The problem with peer culture

dreamstime_xs_31582450 Dr. Gordon Neufeld- addressed the KMT Child Learning and Community conference last April. He posed the question, Why are there so many issues with teens? What is going on? Listen to the news and you wonder about the kids, but also, why aren’t adults growing up? What’s happening? In his lecture, Dr. Neufeld, a developmental psychologist, explained that we’re in the middle of a huge societal shift. Most traditional societies were grandparent and family–centric. Rather than attaching to that unit of nurture, kids are taking their cues from each other. It’s self-evident to kids that the compass points are with each other instead of with the natural constellation. He explains that the shift underlies what we’re seeing with social aggression, bullying, increased violence, gang attachments and more. [‘Me-centered parents are also less about ‘We’.]

“Something has changed. One can sense it, one can feel it, just not find the words for it. Children are not quite the same as we remember being. They seem less likely to take their cues from adults, less inclined to please those in charge, less afraid of getting into trouble.” – from the book, Hold On to Your Kids. Neufeld wrote ‘Hold on to Your Kids’ with Gabor Mate MD. The Amazon book review says, “…peer orientation refers to the tendency of children and youth to look to their peers for direction: for a sense of right and wrong, for values, identity and codes of behaviour. But peer orientation undermines family cohesion, poisons the school atmosphere, and fosters an aggressively hostile and sexualized youth culture. It provides a powerful explanation for schoolyard bullying and youth violence; its effects are painfully evident in the context of teenage gangs and criminal activity, in tragedies such as in Littleton, Colorado; Tabor, Alberta and Victoria, B.C. It is an escalating trend that has never been adequately described or contested . . . Once understood, it becomes self-evident — as do the solutions.”

He explains in his workshop that the primary work of attachment is for us to get our bearings; who we are, how we matter, and all the cues. Attachment is a critical compass point beyond just what happens in infancy. The typical understanding of mother-child attachment is reductionistic, when looked at as ‘baby bonding’- only up to age 3 in developmental models. It takes at least 6 years for relationships to develop. From the 1960’s onward, kids have been taking their cues from peers in the way they act, talk, dress; it’s a youth culture. Society never had this before; traditions and values were handed down from tribal elders; youth now look to each other.

The whole universe is oriented around attachment; it’s a basic rule in particle physics- (fusion, magnetism); even in as you move up into the cellular level, and on to plants- with their root systems. Attachment is a basic model of living things and the main thing which even trumps food; you have to attach to be fed. There is this fiction that as you mature you sever attachment. Maturation and attachment are not opposites. Maturation is the outcome of attachment; part of the fundamental growth process. Neufeld has proposed a 6-stage theory of attachment. The basic thesis is that you realize the full potential of human beings spontaneously through positive sequential developmental attachments- but not inevitably. We all know people who grow older, but don’t grow up.

Neufeld “developed a comprehensive theory of how children come to realize their potential as human beings and of the role of adults in this process. This theory builds on attachment and developmental science and explains problems and phenomena that could not otherwise be satisfactorily explained, including aggression, shyness, bullying and counter will. This life’s work is referred to by others as Neufeld’s attachment-based developmental approach,” according to his institute website.

Attachment is the un-equivocal context in the development process through the adults responsible for raising children. That is a revolutionary thought for day care, schools and parenting alike. Replacing the adults/parents with peers – early on, sabotages the context for raising children. We’re not growing up. We’re meant to realize our potential as human beings. The first root is the capacity for relationships, and it unfolds in the first 6 years of life. We seek contact and closeness through the senses; proximity through being with a significant other is a pre-eminent need. By the second year of life we seek to be like those to whom we’re attached. It’s the key to language acquisition and is the same for all mammals- even birds. Side note: We are losing our war on literacy. It’s because our kids are talking like each other, Neufeld contends.

In the third year of life a child belongs to ‘my mommy’ and is typically jealous and possessive. The child is meant to belong to those who are responsible to them. (Survival skill) It’s the instinct of loyalty; we’re on the same side as (with, like, protect, defend, serve, obey). You see it when the child wears your shoes, clothes, hats etc. When problems with attachment occur, you’re more apt to see later behavioral issues with compliance and obedience. In the fourth year, the child learns roots of self-esteem; that ‘what mom and dad hold close, is what they hold dear’. That is when a sense of ‘who we matter to’, develops.

Popular developmental literature of the 1960’s and ‘70’s, implies that what friends think of the child, is most important, and the peer relationship becomes primary. But peer popularity is not the route to self-esteem and in fact is a cause of bullying and some of the dysfunction we’re seeing. If around age 4, the ‘when we want to matter’ is deeply hurt, then we feel we don’t matter. The limbic system orchestrates attachment as well as emotion. When a child gives his heart to a person, that’s a very big, long term deal. There is so much more to report, we’ve included additional resources below.:
[Photo credit: Sad teen sitting on bench in park by Zayteseva/ #31582450]

For more information:

• There’s an institute dedicated to teaching.
• Here’s the 1:40 video from his address to KMT Learning Institute.
• There are several online courses, keynotes and CE training events.
• There are DVDs, CDs, and print/course resources available.
• The book, Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate MD explaining attachment and developmental theory in very accessible language.


About Communications

Communications and Social Media @ Sequel-Pomegranate Health Systems
This entry was posted in adolescent psychiatry, behavioral health, mental health, pediatric psychiatry and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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