Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘children

Idiot mothers and my rotten building

leave a comment »

Yet another proof that I live in a rotten-to-the-core-building ([1]): and that “Karens” are a matter of women, not specifically White women, feeling entitled and being presumptuous, self-centered, and/or uncomprehending of the rights and interests of others. The latter especially with mothers, who seem to think that the rest of the worlds has a duty to bend itself to fit their convenience.

As I wrote in [1]:

For instance, the door to the cellar is often blocked by prams. Last week, it was three-seater (!) that would have made it impossible to access the cellar without simultaneously blocking the stairs completely, so that no-one could get in. Even maneuvering it sufficiently to get to the cellar door, even at the price of blocking the stairs, might have required me to go out the front door first (and/or to push the pram out the front door). Certainly, there would have been no chance of getting out of the cellar again, had someone wanting to enter the building put it back while I was down there—and the chances with even a smaller pram might not be brilliant either.

There were some repetitions of this, during which I found that I, indeed, was forced to put the entire pram on the pavement outside the building to get into the cellar. On one occasion, it was positioned in such a manner that it was barely possible to get the door open. I decided to write a note to put in the pram the next time that it appeared—but it never did. After a handful* of weeks without incidents, I believed that the idiot responsible had come to her senses.

*The text quoted is from 1st of July, roughly six weeks ago, and the problem might have extended another week-or-so after that.

But no:

As I left the building for errands earlier today, I found a barely readable hand-written note on the door. Believe it or not, but this idiot was now actually complaining that her pram had been damaged by people trying to open the front door … Her opinion seems to be that if someone opens the front door and feels resistance, then it is time to stop pushing and try to wriggle in through whatever opening is available.

In contrast, any reasonably sane and intelligent individual would come to the conclusion that if her pram blocks the entry to the house, she has to put it somewhere else—preferably, her own apartment. (This even before factoring in the additional and more complete blocking of the cellar door.)

My position is clear: If she does something this stupid and inconsiderate, again and again, anyone entering the house has the right to use any amount of violence necessary to get in and still be blameless. The blame resides solely with her, and she should be happy that no-one has yet to simply thrown her pram away or reported her to building management*.

*Notwithstanding that this might be pointless in light of my prior experiences with their incompetence.

For a few similar incidents, also see an older text on women and awareness of surroundings, which includes e.g. a woman blocking the door to (another) apartment building from the outside with her bike, and then having a hissy fit when I presumed to push the door open to get out through the sole exit of said building.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 10, 2020 at 11:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

More issues around perverse incentives, evil, and lack of concern for others

with one comment

Two issues in the overlap between some recent texts ([1], [2]):

Firstly, one particularly common source of negative effects on others through disregard is children. Now, children themselves cannot necessarily be blamed for their behaviors, as they, depending on age, often are victims of nature, naturally lack the intellectual capability to see a non-egoistical view-point or to see that some actions are disturbing to others, are so used to being around other children that they see screaming and noise as the normal state of affairs,* whatnot. The great problem is the many parents who should know better but either do not or do but willfully ignore the interest of everyone else when their children are concerned, e.g. by bringing a small child into a library and letting it scream its head off for several minutes before silencing it or removing it from the premises.**

*Yet another reason why it is idiotic to put children in large groups of other children with few adults, as e.g. in a typical school.

**An actual situation that I encountered last summer.

A critical point is the risk that this type of parenting has a negative effect on the behavior of the next generation: if the children are never told to behave themselves, show concern for others, respect the rights of others, …, and if the parents never set good examples, chances are that many will keep this type of egocentric behavior into adulthood, compounding the problems in [2] and likely leading to a new generation repeating the same type of negligent parenting.

My own and my sister’s upbringing was already comparatively lax, and the attempts to impose discipline usually came from the grand-parents. For instance, my maternal grand-mother repeatedly tried to set limits on the out-of-control behavior of my sister, but my mother let her get away with anything, even overruling my grand-mother (her right, obviously, but rarely a good decision and definitely a contributor to sister’s “hyper-millennialism”).* For instance, I was a few times told the Swedish equivalent of “children should be seen and not heard”**—always by the grand-mother, never by the mother.

*With time, my memories have grown vague, but one example was my sister deliberately breaking a cheese dome (?), my baby-sitting grand-mother saying that she would make sure that my sister would have to pay for it, and my mother later letting the matter slip.

**Taken to excesses, this attitude can be harmful, but I consider it a sounder attitude than today’s extreme laissez-faire, and there is no contradiction between a moderate use of it and an independent development of the child, e.g. by silencing screaming and trying to move as much play as possible to the playground. There certainly is no contradiction between being an independent adult and a considerate one.

