One of my favorite rock songs of all time (“Hello, I’m John, and I’m a rock ‘n’ roll addict”) is “For What It’s Worth,” written by Stephen Stills and originally recorded by Buffalo Springfield. It begins, “There’s something happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear….”
That lyric occurred to me as I contemplated the ever-increasing number of stories I am hearing of young children with clothing and food “issues.” Specifically, these kids complain that their clothing itches or feels tight or their food tastes or feels “funny.” Reports of hysteria and throwing up are common.
These complaints and over-the-top behaviors often result in a diagnosis of Sensory Integration Disorder, concerning which there is zero hard evidence verifying the pseudo-scientific claims being made by diagnosing professionals. When they say things like “your child’s brain has difficulty receiving and processing sensory information,” and “your child experiences things like taste and texture differently than does a normal child,” they are throwing darts blindfolded. These claims are unprovable, to say the least.
I don’t particularly relish the taste of some foods but will eat them without complaint if someone else prepares and serves them to me. Does this mean there’s a problem with the wiring in a certain part of my brain? No, it means I am considerate. When it comes to consuming certain foods, the setting, not my tongue, dictates whether I eat them or not. When making those decisions, I take other people’s feelings into consideration. (And by the way, a couple of my sweaters have itchy collars. I pull them on and force my mis-wired brain to get over it.) Young children are by nature self-centered, meaning they rarely if ever take other people’s feelings into consideration. To a young child, nearly everything is all about The One and Only Almighty Moi. Furthermore, children are soap-opera factories. It is an act of love for one’s neighbors for parents to teach children that their feelings do not rule other people’s behavior (beginning with theirs).
But many if not most of today’s parents are not impressing that understanding on their children. Instead, they regard their children’s feelings as valid, meaningful expressions of inner psychological states that they must strive to understand and affirm. In their view, failing to do so may bring on a psychological apocalypse. Ironically, because they try to understand and affirm what is essentially irrational — their children’s self-centered and hyperactive emotional expressions — said well-intentioned parents wind up bringing on one psychological apocalypse after another. (For the record, a child’s emotional expressions are not all irrational … only most.)
Because of mental-health propaganda, today’s parents take this stuff seriously. And so, instead of saying, at the first complaint of itchy clothes or “funny-tasting” food, “You’re going to wear/eat it anyway, end of discussion,” today’s parents begin jumping around like manic marionettes trying to make life perfect for their little darlings. This is, after all, what good parenting is all about in the new millennium.
The following is axiomatic: When parents assign credence to every emotion a child puts out there, he will quickly develop what I call Affective Basket-Case Disorder. He learns, after all, that if he acts like he is having an ABCD episode, his parents will change their behavior and revise their expectations. Under the circumstances, the child suffers because people who are driven by emotion are not happy people. His parents also suffer because living with a person with ABCD — no matter the person’s age — is highly stressful. Invariably, the child’s parents begin acting like emotional basket-cases, about which they feel significant guilt, thus further overloading their already-overloaded emotional baskets. Yep, there’s something happening here all right, but I happen to think it’s perfectly clear. Fifty or so years ago, the mental health community persuaded parents that children had a right to express their (mostly irrational) feelings freely. It’s been an increasingly chaotic downhill ride ever since.
Family psychologist John Rosemond can be reached at www.johnrosemond.com.
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