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08:55 am: “Playdates come at a terrible price” (rant)
I struggled with Neufeld and Maté’s Hold on to Your Kids for months. I’d read it, get disgusted, put it down, read several dozen other books, pick it up again… Over and over. I took copious notes to track my reactions.

Although I’m trying to learn not to waste time finishing books that I don’t like, I stuck with this one because I kept hoping I’d get to the good part. The helpful part. The not-infuriating part.

Didn’t get a lot of traction there. I’ll list a few exceptions below.

For starters, it’s 264 pages long, and only 9 pages are what to do. The rest is “OMG! OMG! OMG! DON’T LET YOUR KID NEAR OTHER KIDS! IT’S DANGEROUS!”

And that’s only a tiny exaggeration.

This book advocates an extreme version of attachment parenting. A really extreme, really alarmist version without research to back it up.

I believe in attachment parenting (mostly). I practice attachment parenting. I nursed Teddy for 38 months. We co-slept until he was, what? Almost 6? I was pleased when he was the only kid in the kindergarten play who ran to snuggle in my lap when he felt overwhelmed (not pleased that he was the only one, but that he saw me as his refuge). I should be the perfect audience for this book.

And yet?

No.

There is chapter upon chapter upon chapter of what appear to be the authors’ personal theories about how “millions” of Kids These Days are too attached to their peers at the expense of parental, familial, and other adult attachment. There are almost no studies cited (half of the [very few] footnotes refer to publications in the mainstream press). “We must resist the temptation to welcome the Trojan Horse [peer attachment] within our walls,” it concludes.

As I explained to Teddy, if someone tells you “the sun makes us cold,” which sounds ridiculous and counter-intuitive, you’d expect them to say “and here’s why,” with lots and lots of research and experiments and studies to back up their theory. And if they don’t have lots and lots of research and experiments and studies, it’s very hard to take them seriously.

This book isn’t “the sun makes you cold.” It’s more like “the sun is warm and warmth is VERY VERY VERY BAD.” Because I do understand that too much heat absolutely is bad, I was willing – eager! – to read about how maybe less heat than I thought might also be problematic, and what I might do about that.

Instead, I’m sorely tempted to start sunbathing naked, with no sunscreen. Because the book is just that idiotic.

Here are some choice examples, none of which is backed by any evidence, study, or research:

  • “All parents are used, abused, and taken advantage of.” (Granted, it sure can feel that way—but y’kinda sign up for that when you have a kid.)
  • “Children don’t need friends.”
  • “Curiosity is not an inherent part of a child’s personality.”
  • Phrases like “the most common,” “the least healthy,” and “the most destructive” are thrown around willy-nilly as if they were proven, quantifiably true (with no citations whatsoever).
  • Similarly, terms like “true” and “genuine” friendship, maturity, and self-esteem are used frequently, according to the authors’ own definitions; childhood friendships can never be true or genuine. Also: “Relationships with others… preempt relationships with one’s self.”
  • It refers to the Terrible Twos as a given, though most (all?) parents I know agree that this is a misnomer (it’s actually the Threes that are terrible, but the alliteration isn’t there).
  • Romeo and Juliet is used as an example of how teenagers behaved historically (West Side Story is referred to as a modern example of teenager behavior, despite its being more than 50 years old… and about an era the authors refer to elsewhere as old). The Lord of the Flies is used as anecdotal evidence of how kids should be expected to behave.
  • MTV is cited as an arbiter of popular culture, when its relevance was dubious 30 years ago and its current irrelevance is far more certain.
  • The authors show almost total ignorance about cultural anthropology, but write as if they have a clue.
  • Listening to heavy metal is a sign of peer attachment. (Perhaps adults can’t bond with kids if the music is too loud?)
  • Tears from futility follow different neurological circuits than other tears.*
  • Timeout is a threat of desertion (I grant that this can be true, with certain kinds of timeouts, but I don’t agree that it’s always or even generally true).
  • “Parents must preserve their dignity, show we’re in charge, not make emotional displays” (because it’s important that children believe parents don’t have emotions, never feel uncertainty… can’t be silly?).
  • “Grandparents have become too peer-oriented.” Perhaps grandparents aren’t sufficiently mature for genuine friendship? For true self-esteem?
  • Parenthood “is designed by nature.”
  • Children who adjust early to school are probably doomed.
  • “Shyness is not the problem we think it is.” I never thought it was a “handicap”, but rather an advantage – I prefer a measure of risk adversity, of caution with new people.
  • Daycare in the absence of attachment is stressful. Doesn’t seem to allow that other stresses (e.g., financial, logistical) could be a cause of stress attributed to day care.
  • There’s “no evidence” that “we need to force our children to socialize.” The authors’ lack of evidence that we shouldn’t let them socialize is not mentioned.
  • Peers are not the answer to boredom. Boredom results from a lack of attachment. It is therefore dangerous to set up playdates to alleviate boredom.
  • “Parents are gripped by a fear of their children being ostracized.”
  • Emergent play is more important than social play.
  • And, yes, “Playdates come at a terrible price.”