Today, not even this appears to take place. A very common German attitude, e.g., is “Kinder machen Lärm” (“Children make much noise*”), which is then taken as an excuse to allow them to cause disturbances wherever they are, as well as admitting them to places where they should not be, for want of maturity, e.g. “adult” restaurants. (A saner conclusion would be to keep them away from situations where they would disturb others.) I have heard** at least one story of a child putting its hands in the food or drink of an unrelated guest in cafe or restaurant and the parent just wanting to laugh it off. I have myself had a strange child trying to climb (!) on me to get a better view in a zoo, without the parents intervening. Etc. The children, then, go through years of doing what they want, when they want, where they want, never learning to pause and consider anyone else, never learning about personal boundaries, etc.

*“Lärm” might normally be translated with “noise” (without “much”), but this is too weak as “noise” could also be the translation of e.g. “Geräusch”. An overlapping English expression is “children will be children”.

**And seen a fictional parallel on a TV show, possibly “Sex and the City”.

Secondly, a common reason for current societal issues is that humans are built for a different kind of society, and that the (in some sense) disturbance of the old environment leads both to imbalances and to unwanted behaviors being more beneficial (to the perpetrator—not society) and/or receiving less punishment.

Notably, we used to live in a society where too negative behaviors, sooner or later, had direct negative consequences for the perpetrator, e.g. in that a misbehaving child was given a slap* on the behind, that someone who repeatedly violated the rights of others might have been punched** in the nose, or that someone who committed fraud might have ended up with a knife in the back. (Also consider the saying “a dueling society is a polite society”.) Today, the population is almost helpless, having to rely on governmental assistance over own force, and this assistance not always being intended by the system, rarely forth-coming when it is intended, and error-prone and slow*** when it actually is attempted. This implies that the risk–reward balance for a great number of behaviors have changed in favor of the perpetrators of negative**** behaviors.

*While the slapper today is put in the same box as someone who gives a child two dozen strokes with the belt, because all violence against children is considered unacceptable.

**Today, the puncher would usually be in worse legal trouble, regardless of (non-violent) provocation. In theory, the state should intervene to protect against such behavior, but it usually does not.

***The lack of a direct connection and a short time between action and re-action makes an adjustment of attitude less likely, while a deterring effect might be absent altogether. (Compare the deterring effect of e.g. “if I try to rob old man Smith, his sons might beat me up within five minutes” and “if I try to rob old man Smith, I might be caught, might end up in court, and might go to jail in a few months time, but more likely I will just receive a slap on the wrist”.

****Similar, for the worse, can apply to positive behaviors, as with e.g. someone who supports the neighbor’s family in [1].

(Of course, this does not necessarily imply that a system of self-justice would be better—just that it has a different set of advantages and disadvantages. I would definitely argue, however, that the limits on self-justice are too heavy in e.g. Germany, in light of the abysmal job that the state does of protecting the citizens.)

Secondly, consider hard work and economic prudence: In the past, someone who was lazy, spent his money on entertainment instead of necessities, whatnot, risked a quick death due to starvation. Today? Governmental aid will come to the rescue, even of those undeserving*, changing the balance to favor the imprudent. Have too many children back then, and some would starve; today, and the government keeps them fed, implying that the “imprudent reproducers” can eat their cake and have it too. Etc. A particularly interesting case of perverse incentives is the German ALG II** (likely with many other similarly flawed schemes around the world), where existing wealth prevents people from receiving this income booster. This might seem reasonable on first glance: why should the government give handouts to those who can support themselves for months or years based on exiting wealth? However, now consider two individuals, both identical in income, career development, and whatnot, but differing in that the one saves 200 Euros a month and the other spends all his surplus money on entertainment. After ten years, both are fired and unable to find a new job. Eventually, the time for ALG II comes: the prudent saver is now denied ALG II, because he has roughly*** 24 thousand Euro; the prodigious spender will have an empty bank account and will receive ALG II. What incentives does this bring? (Especially, to those at risk of being in need of ALG II, who should be saving as much as they could to protect themselves while they still have an income.) Of course, those who have very poorly paying jobs might be tempted to avoid work at all, draw ALG II instead, and lose little or no money while gaining that much more spare time.

*The idea behind aid schemes was typically originally that those willing-but-unable to provide for themselves should be helped. This is not where we are today.

**A scheme intended to cover the difference between actual income and the existential minimum (or some similar standard). This is particularly relevant for those with no income after exceeding the time limit for unemployment benefits (“ALG”—hence the misleading “ALG II”); however, it also includes a wide range of cases where income is present but insufficient.

***The exact number will depend on factors like saving/consumption during unemployment, interest rates, prior emergencies, whatnot, but in doubt it is the principle and not the exact number that matters.

(Again, this does not necessarily imply that a system of self-X would be better—just that it has a different set of advantages and disadvantages. However, the balance has definitely been pushed far to far towards reliance on the state in many countries, including Germany.)

Written by michaeleriksson

January 4, 2020 at 11:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

Perverse incentives and meddling politicians

with one comment

A discussion of perverse and/or ineffective incentives for e.g. marriage in Germany (and many other countries) is something that I have long had on my todo list. (Another case of so-ambitious-that-I-keep-postponing-it.) To get it out of the way, an abbreviated version.

