Too Much Attention or Not Enough…

Most, if not all of us have heard the phrase “even bad attention is still attention.” This has been used to explain the delinquent behavior of youngsters possibly since the first humanoids started walking bipedally.  “Mog act bad… Mother of child not give proper attention… Must give attention with club.”

Actually, it is more likely to have been attributed much later in the nature vs nurture argument by other patriarchal types, like Freud, who like any good Victorian, blamed all things wrong with a child on the mother. It seemed like a reasonable explanation at the time. Fast forward to modern day. It seems that every single report of criminal behavior at some point focuses the microscope on the childrearing behaviors of the perpetrator’s parental authorities (be they the actual biological parents or not).

Now, I am not saying that the responsibility of molding of our young breed does not actually start with the parental figures. If you believe in tabula rasa (which I do not, entirely), humans enter this world as a blank slate with boundless potential and opportunity for the adults in their life to completely screw up. Yep, I said it. However, as I previously insinuated, I might not buy into all that. Aside from biology and genetics, of which I do not think even the under-rock dwellers can completely discount at this point in scientific discovery; there is the whole “village raising the children” philosophy (thank you Hilary for plagiarizing an African proverb and removing responsibility from satellite families and giving them someone else to blame). The point being that there are a good many adults that have influence over any one child. There are parents, extended family, teachers, coaches, youth leaders, and a plethora of other individuals who come in contact with and have some impact on the experiences of the child. As we all know, we are, at least in part, a sum of our experiences. In fact, sometimes it isn’t even a family member or caretaker that has the most significant influence upon the child. Sometimes it is someone they do not even know, but through the power of the media or the synchronicity of some other exposure to that child’s fertile mind, perfect strangers, fictional characters, and professional athletes and entertainers can have easily as much influence over the development of our young as the parents or guardians who raise them.

So, about this attention thing; I heard it again this morning in some news story or other, probably on a true crime story in the wee hours (thank you insomnia). The most amusing part of the story was the irony that the reporter or writer or narrator never once saw in what they were saying. The tale was one of a modern day “Bonnie and Clyde”. Both of them were ruthless, party-obsessed, and addicted to drugs and each other. I heard the announcer say that the girl was neglected and abandoned as a child, and she found in the boy a willing supplicant who would care for her and meet every whim and wish. The boy, well, this is where I wonder that the writers did not see what they were saying. He was a well-loved child, raised by his mother with excellent opportunities and upbringing. He wanted for nothing growing up.

Ok. We’ve got “Bonnie” who had a crappy childhood, and “Clyde” who didn’t, and they both ended up being horrible human beings cooking, selling, and using meth and stabbing a friend to death with a kitchen knife. Let’s see now… was it too much attention or not enough. Is there some magical correct amount of attention that results in a well-balanced, honest, and successful human? If I could figure that out, I would not nearly be as concerned about paying my bills for a while. What is this mystical, magical calculation of what constitutes “just enough” attention to give a child?

I’ve heard all the old school comments and conjectures about sparing the rod and about how when women stayed at home and were mothers. Don’t even start with me. Seriously, who, in this day and age can afford to be a stay-at-home parent full time? It isn’t even a matter of the excesses or luxuries that make it completely infeasible. Feeding and clothing is only part of the job. What about development and socialization? Then, there is the medical side. The cost of raising a child to adulthood at this time is approximately $241,080. That does not include college, if you desire your offspring to flourish with higher education and future occupational compensation. Also, this is a healthy child with no illnesses or unexpected injuries, and you can just forget about braces or birthday and holiday presents. Besides, it is attention that matters, right? Not the stuff? Even so, what does this mean for the average family? If you consider that the median income of your average American family is around $45,000 per year, that makes one wonder (at least it makes me wonder) how anyone has one child much less more than one child and manages to pay for them, and then expecting a parent to stay home to well… parent? Then, of course, there is the whole single parent situation. In that case, there really is not a choice, unless that parent is independently wealthy or receiving a more than realistic subsidy from state or federal funds.

Now that I have rambled sufficiently long to write myself into a corner, what conclusion can I bring this pondering to? Human beings are a mish-mosh of biological and sociological factors contributing to the best survival of the individual and their genetic make-up to be passed on to another generation. The human organism is indolent by nature. It wants the biggest bang for the least buck, so to speak. How can the least amount of energy result in needs met comfortably and adherence to the maxim “be fruitful and multiply”? What that boils down to is that cute tiny organism that comes into the lives of the individuals who fulfilled their biological directive will probably be mostly well balanced if provided with their basic needs (also providing that the genetic materials contributed were in pretty good shape). As the child grows, as far as I can deduce, the object is to arrange circumstances so far as to make the right choice less painful than making the wrong one. This is where parenting becomes less intuitive that you might suspect for all that the biological drives and instincts are supposedly programmed into all of us. The beauty of a society made up of individuals is that each person is unique in how their chemical and sociological combinations have created their preferences and abhorrences different than many others.

Sorry mums and dads, that means you can’t use one blueprint for all diaspora of your loins. Sucks for you. The ATTENTION required is that you need to know your kid. Know what they like and what they don’t. Know what motivates them and what keeps them from pursuing their best goals, and sadly, know what might be a deterrent from making a choice that would result to their own harm or harm to another. The hardest part is that once you have gotten through the proving ground of instilling some of these notions of what is ideally right or not so much, it is time to take off the training wheels and let them go to make some mistakes, fall and scrape their knees, and learn that the world has a few rough edges that they may bump against occasionally. Preferably, this should initially be practiced when the scrapes and bruises will not result in permanent damage, but will result in some permanent knowledge. A lot of times, this is where parents have the most difficulty. They hang on too long. They fail to give the child a sense of independence resulting in fear of making their own decisions or a lack of responsibility for doing so. It’s not that any parent wants to instill this sense in a child, but it remains too difficult to allow a beloved one to suffer pain, even if less than what they will suffer in future. As hard as it is, parents owe it to these individuals they wrought to provide them the best opportunity for success. The best opportunity, it seems is to pay enough attention to know the child. Spend enough time to make your company as much or more enjoyable than the TV, videogame system, or media stars that might otherwise be their primary interactions. And remember, parents, these are the people who may be choosing your assisted living center!

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