The title of this chapter is “Stuck in Immaturity.” Without even looking at the chapter, I have to giggle a bit at this title because those of you who have read this blog for a long time have seen my posts lamenting lack of meaningful rituals for American children as they transition into adulthood, how transforming into an industrial society has really prolonged adolescence in many ways, etc. Yes, a society often stuck in immaturity!
The authors begin this chapter with two scenarios of two different children who are impulsive, unreflective, being rather off-the-cuff, not wanting to finish things, no aspirations. The authors conclude by pointing out one of the children is only four, where these things are developmentally normal and to be expected, but the child in the other scenario is fourteen and his behavior has not changed remarkably since the preschool years. The authors dub this phenomenon as “preschooler syndrome” (and I giggled again! Apparently I should have a glass of wine whilst reading this chapter to make it even more fun!)
The authors now make a point worth being serious about: “Physical growth and adult physiological functioning are not automatically accompanied by psychological and emotional maturation. Robert Bly, in his book The Sibling Society, exposes immaturity as being endemic in our society. “People don’t bother to grow up, and we are all fish swimming in a tank of half-adults,” he writes. In today’s world the preschooler syndrome even affects many children well past the preschool years, and may even be seen in teenagers and adults. Many adults have not attained maturity – have not mastered being independent, self-motivated individuals capable of tending their own emotional needs and of respecting the needs of others.”
Yup, pretty much sums up what is going on with children today and also some adults that I see. The authors see the main culprit causing this behavior as peer orientation. “The earlier the onset of peer orientation in a child’s life and the more intense the preoccupation with peers, the greater the likelihood of being destined to perpetual childishness.”
I agree completely, but what I also see is parents really having a tough time parenting. Parents having a tough time setting boundaries, slowing down enough to have a family life, really not understanding development or what tools go with what age. I think in the “olden days’” there were mothers in the neighborhood to help with this, the children all played in a group of littles down to bigs so you could clearly see a six year old was not like the twelve year old…All the things we are missing in our society right now.
Anyway, back to the book.
The authors talk about the term “integrative functioning” and how maturity allows one to temper and to balance. I love this; Waldorf Education is all about balance and finding the Middle Way, so I find this fits nicely into my personal worldview. The authors point out that maturity requires a sense of self to be separated from inner experience and how that is completely absent in the young child. Again, this is a hallmark of Waldorf Education.
“The child has to be able to know that she is not identical with whatever feeling happens to be active in her at any particular moment. She can feel something without her actions being necessarily dominated by that feeling. She can be aware of other, conflicting feelings, or of thoughts, values, commitments that might run counter to the feeling of the moment. She can choose.”
To me, the section that starts on page 115 “How Maturation Can Be Fostered” is an important one, the most important part and piece of this chapter.
“Dealing with immature children, we may need to show them how to act, draw the boundaries of what is acceptable, and articulate what our expectations are. Children who do not understand fairness have to be taught to take turns. Children not yet mature enough to appreciate the impact of their actions must be provided with rules and prescriptions for acceptable conduct….” but they go on to point true maturation cannot be rushed. They give the example that to take turns is civil, but until a child develops a sense of fairness behind this action, they are not truly mature. To say you are sorry in a situation is also civil, but until one understands responsibility for one’s actions there is no maturity.
So, what can we do as parents to foster maturity? The authors write “The key to activating maturation is to take care of the attachment needs of the child. To foster independence we must first invite dependence; to promote individuation we must provide a sense of belonging and unity; to help the child separate we must assume the responsibility for keeping the child close.”
Here is another quote: “The first task is to create space in the child’s heart for the certainty that she is precisely the person the parents want and love.” Very lovely thought to meditate and ponder.