Germany has many perverse incentives when it comes to e.g. marriage and procreation, including tax breaks for being married and for having children. This with the idea that the citizens should be more likely to marry (as opposed to e.g. cohabit) and have more children (to avoid a shrinking population). I strongly disagree with this already for reasons like it being an anti-democratic* meddling and through the inherent unfairness against those who prefer to stay single and childless.**

*The correct flow of opinion is from citizen to government. When the government tries to prescribe what the citizens should believe (as with e.g. political propaganda funded with government subsidies) or how they should behave (outside of what is necessary for a functioning society and protection from each other) something is greatly amiss.

**Indeed, it goes so far that, again, those who cause less costs have to pay more …

There are many issues with this, including the inherent perverseness: If two people, in this day of high divorce rates, do get married because they want a tax break, how stable should we expect this marriage to be? Chances are that they will be less happy than those who married without a tax break and those who remained unmarried despite a tax break, that they will have an over-average risk of divorce, that they will perversely stick to a failing relationship a few years longer than they would have without the marriage, etc. Certainly, marriage is not something that should be taken so lightly that tax incentives should be a legitimate concern.

Or consider the potentially different effect on the intelligent and the dumb: While the intelligent are more likely to know their opportunities, they are also more likely to see the negative sides of such schemes. This can then lead to an increase (or a greater increase) in the rate of procreation among the dumb, which is the last thing that we need. At an extreme, I have even anecdotally heard of some black teen girls in the U.S. who deliberately got themselves pregnant for the purpose of receiving government money and not having to work for a living. (I do not vouch for this being true, but it remains a good illustration of principle even if not true. Note that it is not necessary for their calculation to be correct—it is enough that they believe it correct.) A less extreme case is formed by those who get pregnant at a young age, who would have been deterred without government money.

Similarly, many of the benefits given to people with children have a greater positive effect on or are given* to a higher degree to those who earn less. Earnings, however, have a positive correlation with intelligence and this will again lead to an unfortunate skew.

*Not necessarily in Germany. I have not looked into the details, but I am under the impression that the income dependence is comparatively weak. When it comes to specifically tax breaks (but not e.g. governmental child support), those who earn well might even benefit more, because of a higher marginal tax-rate (on the other hand, their need for more money is usually smaller).

Or consider the disputable effectiveness and efficiency: Yes, such incentives can move some people in the intended direction, but unless the incentive is quite large, it will mostly move border-line cases—while the money flows even for those who remained with their original decision. We then have a comparatively small effect at a high cost.

As a counter-point, look at the negative incentives created (at least for men) by other legislation, and consider whether removing these negative incentives would not have a better chance of achieving something (often also leading to a fairer system): For instance, if a man marrys*, he exposes himself to an increased risk of loss of property and need to pay alimony in case of a divorce. Unless he is really certain of the marriage and/or the woman, this gives a strong incentive to prefer a non-marriage arrangement. Similarly, if a child, even extra-maritally, even e.g. through a one-night-stand, is born, the man can see himself forced to pay for two decades, in what amounts to a strict-liability system.** Of course, intelligent men are more likely to be deterred by this than unintelligent, ditto sober vs. drunk, etc., adding a further negative skew to the deterrent. (Other perverse incentives that arise from this include that women might be more likely to have children in poor relationships, knowing that they will receive money even should the relationship fail.)

*Even in Germany; however, the situation here is not as disastrous as in the U.S.

**A saner system would put a strict liability on the woman (outside of rape scenarios): unless she has received prior consent for having the child, it should be entirely her responsibility. (Possibly, with a reversal for married couples, where the husband would have to give an explicit veto.) This particularly as the woman has a much greater control over prevention and “postvention” than the man has. At an extreme, even a “sabotaged condom” scenario leaves the woman much better off: if she sabotages the condom and a child is born, the man is still stuck with payments; if he does it, she can still get out through an abortion.

Excursion on school, etc.:
The above is concerned with fairly direct incentives and subsidies. However, a case can be made that the same reasoning should be used on e.g. school, in that tax-financed school is both an incentive to have children and an unfairness towards those who never have children. (A better system, while still “publicly financed”, might use a parents-only financing that distributes costs over time, e.g. through having the parents pay a fix amount every year after the birth of the child that covers the cost of school in accumulation.)

Excursion on lack of appreciation:
An additional problem with many modern schemes is that those who are bright and work hard pay for those who are stupid and/or lazy over the tax bill—and the credit for this goes to the politicians. In older days, with lower taxes and lesser governmental support, those who chose to give support had a much greater chance at receiving credit, gratitude, receive favors of some kind in return, … Today, someone might pay more for the neighbor’s* children than the neighbor does, and the neighbor will quite often either not be aware of this or ignore it—or even call for higher taxes so that he can get even more.

*In a manner of speaking: Obviously, the taxes from person A1 is not given to person A2 and those of person B1 to person B2, etc. The taxes from persons A1, B1, C1, … are pooled and distributed to the persons A2, B2, C2, … The principle behind the it remains the same, however, even with this more anonymous and pooled redistribution.

