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7 Mistakes That Damage Childhood

7 Mistakes That Damage Childhood

Your children only gets their childhood once. There are no repeats or do-overs. It is amazing how those years of growing up can affect the rest of their lives. As adults we ponder, analyze, and reflect on all that our childhood had to offer us, both good and bad. It’s a parent’s responsibility to protect their child so that the preventable bad stuff doesn’t happen during childhood. Not all bad can be prevented, such as the death of a parent or a debilitating illness, but there are some things that can be prevented or avoided. It is up to the parent or caregiver to help avoid these damaging factors that afflict so many during childhood.

1. Treating Children As Though They Are Adults

I have heard parents refer to their kids as mini-adults. They are not mini-adults. They are children. They don’t have the same ability as adults to process information or even think abstractly. Children don’t have fully developed brains, so they are not emotionally or mentally mature. The expectation of parents or adults for children to be anything like an adult is absurd. Taking your toddler to a fancy restaurant and then getting upset with them because they are acting their age is silly. Don’t expect your toddler to act older than they are because you will be disappointed every time.

Don’t take them places where you know toddler’s behavior isn’t accepted or tolerated. If you have to, for example be on a plane ride, prepare to keep the child entertained with age appropriate toys and videos. Anticipate that they will act their age, because when they are two years old they will act like a two year old. They only get to be a child once in life, so embrace it and let them be a child.

2. Over Scheduling

Far too many kids are getting burned out before they even head off to college. There are many kids who are over scheduled, over schooled, and over worked on a weekly basis. How did we get to this point where kids go to school all day long, have after school activities/sports for several hours every night, and then hours of homework once they get home?

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At the end of the day they have zero free time to just be a kid. They end up being stressed out just trying to get it all done and keep up with a crazy schedule. It’s time to rethink the amount of activities that we have enrolled our kids in.

Many kids these days start activities from the time they are babies. From music classes to toddler sports activities, to play dates to learning sign language. Many kids are doing too much and being pushed too hard, too fast. They have their entire lives to run the rat race of life. Childhood is the time when they need extra rest as their bodies and minds grow. It’s great to stimulate minds and bodies for growth, but over scheduling happens far too easily these days.

Kids need time for plenty of free play and to allow their imaginations to thrive. Part of development is allowing kids the time to be creative, time to pretend, and imagine. Those activities fall by the wayside when kids are overschuled and don’t have free time to play. Limiting a child’s play time because of overscheduled activities can negatively affect the child’s development. The American Academy of Pediatrics clearly explains the important of playtime: “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.”

3. Physical Or Emotional Abuse

It is a no-brainer that physical abuse is damaging to a child. Emotional abuse is just as damaging and some parents don’t even realize they are doing it. Words stick like glue. They can’t be erased once they are said. When you call your child dumb, bad, ugly, or anything derogatory those words can’t be unsaid. It hits to the core of the child, especially when they are said by a parent. There isn’t anyone’s words who can harm a child more than the words of a parent. Be careful with words and if you need to correct your child speak to their behavior, not who they are as a person.

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4. Expecting A Child To Handle Adult Problems

Don’t expect your child to carry the burden of your problems. It is the job of the parent to shield and protect their child from adult problems. Alcoholism, drug abuse, and addictions are just some of problems of which a child shouldn’t be exposed to.

A very common way that parents are damaging their children today is in divorced situations. When a parent tries to pit their child against the other parent this causes major emotional strain to a child that can damage a child emotionally. If you are divorced don’t speak ill against your ex in front of your child. The child will internalize those words, as they are made up of half of you and half of their other parent.

5. Pressure To Succeed

The pressure to succeed is way too high these days. Parents wanting the best for their kids is one thing, but wanting their kids to be the best is another. There will always be someone who is better at whatever it is your kid is doing. Let them do their best on their own will. There is a big difference between encouragement and pressuring. Know that difference so that you can be your child’s encourager.

