This chapter is entitled, “The Dangerous Flight From Feeling” and discusses how peer-oriented adolescents and children become invulnerable to emotions. The media has frequently commented that compassion seems to be on the dwindling end for many children in this day and age, and this chapter really explored this topic well.
Children who have been traumatized can manifest defensiveness and emotional hardening. However, the authors point out that “many children who have been peer-oriented for some time can manifest the same level of defensiveness.” If a child cannot be vulnerable, then learning is affected because that child cannot show curiosity or joy or passion. Relationships are affected as the child cannot be authentic.
The authors lay out four reasons that peer- oriented children are more likely to experience emotional wounding than a child who is oriented toward adults:
- Attachment with a parent makes the stress of peers ignoring them, taunting, etc. bearable in many ways; a shield of protection. However, with this attachment to the parent also comes the burden and responsibility of the parent knowing that the child will be very sensitive to what the parents says to the child. Your words matter.
- Peer-oriented children become “sensitized to insensitive reactions of children”. Rejection by peers is a huge cause of teenage suicide. The authors argue that children have always snubbed, ignored, shunned, shamed other children but in these days children do not have the attachment to family to override the impact of peer acceptance or rejection.
The authors write: “The conclusion reached by some experts is that peer acceptance is absolutely necessary for a child’s emotional health and well-being, and that there is nothing worse than not being liked by peers. It is assumed that peer rejection is an automatic sentence to lifelong self-doubt. Many parents today live in fear of their children’s not having friends, not being esteemed by their peers. This way of thinking fails to consider two fundamental questions: What renders a child so vulnerable in the first place? And why is this vulnerability increasing?”
“Studies have been unequivocal in their findings that the best protection for a child, even through adolescence, is a strong attachment with an adult.” The authors cite studies that attachment to an adult is the best way to decrease a child’s risk for drug and alcohol problems, suicide attempts, violent behavior and early sexual activity.
- Vulnerability is often attacked by other children who will shame the child who is emotionally vulnerable.
- Because peer relationships are insecure, vulnerability due to fear of loss is inherent in these relationships. This causes extreme anxieties: “What if I don’t connect with my peers? Why if I cannot make the relationship work? What if I don’t want to go along with the things my buddies do, if my mom doesn’t let me go, or if my friend likes so and so more than she likes me? Such are the ever-present anxieties of peer-oriented children, never far below the surface. Peer-oriented children are obsessed with who likes whom, who prefers whom, who wants to be with whom.”
Other sobering pieces of this chapter includes the study by John Bowlby, father of attachment theory, where small children were separated from their parents and the outcomes of this and also some notes on drug and alcohol abuse by teenagers.
“Peer-oriented kids will do anything to avoid the human feelings of aloneness, suffering, and pain, and to escape feeling hurt, exposed, alarmed, insecure, inadequate, or self-conscious. The older and more peer-oriented the kids, the more drugs seem to be an inherent part of their lifestyle.”
The chapter concludes with some thoughts about how children don’t need friends but rather adults who love them. Children who are not vulnerable are ultimately shut down from themselves. Your attachment to your child can save their feeling life and the way they view the world and how they function in the world.
Thoughts on this chapter?