Excursion on dysgenics:
Dysgenics is another topic on the todo list. Some subtopics are touched upon above. Others include e.g. that those who go through higher education tend to have children later in life than those who do not, leading to longer generations and a further imbalance in the population. (Notwithstanding that the correlation between intelligence and higher education has dropped considerably over time.)

Written by michaeleriksson

December 29, 2019 at 9:04 pm

Going my own ways

leave a comment »

One aspect of my visits to Sweden is the many recollections from my childhood brought forth.

This includes my having a long history of, literally or metaphorically, going my own ways and striving for independence* even as a child. For instance, my mother has repeatedly told me how I used to break out of my crib (“spjälsäng”), through pushing the laths (?) at the bottom aside and crawling out.

*From e.g. limits set by others, not necessarily when it comes to e.g. my parents providing dinner…

Other incidents include (ages are guesstimates):

  1. Age three or four, during a vacation, walking off into a forest, disappearing out of sight, and causing an impromptu search party of, possibly, a dozen people. I did not understand what the fuss was all about.
  2. Age five, during a mall visit, leaving my family for the great fun of an elevator ride, causing the party to split to try to cover all “escape routes”.
  3. Age five, walking well out of bounds with the family dog, only to be collected by my uncle, who happened to drive by.
  4. Age seven, taking my sister and attempting to run away, in order to not have to go somewhere*. My mother took the car and caught up in half a minute…

    *I have no idea about the where, but it likely was something boring or annoying, e.g. church.

This not to mention a great many (allowed) walks of various kinds. Indeed, a great annoyance to my mother was the restrictions by my förskola* that she had to drop me off in the morning and collect me in the afternoon—despite a distance of just a few hundred meters and despite my often going further on my own. There were even cases when my mother picked me up, dropped me of at home for a snack, and I was back, on foot and on my own, in the vicinity of the förskola half-an-hour later. Of course, in today’s over-protective climate, it is conceivable that my mother would have been considered negligent for allowing these walks…**

*Literally, “pre-school”. Going by Wikipedia, “Kindergarten” might hit the age group (around 6) better. While I am not aware of the exact background, these regulations were likely intended to protect the förskola or its employees from legal culpability, so that no child went missing “on their watch”. To boot, there was likely the aspect of one-size-MUST-fit-all that is so common among bureaucrats—not all children lived as close-by, and different rules for different children might have been unthinkable.

**Not to be confused with the first item above, where my parents actually might have been negligent.

Excursion on out of bounds:
For young me, there was a fairly wide and very long area around where I lived, visible on OpenStreetMap between Kyrkvägen and Bergmästaregatan, which had only one crossing street (a small one at that) and was considered solidly within bounds. (This area included the förskola.) In addition, the area northwards and to either side had very little traffic and was viewed with tolerance, especially the walk to Laxbrogatan and the part of it where my maternal grand-parents lived (close to the intersection with Källtorpsvägen).

For item 3 above, I likely started at my grand-parents’ and walked into the town center from there.

Excursion on school:
I do not remember how the first years of school were arranged. It is possible that I walked or drove a bike very early on; it is possible that my mother drove me the first one or two years (roughly, ages seven respectively eight). I do have a few recollections of car pooling, but I do not know whether that was a common occurrence or just a once-in-while thing. Either way, the roughly one mile distance was a matter of muscle power for most of my school years. (And, obviously, the rules for “out of bounds” rapidly grew laxer as I moved past six.)

Written by michaeleriksson

August 9, 2019 at 7:34 pm

Adults say the darnedest things

with one comment

I just re-encountered the fiction (and real-life) cliche of the child–adult exchange “He started it!”–“That is no excuse!”. This is a good example of adults telling children things that simply do not make sense,* and that are likely to leave the children unconvinced: “He started it!” is not just an excuse—it is a perfectly legitimate reason. There might be situations where it can be pragmatically better to turn the other cheek, try to deescalate, find a more constructive solution than retaliation, whatnot; however, that has no impact on the ethics of the issue and expecting a child to understand such matters is highly optimistic.** Furthermore, there are many cases where retaliation in kind is the best solution, especially when boundary pushers and bullies are concerned (which will very often be the case with children): Both being exposed to consequences for inappropriate behavior and having to take a dose of one’s own medicine can have a great positive effect in limiting future inappropriate behavior.

*I suspect that this is partly due to the answer being dishonest, that the adult is motivated by something unstated. (“What” will depend on context, but a fear of negative consequences from e.g. fights between children could be high on the list, as could a wish to just keep some degree of peace and quit.)