Psychological Researchers say that pressuring your child to succeed can actually backfire: “When parents are overly invested in performance, kids are less likely to develop their own, more sustainable, motivation”. Encourage, don’t pressure, as the pressure on your child to succeed can end up actually thwarting their sucess.

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6. Social Isolation

Kids need to be around other kids. Being around adults and only interacting with adults can damage a child’s future ability to interact with their own peers. They need to be around other children their own age on a regular basis in order to develop good social behaviors. Those first few years of life are an important time when children need to be around other children, as it will affect their ability to be socially accepted later.

Research from Child Encylopedia states that  “Peers play important roles in children’s lives at much earlier points in development than we might have thought. Experiences in the first two or three years of life have implications for children’s acceptance by their classmates in nursery school and the later school years. Children who are competent with peers at an early age, and those who show prosocial behaviour, are particularly likely to be accepted by their peers.”

Help your children early in life by planning play time with other children their own age. Their proper development depends on this interaction with their peers.

7. Poor Role Models

Having positive role models is very important. If a child looks up to someone who abuses drugs and alcohol, they will think that behavior is permissible or even encouraged. Parents are the most important role models for a child. Are your behaviors worthy of your child’s admiration? Would you want your child to repeat your behaviors? Parents are role models for their children whether they want to be or not. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry states the following:  “A role model is a person whose serves as an example by influencing others. For many children, the most important role models are their parents and caregivers. Children look up to a variety of role models to help shape how they behave in school, relationships or when making difficult decisions.”

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Are your behaviors ones that you would want your child to emulate? Be a positive example for your child, as they are watching all that you do in life.

Featured photo credit: Magdalena Battles via livingjoydaily.com

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Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Published on June 30, 2020

What Is Unconscious Bias (And How to Reduce It for Good)

What Is Unconscious Bias (And How to Reduce It for Good)

Many conversations are being held nowadays regarding unconscious bias, but what does it really mean and how can it affect your life and the people around you? With many types of biases, it can get quite confusing. In this article, we’ll touch on cognitive bias, and then zero in on unconscious bias. Both types of biases have an immediate impact on your life because they relate to how you and others think about yourself and other people.

If you want to protect your relationships and make good decisions about other people, you need to know what these biases mean[1]. Once we have clarity about that, we can explore in more depth unconscious bias and how to address it[2].

Cognitive Bias

Let’s start with cognitive bias[3], a predictable pattern of mental errors that result in us misperceiving reality and, as a result, deviating away from the most likely way of reaching our goals[4].

These mental blind spots impact all areas of our life, from health to relationships and even shopping, as a study recently revealed[5]. In other words, from the perspective of what is best for us as individuals, falling for a cognitive bias always harms us by lowering our probability of getting what we want.

Cognitive biases have to do with judgment, not mood. Ironically, cognitive biases — such as the optimism bias and overconfidence effect — more often lead to positive moods. Of course, the consequence of falling into cognitive biases, once discovered, usually leaves us in a bad mood due to the disastrous results of these dangerous judgment errors.

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Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is different from cognitive bias. Also known as implicit bias, it refers to unconscious forms of discrimination and stereotyping based on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, age, and so on[6]. Despite cognitive biases sometimes leading to discriminatory thinking and feeling patterns, these are two separate and distinct concepts.

Cognitive biases are common across humankind and relate to the particular wiring of our brains, while unconscious bias relates to perceptions between different groups and are specific for the society in which we live. For example, I bet you don’t care or even think about whether someone is a noble or a commoner, yet that distinction was fundamentally important a few centuries ago across Europe. To take another example, most people in the US don’t have strong feelings about Sunni vs. Shiite Muslims, yet this distinction is incredibly meaningful in many parts of the world.

Unconscious Bias and Discriminatory Behavior

Organizations often bring me in as a speaker on diversity and inclusion to address potential unconscious discriminatory behavior. When I share in speeches that black Americans suffer from police harassment and violence at a much higher rate than white people, some participants (usually white) occasionally try to defend the police by claiming that black people are more violent and likely to break the law than whites. They thus attribute police harassment to the internal characteristics of black people (implying that it is deserved), and not to the external context of police behavior.