Here are the only bits of good advice I gleaned from this appalling book, most of which ALSO do not have evidence cited in the book, though I have seen studies cited in other publications (including parenting books I’ve referenced right here in this here blog here):

  • “Collect” your child – relate to him in positive ways. Start the day gently, showing attention, interest, affection, and delight. Let him know you miss him when you’re apart. (Note: I interpreted “collect” in the sense of “gather up,” not “accumulate.” I could easily be wrong.)
  • Imagine the effect on wooing if we communicated “don’t expect my help with anything I think you could or should do by yourself.”
  • “The more children are pushed, the tighter they cling.”
  • Seek connection before direction.
  • Work with the relationship, not the incident, when problems occur.
  • When things aren’t working for a child, draw out the tears – don’t try to teach a lesson
  • “[T]reating our children as creatures without consciousness conveys a deep distrust and discounts their humanity.”
  • Solicit good intentions instead of demanding good behavior.
  • Draw out mixed feelings (versus stopping impulsive behavior).
  • Script desired behavior (versus demanding maturity), except that the book compares scripted social situations to teaching skiing (as if a slope is capable of dialogue!).
  • Foster attachment via good, trusting relationships with his teachers.
  • Foster attachment with kids’ friends and with their friends’ parents.

Other than mainstream media, the work most cited (in a paltry 5 pages of citations) is Robert Bly’s The Sibling Society. Robert Bly. Celebrated poet. Now I do loves me some poetry. But I don’t go to Seamus Heaney or (heaven forbid) Philip Larkin for parenting advice, y’know? Bly is also the author of Iron John, which, while enormously popular, was panned as pseudo-anthropological garbage.

I wish, wish, wish I could remember who recommended this crap. Because I would never take that person’s advice again.


* This may or may not be true. With no citation, however, I’m not inclined to believe it.

Current Location: Longmeadow
Current Mood: annoyedannoyed
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Comments

From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 26th, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC)
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Some things smell bad when you step in 'em.
Some people shouldn't be published.

Mama's rules.

YoMaMa
[User Picture]
From:katehaney
Date:July 26th, 2011 11:01 pm (UTC)

Mama is right

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as usual.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 28th, 2011 02:00 am (UTC)
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This sounds awful. I must admit that friendships in the toddler/early childhood stage are much easier for me to handle. Basically, I was involved in WHO my kids played with, and I only chose kids that _I_ wanted my kids to be around. It's much more difficult starting in 3rd/4th grade and up. That's when the kids get to choose who they want to "hang out with" (my third grader told me that he was too old for "playdates" now that he was in the third grade). It IS tricky when they hang out with people who have very different philosophies than we do - we don't let our kids play rated Mature video games ("but you can turn off the cursing!" it doesn't matter that you're blowing people up); they don't have their very own laptops with internet access that they can lug around anywhere they want to; they don't have iPod Touches with $100 iTunes Gift Cards for birthday presents.

But I think back to my childhood and all of the valuable things I learned from friends (both the good and the bad - I'd say that there were many "true" friendships, and many that were just playmates). And though I worry about the effect of peer pressure on my kids, I also think that they need to learn HOW to deal with it. Social skills are learned through friends. Granted, some of the skills learned won't always be what we want them to learn, but that's also something that kids need to learn as they gain independence. Making kids wait until they are adults to have relationships with friends is a complete disservice to them and their future relationships. Besides, family relationships can be just as messed up - if not even more - than friend relationships.

My specific gripe with peers (at the moment) is the sense of entitlement and the need for instant gratification. It's really hard to teach your kid delayed gratification when they see friends getting the newest and greatest gizmo (even though we know the parents are continually accepting money from multiple sets of grandparents because they don't have enough money to live each month). I'm also wondering how these kids are going to react when they grow up and realize how MUCH everything costs. Many of them make huge allowances for just doing little chores around the house (one friend bragged how her ten year old saved up HIS OWN MONEY for his XBOX 360 in less than six months!! - my kids don't make 300 bucks in six months!!)

Apparently, I had some thoughts to share today, too :-). But I always like your book reviews, so thanks for posting. Have you read Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman? I just started it, and it's been an interesting read so far. I'll have to let you know how I liked it when I finish.