**And arguments in that direction are usually absent to begin with.

Note how the “adult” reply makes no attempt at providing reasons or actually convincing, and how a discussion of pros and cons is entirely absent—it is just an (invalid) claim that the child is supposed to take at face value “because I said so”. No wonder that children are not more cooperative…

The “because I said so” is, of course, a good example in its own right—the effect of such argumentation is that the child’s rejection of a claim is complemented by a feeling that the adult is an unreasonable dictator. It might or might not create compliance in action, but compliance in thought is not to be expected. Worse, it could have a harmful long-term effect on the relationship. It is true that there might be a point where a child is too young or the situation too critical for a deeper discussion to beneficial; however, the uses that I have seen (be it in fiction or in real life) would usually have benefited from a motivation.* Consider** e.g. a child’s refusal do the dishes countered with “because I said so” vs. “we agreed that everyone should take a turn—and today is your day”; the adult’s refusal to play based on “because I said so” vs. “I am sorry, but I am dead tired and need to take a nap”; or even any discussion resulting in “because I said so” vs. “I pay the bills; I make the rules”. The last example might superficially seem to offer no real difference, but most children (above a certain age) will at least be able to see the adult perspective of the bill payer and the hypothetical alternative of buying greater freedom through going hungry and homeless—but not of the more power-based “because I said so”. (Also note that “I am the parent; I make the rules” is closer to the dictator than to the bill payer.) At the same time, I advice against reasonable sounding arguments that do not make sense on closer inspection or that could back-fire.***

*Generally, even among adults, I recommend that any rule and whatnot be given some form of motivation, so that those affected know why something should or should not be done. This to increase the chance of compliance, to make more informed choices possible (e.g. when dealing with interpretation and special cases), and to allow a critique of the rule with an eye on future improvement.

**I stress that I do not consider the alternative arguments to be silver-bullets—dealing with children is hard and often amounts to a “damned if you do; damned if you don’t” situation. They are, however, improvements.

***E.g. “That is no excuse!” above. A more interesting example stems from my own childhood (pre-VCR): My mother argued that she should watch the news on the bigger color-TV and I a simultaneously broadcast movie on the smaller black-and-white one, because she had not seen the news in a week (due to a study absence). From my perspective, the negative effects of the inferior device on a movie were larger than on the news, and it might be years (not a week) before another opportunity to watch that movie arose. The result? I was left with not only an implicit “because I said so”—but also with the feeling that my mother was dishonest… (Adult me is open to the alternative that she simply had not thought the matter through.)

A sometime reasonable, but more often misguided, argument is “And if your friends all jumped off a bridge, would you follow them?!?” (with many variations). The analogy involved is usually inappropriate (notably regarding dangers) and/or too subtle (the “lemming” aspect). Normally, the only justification is that it came as a response to a weak argument from the (typically?) teenager, e.g. “but all my friends are going”. Here, however, such “smart ass” answers are not helpful. Better would be to evaluate the suggestion (e.g. going to a certain party) on its merits, factoring in both the fact that “all my friends” can seem like a strong argument to the teenager (even when it is not), and that there are at least some cases where the argument has merit through its impact on teenage life* or through giving a different perspective**.

*The degree to which adults should be concerned about this is limited, but it is not something to ignore entirely. There are aspects of popularity and networking that might be largely alien to an adult (and to some teens, including my younger self); however, they are there and showing them some consideration is not wrong.

**Notably, that something is wide-spread and tolerated by other parents could point to a too restrictive own attitude.

Generally, I caution against giving “smart ass” answers to children, and recommend using only factual arguments. For instance, my school class would sometimes be asked to explain/solve/perform/… something that had simply never been taught (especially when teachers changed). Typically, someone would reply with the idiomatic “det har vi inte fått lära oss”, which carries the clear intent of “that has not been taught” (and an implicit “so you cannot fairly require us to know”). Unfortunately, this phrase is vulnerable to the deliberate misinterpretation of “we have not been allowed to learn this” and the answer was invariably along the lines of “Who has forbidden it?”. The results on the class were never positive… To boot, this answer is doubly unfair in that (a) the students cannot be expected to guess what the next teacher considers “must haves” when the previous teacher saw things differently, and (b) traditional schooling severely limits the time, energy, and (often) interest available for own learning in addition to the official curriculum. (Note that both, even taken singly, invalidate the potentially valid angle that this answer does have—that learning should not be limited to school and that teachers usually indicate the minimum to learn.)

In a bigger picture, adults often impose constraints or obligations on children that make little sense. For instance, what is the point of a child making his own bed, should he not see a benefit for himself in doing so? There is no automatic advantage in a made bed and if no-one else is hurt by it… Indeed, apart from when I receive visitors (actual reason) or change the sheets (trivial extra effort), it might be more than twenty years since I, as an adult, made my bed.

Excursion on women as perpetrators:
While errors like those above are by no means limited to women, they do appear to be considerably more likely from women. It is conceivable that at least some of the problem stems from an arbitrary imposition of some irrational values that often occur among women (e.g. that any and all violence no matter the reason is evil, or a wish for orderliness-for-the-sake-of-orderliness).