In reality – as I point out in my response to these folks – research shows that black people are harassed and harmed by police at a much higher rate for the same kind of activity. A white person walking by a cop, for example, is statistically much less likely to be stopped and frisked than a black one[7].

At the other end of things, a white person resisting arrest is much less likely to be violently beaten than a black one. In other words, statistics show that the higher rate of harassment and violence against black Americans by police is due to the prejudice of the police officers, at least to a large extent[8].

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However, I am careful to clarify that this discrimination is not necessarily intentional. Sometimes, it indeed is deliberate, with white police officers consciously believing that black Americans deserve much more scrutiny than whites. At other times, the discriminatory behavior results from unconscious, implicit thought processes that the police officer would not consciously endorse[9].

After becoming aware that unconscious bias does exist, the next step would be learning how to recognize it in order to reduce it. I’ve outlined three crucial points to keep in mind below while further exploring the unconscious prejudice discussed above.

How to Reduce Unconscious Bias

Remember these three important points if you want to work on reducing your unconscious bias.

1. Unconscious Bias is a Systemic Issue

When we understand that unconscious bias is ultimately a systemic issue, we understand that internal cultures need to be checked and addressed first.

Interestingly, research shows that many black police officers have an unconscious prejudice against other black people, perceiving them in a more negative light than white people when evaluating potential suspects. This unconscious bias carried by many — not all — black police officers helps show that such prejudices come – at least to a significant extent – from internal cultures within police departments, rather than pre-existing racist attitudes present before someone joins a police department.

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Such cultures are perpetuated by internal norms, policies, and training procedures, and any police department wishing to address unconscious bias needs to address internal culture first and foremost, rather than attributing racism to individual officers.

In other words, instead of saying it’s a few bad apples in a barrel of overall good ones, the key is recognizing that unconscious bias is a systemic issue, and the structure and joints of the barrel needs to be fixed[10].

2. There Is No Shame in Unconscious Bias

Another crucial thing that needs to be highlighted is that there is no shame or blame in unconscious bias as it’s not stemming from any fault in the individual. This no-shame approach decreases the fight, freeze, or flight defensive response among reluctant audiences, helping them hear and accept the issue.

Unconscious bias is prevalent and often doesn’t match our conscious values. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs and prejudices stemming from our tendency to categorize people into social groups. This developed naturally as a way for our ancestors to quickly size up a possible threat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate well in modern life.

3. It Takes a Sustained Effort to Prevent and Protect Against Unconscious Bias

After being presented with additional statistics and discussion of unconscious bias, the issue is generally settled. Still, from their subsequent behavior it’s clear that some of these audience members don’t immediately internalize this evidence. It’s much more comforting for their gut reactions to believe that police officers are right and anyone targeted by police deserves it; in turn, they are highly reluctant to accept the need to focus more efforts and energy on protecting black Americans from police violence due to the structural challenges facing these groups.

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The issue of unconscious bias doesn’t match their intuitions, so they reject this concept, despite extensive and strong evidence for its pervasive role in policing. It takes a series of subsequent follow-up conversations and interventions to move the needle. A single training is almost never sufficient, both in my experience and according to research[11].

Conclusion

The examples and points raised illustrate broader patterns you need to follow to recognize unconscious bias. Only by doing so will you be able to determine if, and what type of, intervention is needed to address it.

Unfortunately, our gut reactions lead us to make poor judgment choices when we simply follow our intuitions. Unconscious biases are systemic and need to be addressed in order to make the best decisions[12].

We need to learn about the kind of problems that result from unconscious bias. Then, you need to develop the right mental habits to help you make the best choices[13]. A one-time training is insufficient for doing so. It takes a long-term commitment and constant discipline and efforts to overcome unconscious bias, so get started now.

More Tips on Overcoming Unconscious Bias

Featured photo credit: M.T ElGassier via unsplash.com

Reference

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