The National Crime Prevention Council offers the following information to educate parents and children on the dangers of technological bullying (cyberbullying). 
     Being a victim of cyberbullying can be a common and painful experience. Some youth who cyberbully pretend they are other people online, spread lies and rumors about victims, trick people into revealing personal information, send or forward mean text messages and post pictures of victims without their consent.
     When teens are asked why they think others cyberbully, 81 percent say cyberbullies think it’s funny. Other teens believe youth who cyberbully don’t think it’s a big deal, don’t think about the consequences, are encouraged by friends, think everybody cyberbullies and think they won’t get caught.
     Contrary to what cyberbullies may believe, cyberbullying is a big deal, and can cause a variety of reactions.  Some children react in positive ways by blocking communication with the cyberbully, deleting messages without reading them, talking to a friend about the bullying and reporting the problem to an Internet service provider or website moderator.
     Youth who are cyberbullied report feeling angry, hurt, embarrassed or scared. These emotions can cause victims to react in ways such as seeking revenge on the bully, avoiding friends and activities, skipping school and cyberbullying back.
     Some kids feel threatened because they may not know who is cyberbullying them. Although cyberbullies may think they are anonymous, they can be found. If you are cyberbullied or harassed and need help, save all communication with the cyberbully and talk to a parent, teacher, law enforcement officer or other adult you trust. 
  • Never post or share your personal information online (this includes your full name, address, telephone number, school name, parents’ names, credit card number, or Social Security number) or your friends’ personal information.
  • Never share your Internet passwords with anyone, except your parents.
  • Never meet anyone face-to-face whom you only know online.
  • Talk to your parents about what you do online.
     All parents must know what their children do on the Internet and must routinely check their child’s cell phone texts and messages.  If your child shows changes in his/her personality, talk with him/her.  If your child won’t talk, call your child’s principal, counselor or teacher and ask if they have noticed a change in your child’s actions.  Know your child’s friends.  Talk with them about changes in your child’s personality and about your child’s safety.  
     Being bullied has changed my life.  Three weeks after my initial attack by Keith, we meet face to face in the cafeteria at school.  I immediately pale and begin to sweat.  He calmly says while passing, “I’m not after you anymore.”  I feel relief but still victimized.  Every time I see Keith for the next seven years of school, anxiety floods my body as I wonder if I will become the random victim of this boy again. 
     I offer one last story.  If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online.  I have personally sent two e-mails in my past that I regret.  Both e-mails personally attack the receiver and cause me to look like a fool.  After penning my rant I chose to press send instead of delete.  I immediately feel a euphoric, “There you go.  Take that!” An hour later, I feel stupid, out of control, embarrassed and ashamed.      
    I make my living talking with people and twice I chose to be mean and intimidate via e-mail instead of talking face-to-face to resolve my frustration.  I can’t take my e-mails back and the receivers of my attack have physical proof of my stupidity—embarrassing.
     I’m embarrassed by the words I’ve written in anger and saying, “I’m sorry,” does not fix my wrongs.  I now think of the receiver’s feelings prior to pressing send on all e-mails I write.  Words are powerful and I hope the words written here give parents power to protect their children.  Bullying hurts everyone.