Excursion on fairness:
Much of the above is related to the feeling of being unfairly treated. A fair treatment is by no means a guarantee for a happy and well-behaved child; however, the opposite will make things worse. Where fair treatment might be important to most adults (at least when on the receiving end…); it is paramount to most children.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 13, 2018 at 2:08 am

A paradoxical problem with school

with one comment

An interesting paradoxical effect of the current school system is that it simultaneously prevents children from being children and from developing into adults.

The resolution to this paradox is obviously that positive parts of “being children” are suppressed while the negative parts are enforced and prolonged. (Consider also the similar differentiation into child-like and child-ish human characteristics.)

Children in school are severely hindered in (sometimes even prevented from) just enjoying life, playing, walking around in nature, exercising the child’s curiosity, … At the same time, they are being taught just to do what they are told without thinking for themselves or to taking own initiatives, removed from any true responsibility, kept with other children instead of with adults*, … Play and similar activities, when they do occur, are often restricted and “organized fun”. The positive part of being a child is now curtailed around six or seven years of age; the negative is often prolonged into the “children’s” twenties, when they leave college** and get their first jobs—often even moving away from mother for the first time… In contrast, in other times, it was not at all unlikely for teenagers to already have formed families of their own, having children of their own, working at the same tasks as the rest of the adults, etc.***

*Cf. brief earlier discussions on what type of models and examples are presented to children.

**I stress that this is only partially due to the prolonging of studies per se: The more dangerous part is possibly the increasing treatment of college students as children. Cf. e.g. any number of online articles on the U.S. college system, or how Germany has increasingly switched to mandatory-presence lectures in the wake of the Bologna process. (The latter is doubly bad, because it not only reduces the need to take own responsibility, etc.—it also imposes an inefficient way of studying.)

***Indeed, I very, very strongly suspect that the explanation for many of the conflicts between teenagers and their parents are rooted in humans being built for this scenario, with the teenager having a biological drive to assume an adult role and the parent still seeing a little child. Similarly, that some teenagers (especially female ones) treat romantic failures as the end of the world is no wonder—once upon a time it could have been: Today, the boy-friend at age 15 will usually turn out to be a blip on the radar screen—in other times, he was quite likely to be the future (or even current…) father of her children. Similarly, starting over at 17 might have meant that “all the good ones are taken”.

If we compare two twenty-somethings that only* differ in that the one spent his whole life until now in school and the other went through some mix of home-schooling and early work-experience, not even going to college—who will be the more mature, have the better social skills, have more life experience, whatnot? Almost certainly the latter. Of course, the graduate will have other advantages, but it is not a given that they outweigh the disadvantages in the short** term. Why not try to combine the best of both worlds, with a mixture of studies (preferably more independent and stimulating studies) and work*** from an earlier age?

*This is a very important assumption, for the simple reason that if we just pick an average college graduate and an average non-graduate, there are likely to be systematic differences of other types, notably in I.Q. I am not suggesting that non-graduates are automatically superior to graduates.

**In the long term, the graduate will probably catch up—but would he be better off than someone who worked five years after high school and then went to college?

***Here we could run into trouble with child-labor laws. However, these should then possibly be re-evaluated: They are good in as far as they protect children from abuse, unwarranted exploitation, and health dangers; they are bad in as far as they hinder the child’s journey to an adult. I have also heard claimed (but have not investigated the correctness) that such laws had more to do with enabling schooling than they did with child-protection. To the degree that this holds true, they certainly become a part of the problem.

To boot, schooling often gives an incorrect impression of how the world works in terms of e.g. performance and reward. In school, do your work well and you get a reward (a gold star, an “A”, whatnot); in the work-force, things can be very, very different. Want to get a raise? Then ask for a raise—and give convincing arguments as to why you are worth it. The fact that you have done a good job is sometimes enough; however, most of the time, an employer will simply enjoy your work at the lowest salary he can get away with—why should he spend more money to get the same thing? Similarly, where a teacher will have access to test results and other semi-objective/semi-reliable explicit measures of accomplishment, such measures are rarely available to employers. For that matter, if your immediate superior knows that you do a good job, is he the one setting your pay? Chances are that the decision makers simply do not know whether you are doing a good job—unless you convince them.

At the same time, we must not forget that “being children” is also potentially valuable to the children’s development—it is not just a question of having fun and being lazy. On the one hand, we have to consider the benefit of keeping e.g. curiosity alive and not killing it (as too often is the case in school); on the other, there is much for children to learn on their own (at least for those so inclined). As a child, I probably learned more from private reading and TV documentaries than I did in school even as it were—what if I had less school and more spare time? Chances are that I would have seen a net gain in my learning… I am not necessarily representative for children in general, but there are many others like me, and at a minimum this points to the problems with a “one size fits all” approach to school.