- Lori
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From:katehaney
Date:July 29th, 2011 04:14 pm (UTC)

tricky business

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You've made some excellent points here.

I feel really fortunate to have found both a larger community and a smaller group of friendly acquaintances (not yet friends, though I have hopes) with whom I share parenting philosophies.

One of Neufeld and Maté's theses (unproven, of course) is that social skills are learned from adults, not peers. My theory (equally unproven, but I'm not writing a damned book about it and acting as if I were an expert and someone ought to pay attention to my theory) is that it's both.

Teddy spent saved money (from old allowance money - we tried for a couple of months, then stopped; we're going to start again in the fall) for the first time last week, to buy :BRACE YOURSELF: Lego. He seems pretty thrilled with his purchase, but we'll see how well he remembers the work that went into its purchase.

I have indeed read NurtureShock - referenced briefly here. Terrific book. Really shifted my thinking on lots of things. Well, it and a bunch of other books that referenced some of the same research.

Because I like research-based writing.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 29th, 2011 07:56 pm (UTC)

Re: tricky business

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I love when my kids spend birthday money on LEGOs :-). I think that it's important for them to save up for things. And really, I'd rather they saved for some of these things, than to have them just given to them (around here it's often because of parental guilt or parental peer pressure - meaning the other parents hound you into getting it because "everyone is doing it").

Thinking of relationships though... my current opinion is that most interactions are basically the same throughout your lifetime. The bully behavior is the same in childhood as adulthood (we have a somewhat good friend of ours who bullies - we're friends because we are neighbors and our neighborhood is quite social). I often call him out on his bullying behavior, and I'm not sure he knows how to deal with me. The PTSA at school is sometimes like the mean girls from high school or the sorority (thankfully it's not right now, but a few years ago it was run by some Really Awful Women). Work has it's own set of social rules along with regular workplace rules. All of these are social interactions that kids need to learn how to deal with - and it's far better (IMHO) to be exposed to it as a kid and Learn How To Deal With It (hopefully with guidance from parents if needed), than to be completely sheltered from it (and only be exposed to "appropriate interactions") and then be let off the deep end when you're an adult and you have No Clue how to deal with people at work or in real life. There aren't too many places in real life where you can completely shelter yourself from other people. And frankly, I'm too much of a social person - I LIKE being around people. I know that so much of who I am today was shaped by the friendships and interactions I had with others when I was younger. Funny... I was just trying to think of some of the positive things I learned as a kid for an example, but I came up with significantly more negative/bullying things.

My current "how do I do this" parenting problem is this: When you see _your_ negative traits show up in your kid, how do you best guide your kid in dealing with them? For example, Ken has very little tolerance for stupidity in other people. And it shows on his face. His face and body language completely say loud and clear, "WTF???!!" Even if he's learned how to say the correct words for the situation, he is horrible at hiding his body language saying otherwise. Though I think that people sometimes need to be called out on their stupidity, there are situations when it's not prudent. I truly believe that this has hindered Ken from getting a promotion on more than one occasion (the managing directors and directors can't always go around looking at their employees with WTF looks ;-). Well, Aaron (the six year old!!) does the exact same thing. I'm not sure if it's nature or nurture, but this kid is SO MUCH his daddy's kid, it's frightening. The other boys share other traits (with both of us) - both good and bad, but it's things that we know that WE do, that have caused issues for us as adults, that we hope to shape into something better. Any ideas for books about that?

I LIKE research too :-).
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From:katehaney
Date:July 30th, 2011 12:49 am (UTC)

you're a better person than I

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I don't like being around people much... they tire me out. I'm working on it though, trying to enjoy them or at least not show when I start getting tired.

I'm not sure if all people are the same from childhood forward, but I've seen an awful lot of people who seem to be the same from, say, middle school forward. Perhaps little kids have more opportunities for interventions - people or events in their lives that change them significantly. Dunno.

One thing I do look forward to, with blogging, is looking back to see what I learn from it. It's easier to cherry-pick the memories that are pertinent when you know the result. I'll have something of a completely biased, unscientific, absolutely anecdotal record at least.

I've seen the same phenomenon you describe, with my (or Peter's) negative traits showing up in Teddy. Well, non-positive traits, anyway. And I've seen NO books on the subject... lots of blogs that mention it, but no one who's figured out how to avoid it. The best advice I recall is being aware and trying to change it in yourself, and making the kid aware and trying to give him other ways to cope and respond. Very wishy-washy. Unsatisfying, research-wise.
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