|I was recently asked about the book The Nurture
Assumption, and the argument that peers, and not parents, are
most responsible for who children become.
I'll start with an excerpt from a wonderful article on the
origins of teenage rebellion, "The
Relationship Between Feelings and Behavior" by Dr. Sidney
"If we want our children to spend time with us, to like
us, to confide in us, to value some of the things we value, and
to try to make us happy (for example, by refraining from the use
of dangerous drugs), we must behave toward them in ways that
create feelings of love toward us rather than feelings of
dislike or anger. We cannot reasonably expect to receive 'good'
behavior from our children unless we create 'good' feelings in
Because it is so painful, often too painful, for an adult to
recognize and remember the pain of betrayal in infancy and early
childhood, he/she can easily fool themselves into self-deception.
They'll blame anything outside themselves rather than face the
painful truth. In her landmark article "Childhood
Trauma", Alice Miller explains:
"...information about the cruelty suffered during
childhood remains stored in the brain in the form of unconscious
memories. For a child, conscious experience of such treatment is
impossible. If children are not to break down completely under
the pain and the fear, they must repress that knowledge. But the
unconscious memories of the child who has been neglected and
maltreated, even before he has learned to speak, drive the adult
to reproduce those repressed scenes over and over again in the
attempt to liberate himself from the fears that cruelty has left
Early childhood is the starting point for all love and for all
cruelty in later years. To the degree that an infant/child has
been given compassion, they will pass it on to others in the
future. There's a Swedish saying, "man far den respekt man
ger": "one gets the respect one gives".
Unfortunately the converse is also true, when we give disrespect
(including all forms of punishment) to a child, we breed
disrespect, anger, and retaliatory impulses within that child that
will be passed on to others later.
Here is an analogy: compassionate early parenting is like a
well-built boat, protecting the child from the sea of all
subsequent disappointments, temptations, frustrations, and
sorrows. Blaming teenage crime on peer pressure (or video games,
movies, music, clothing, the Internet, the media, or anything else
in current culture), is like blaming a storm for overturning a
child's poorly-built boat. We know that there will always be
storms in our children's lives. There will always be temptations,
disappointments, sorrows, even tragedies. Their ability to cope
with these events is what really matters. Do they have a strong
enough boat, or do they have a boat with holes? Do they have any
boat at all, or have they been put to sea without any protection?
And when they drown, do we blame the wind and the rain, the wake
of passing motorboats, and the clutching hands of their boatless
peers, or do we start building better boats for all of our
Let me use my son Jason as an example. Because he has been
treated with love, compassion, and trust from birth, he is riding
over the sea of life in a very sturdy boat. I find it difficult to
imagine any circumstance or experience that would lead him to an
inhumane action, because he would simply withstand any such
attempts. I will go even further and say that he would not only
withstand them, he would put every effort into helping his peers
to have their relevant emotional needs met in a more sane and
healthy way. I've seen him do this.
Because of the pain of recognizing the hurt and disappointment
in our own childhood, we'll blame anything else to avoid feeling
that sorrow. But the truth is as simple as a bumper sticker I once
saw: "A happy childhood lasts forever."