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Hold on to Your Kids

July 28, 2007

I’m reading Hold on to Your Kids by Gordon Neufield and Gabor Mate. Ostensibly about how to parent children it points to an issue that seems capable of bringing about a total societal failure – if it hasn’t already. 

I’ve always been suspicious when people complain how each new generation of teenagers and young adults is worse than the last, in some ways my view is justified because those sort of statements have an element of washing a person’s hands of the problem but Hold on to Your Kids is showing me that there is an awful lot of truth behind it as well. 

The basic thesis is that parenting is a lot easier and flows a lot more naturally when a child is properly attached to their parents. They say big problems arise when a child becomes peer-oriented and that we are seeing this more and more amongst our teens but even amongst children as young as seven. 

The book is referred to a lot on the Continuum Concept list and I was interested in it because it discussed the issue of how poor parenting (read; excessive discipline or control) could destroy attachment with the result that parenting would become a lot more difficult. It does indeed do this but what has really grabbed my attention at the moment is the discussion of what happens after the attachment is broken and a child changes from being parent oriented to become peer oriented. 

Gordon Neufield says that the attachment between parents and their children has a double purpose of making it easier for a parent to handle the immense difficulties of parenting and it ensures that the child stays oriented on the parent who’s behaviour they model and who’s cues they follow. It also ensures that the child never strays far from the parent so making it easier for them to look out for their child, and that the child is instinctively wary of strangers (people who they are not attached to) and likely to reject or ignore them in some way. 

What happens when a child becomes peer oriented is that they start to seek the company of their peers and to reject the parents, all as a natural part of their attachment instincts. They no longer place any value in what their parents think and will probably actively dislike anything to do with their parents or their values or tastes. 

The authors go on to say that the normal transmission of culture from generation to generation is short circuited by this phenomena and that instead of the children learning their parent’s values (which are usually not picked up until adolescence) they pick up on the values of their peers. More  specifically they pick up on the values of whoever the dominant members of their peer group may be, regardless of the character of that person. 

Worse still the biggest influence on them now becomes whatever is being fed to their peer group via the mass-media in the form of pop icons, meaning that at the crucial point in their lives when they are cementing their values in place they are effectively being parented by Britney Spears. 

So all those fears about the state of the new generation are true – they really are a scary bunch. Quite what is going to happen to society when they achieve a measure of power as adults is hard to predict but it doesn’t look good. 

To look back to my generation I can see that a lot of people did sort themselves out and became functioning members of society, however we can be a pretty unforgiving and un-empathetic bunch. I find it easier to look at the generation before mine, the baby boomers, where we see a narcissistic bunch of people fixated on staying youthful and divesting themselves of their responsibilities at an age when they are supposed to be fulfilling the roles of elders. According to Gordon Neufield no one actually wants them to be elders but they could at least try. 

The boomers may be scorned by me and many others but at least the hippy culture they came from, while hopelessly shallow, did champion ideas of peace, love and brotherhood. Presumably my generation will be much worse and that we will likely achieve total societal failure at the hands of the generation who are currently receiving their values direct from the music videos of MTV. 

Maybe. 

The other possibility is that they will eventually become responsible workers when the need for money to survive becomes an issue, they’ll toe the line in a grumbling sort of way but they will also be the sort of easily-led, soft-willed individuals that the powers-that-be really like to see forming the bulk of society’s herd. 

Anyway, I thoroughly recommend the book, it has introduced me to a new, much deeper understanding about the relationship between parent and child and I’m looking forward to learning how to prevent the imminent implosion of western society.

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3 comments

  1. Interesting bit about baby boomers not wanting to be elders. I thought it was just my family. I don’t have children (by choice), and my sister is still undecided, but my mother has come right out and said that she would not be the default babysitter if either of us had kids. And everytime I call my dad to ask him a question, he says, “Why can’t you just google it?” Great. A nation of people getting their information from wikipedia instead of their elders. Sometimes he lies and says he doesn’t know something, when I know damn well he does.

    Posted by: Marcy | 07/30/2007

    Wow! that sounds terrible. Grandparents are supposed to help with the kids – it’s why they’re allowed to live so long.

    Posted by: Aaron | 07/31/2007


  2. […] still making my way through Hold on to Your Kids by Gordon Nuefield and the one area I would disagree with him on is that he proposes an attachment […]


  3. […] one person who does. Gordon Neufeld, psychiatrist, dissects the issue of ‘peer attachment’ in Hold on to Your Kids and leaves the reader with the distinct impression that teenagers today are basically a case of the […]



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