The everyday effects of American anti-science conditioning.

The clinic was busy yesterday. I had my computer with me. I was using the time to cut some images free from their backgrounds so they could be incorporated into digital collages. I’ve come to enjoy the process of background removal the way some people enjoy knitting or fishing. It calms me. I’ve gotten quite good at it.

A young woman came in. It was obvious that she was going through the intake process because of the order in which she was called through various doors. Eventually she settled into one of the seats to wait along with the rest of us.

Generally speaking, the inhabitants of the waiting room lead separate lives from one another. Families that come together tend to stick together. Occasionally, however, conversation between strangers is struck. This one started as a spoken desire on the part of the young woman that her children should learn to take naps more often. Reminded of Merbear’s post, I responded that I felt sorry for all the naps I refused to take as a child. The woman beside me chuckled.

The young woman went on to talk about her eight year old son. The boy was born with a small hole in the middle of his forehead through which a portion of his brain was protruding. This piece of brain was removed. humanbrainfunction

The frontal lobe controls, among other things, emotion and behavior. It’s not surprising that this young boy has problems with both. And mom is single with three or four other children at home, as well. No doubt she’s stressed. No doubt she finds herself at her wit’s end from time to time. She feels that discipline is the key to resolving some of her problems, and she may be right, but instead of improving her situation, it just keeps getting worse. Why?

“I’m about ready to put the eight year old in boot camp,” she said, “so he can learn some discipline.”

“People keep telling me he’s ADD, and I should give him pills. But I don’t want my kid on pills.”

“My mother went and got him some behind my back.” She makes a fist-shaking gesture and rolls her eyes upward. “Now if he acts up he’ll say, ‘I didn’t get my pill today.’ I don’t want him using that as an excuse.”

Whether or not the child has ADD I cannot say, but he has a documented medical issue that affects his ability to control his emotions and behavior. Surely, if there was a medication that would help her child function better she wouldn’t deny it to him? But… she will, because she thinks that the need for or reliance on medication is a character flaw.

“I don’t want him using that as an excuse.”

Although there is no father figure in the home, the boy does have a grandfather who takes him on outdoor excursions like fishing and camping. These episodes seem to improve the child’s behavior overall. Lately, though, Grandpa’s truck has been in the shop, and the outdoor activities have been curbed as a result. The boy’s behavior declined. Mom recognizes the link between regular exposure to outdoor activities and the child’s improved behavior, but, again, she shoots herself in the foot.

“He needs to understand that all that stuff is a privilege.” The woman beside me agrees wholeheartedly, “He has to earn it.”

Of course, earning the privilege of outdoor activities means exhibiting good behavior which is negatively impacted by a lack of exposure to the outdoors, meaning that his behavior isn’t good enough to earn the privilege, so his exposure to outdoor activities is further limited leading to a decline in good behavior, and on and on.

She talked about spanking quite a lot. She acknowledges that spanking doesn’t have the intended effect, that the child’s behavior only seems to worsen. Still, she continues to use it as a means of correcting his behavior.

I said, “But it doesn’t work,” meaning, “Why keep doing it if you know it doesn’t work?” She responded, “No. It doesn’t work.” But she wasn’t saying it as though she was recognizing that spanking was not a good solution. Rather, it was as if she was saying, “If he wasn’t such a bad kid, it would work.” She was blaming the child.

Scientific studies on the effects of spanking clearly show it to be an ineffective and detrimental form of punishment leading to, among other things, increased aggression and antisocial behavior.

“The other day he physically shoved his grandmother. I went ballistic. I beat his ass up and down the room!”

“I told him I was going to take his toys away. It didn’t faze him. He helped me pack them up.”

And yet she still maintained, “I am a firm believer in spanking.”

I have to admit: I am firmly on the child’s side here. It was hard for me to keep the mother’s situation in perspective, to remember that she’s in a difficult situation and that her attitudes are probably a result of her own upbringing. But, hey, she was at the mental health clinic yesterday, going through doors, meeting with various people, getting an initial diagnosis, setting up a service plan.  She’s already overcome one of those bits of anti-scientific “wisdom” that’s been passed on from generation to generation: Keep it to yourself. It’s shameful to seek help, to reach out.

I have hope for her.

And for anyone who wants to try and convince me that spanking is ok, I’ll leave you with this:

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