Or look specifically at play: An interesting aspect of play is that it is a preparation for adult life, and in some sense “play” equals “training”. It is true that the adult life of today is very different from in, say, the neolithic, but there are many aspects of this training that can still be relevant, including team work, cooperation, leadership, conflict resolution, …—not to mention the benefits of being in better shape through more exercise. These are all things that schools like to claim that they train, but either do not or do so while failing miserably. Chances are that play would do a better job—and even if it does not, it would approach the job differently and thereby still give a benefit. As an additional twist, I strongly suspect that the more active and physical “boy’s play” has suffered more than “girl’s play” in terms of availability, which could contribute to the problems boys and young men of today have. I have definitely read several independent articles claiming that the ADHD epidemic is better cured with more play and an understanding of boys’ needs than with Ritalin (and find the claim reasonable, seeing that ADHD, or an unnamed equivalent, was only a marginal phenomenon in the past).

Excursion on myself:
While I (born in 1975) pre-date the normal border for the “millennial” generation, I have seen a number of problems in my own upbringing and early personality that match common complaints* about millenials or even post-millenials—and for very similar reasons. For instance, I left high school without a clue about adult behavior, responsibilities, skills, …, having never been forced to confront these areas and having never been given much relevant instruction**, be it in school or at home. Once in college, this started to change, notably with regard to own responsibility, but not in every regard. Had I not left the country as an exchange student, thereby being forced to fend for myself in a number of new ways, I would almost certainly have entered the work-force in the state of preparation associated with the millenials. What I know about being an adult, I have mostly learned on my own with only marginal help from school and family***/****—and almost all of it since moving away from home at age nineteen… My sister, length of education excepted, followed an even more millennial path, with even less responsibility at home, a far longer time living with her mother, whatnot, and, as far as I can judge, still has not managed to shake the millennial way—at age forty. Making own decisions and living with the consequences, taking responsibility for oneself or others, not relying on parents to help, understanding from own experience that the world and its population is not perfect, …, these are all things that truly matter to personal development and ability to be an adult—and it is far better to gradually learn to cope from an early age than to be thrown out into the cold as a twenty-something.

*I stress that these complaints can be too generalizing and/or fail to consider the effects of being younger, in general, as opposed to specifically millennial; further, that the problems that do exist are not necessarily equally large everywhere.

**We did have variations on the “home economics” theme, but there was little or no content that I have found to be of relevance to my adult life. To boot, these classes came much too early, with many years going by between the point where (what little there were of) skills were taught and when they would have become relevant to my life—so early that I would still have had to re-learn the contents to gain a benefit. That home-economics teachers are pretty much the bottom of the barrel even among teachers certainly did not help.

***In all fairness, it is not a given that I, personally and specifically, would have been receptive had e.g. my mother tried to give me more advice than she did. This should not serve as an excuse for other parents, however. Other aspects, like having to fend more for myself at an earlier date would have been easily doable—even had I not enjoyed it at the time.

****Sadly, much of what I did pick up from my mother were things that I, in light of later own experiences, ended up disagreeing with, either because of different preferences or because it was not a good idea to begin with.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 22, 2017 at 7:38 pm

A few thoughts around childhood recollections

with 3 comments

Through a somewhat random chain of association, I find myself thinking about one of my childhood’s favorite objects: Skåpsängen*.

*I am not aware of an English translation. Literally, “säng” is “bed”, “-en” is “the”, and “skåp” can, depending on context, translate as e.g. “cupboard” or “closet”. Below, I will speak of “box” for the “skåp” part, because this matches the internal structure best, even if it was larger and more finely worked than what I picture when I hear “wooden box”. I keep the word with a capital “S” because it always came over as a proper name to me—not a mere noun or a mere description. (This was often the case with me. Cf. “mormorsfranska” below.)

This was a foldable bed-in-a-box, that I used to sleep in when visiting my maternal grand-parents as a young child. As a result of the construction, I lied down with my head well within the box, which was something of a world of its own. Not only did the walls and roof shelter* me, but I often found myself just staring at the walls for minutes at a time, following the grain of the wood, especially the brown patterns formed by wood knots, or admiring one or two little pencil drawings (possibly drawn by my mother in her youth)—almost as good as TV. My positive associations are strengthened by how grand-parents spoil their grand-children and the “exotic” overall environment, with its new smells, different and older furniture**, different food***, toys that once belonged to my mother and her brother …—and, obviously, the grand-parents themselves.

*In my subjective impression. There was, of course, no actual danger or discomfort to shelter against.

**Including some actual antiques that had been handed down from an even older generation than my grand-parents’.

***Including what I thought was named “mormorsfranska”, but was actually just a descriptive “mormors franska”—“[my specific] grand-mother’s [style of] bread rolls”, often given to me while tucked into the bed.

While a trip down memory lane is all fine and dandy*, it is not something that I often write about. However, there are a few thought-worthy things and my mind kept wandering back to other childhood memories and potential lessons, a few of which I will discuss below.

*Or not: By now, I am actually feeling quite sad, seeing that the grand-parents (and mother) are all dead, the house was torn down decades ago, Skåpsängen probably does not exist anymore, most of the other things likely have gone the same way, the innocence of childhood has long passed, …, One of the risks with looking back at happy times gone by, instead of forward to happy times to come or at the happy times of the now, is that the element of loss can ruin the experience—and the happier the memory, the greater the loss.

The most notable is how my child’s mind could be so fascinated with the walls of the box, where I today might have had a look around and then immersed myself in a book or my computer. This is largely because a child is easier to amuse and stimulate than an adult, who (often) needs something more challenging, and whose curiosity has moved on to other areas. Not only are such contrasts between the child and the adult important in order to understand children and (e.g. in my case) developing a greater tolerance for them, but when similar variations are present in the adult population they can become a tool to understand humanity as a whole better. Consider e.g. how a difference in intelligence levels can cause one person to view a certain activity as too easy to bother with, while another might be challenged and stimulated, and the activity that challenges and stimulates the former might simply be too hard for the latter; or how some might be more interested in stimulation through thinking and some more* through perception, and/or the two having different preferences for channels of perception.

*At least here the “more” is of importance: There seems to be quite a few people who really do not like to think, but few or none who are entirely cold towards sensory perceptions. More often, it is a question of prioritizing them, or some forms of them, lower than other things.

However, another partial explanation is likely the modern tendencies to crave more active forms of stimulation and not appreciating the little things in life: There can be a benefit found in, for a few minutes a day, just relaxing, cutting out stronger sources of stimulation (e.g. blogging or TV), and just focusing on and enjoying something small in the moment. (While I have resolved to deliberately and regularly do so on a few occasions, the resolution has usually been forgotten within a week. It still happens, obviously, but more accidentally and likely not as often as it should.)

Yet another contributing factor, especially for an adult, is today’s intense competition for our attention: There is so much entertainment, so much to learn, so much to see and do, that a dozen life-times would be too little. Back then, for a child, shortly before lights out*? The competition might have been re-reading a comic or just letting my thoughts wander while staring out into the room…

*Possibly more metaphorically than literally, since I was afraid of the dark and usually insisted that the lights be left on—which could, obviously, have prolonged the time available to look at the box…

An event that took place in Skåpsängen during my very early childhood is another good illustration of the difference between more childish and more adult reactions, resp., among adults, more emotional and more rational ones: The most favorite object of my childhood was a toy penguin. At some point after dark, one of its button eyes came off. I raised hell, annoyed my grand-mother (who, understandably, did not see this as a big deal) severely, and ended up being ungrateful when she sew another button on, without locating the original. (My memory of the exact details is a little vague, but I strongly suspect that if I had seen the “injury” as less urgent and waited until the following morning, the original button would have been used.) Apart from the repeated implications on understanding children and, possibly, humans in general, there are at least two lessons: Firstly, that someone who is very upset and/or makes a lot of noise does not necessarily have a legitimate complaint, or a complaint more worthy than that of more reasonable protesters. Secondly, that we should not expect gratitude from these people if we try to satisfy them…

Importantly, however, I did not complain loudly and stubbornly because of any calculation*—I did it because I was very genuinely upset: I was unable to comprehend that this truly was no big deal. Even if we allow that a child can have a very strong emotional connection to a toy penguin**, this was not a damage that was noteworthy, debilitating, or hard to fix—a few minutes with needle, thread, and (preferably the original…) button, and everything would be fine. For I all know, exactly that could have happened to the other eye at some point when I was asleep and unaware of the events, having no way to tell after the fact. This type of inability to make correct assessments is regrettably very common among adults too, if not in such extremely obvious cases.

*In contrast, I suspect that e.g. a large part of the PC crowd is driven by calculation when it comes to their style of protest. I use similar tactics, on occasion, when dealing with e.g. spamming companies-where-I-placed-a-single-order-and-never-consented-to-any-advertising: Reasoning very obviously does not convince them that they are doing something grossly unethical, so let us see whether they pay attention when a customer leaves in (apparent) anger. (To early to tell, but I am not optimistic.)

**Which we certainly should: Even now, I find myself having a surprisingly strong reaction when thinking back, stronger than e.g. when thinking of the real-life people that I later went to school with… Similarly, one of the most enduringly popular songs in Sweden, since before my own birth, is “Teddybjörnen Fredriksson”, dealing with the nostalgic feelings of a grown man towards his childhood teddy bear (named Fredriksson). I suspect that it is better known and more beloved among Swedes that the top hits of ABBA and Roxette.

Children do provide many, with hindsight, ridiculous examples. The proudest moment of my life came when I, about four years old, gave my grand-father a tip on how to repair a broken (probably) 16mm film—and he, an actual adult!, followed my tip. Did I save the day, like I thought? No: As I realized later in life, he would have done the exact same thing anyway. (As implied e.g. by the fact that he already had the right equipment for the repair.) Similarly, the first, and possibly only, time I played croquet, at about the same age, I was very proud at having beaten my grown-up uncle. (He claimed that I did, and who was I too disagree, not even understanding the rules…) Can you say “Dunning–Kruger”?

The pride aspect is yet another case where children could differ from mature adults: I am not necessarily free from pride, but this particular type of pride (as opposed to e.g. contentment) over a specific event or a specific accomplishment is comparatively rare, and it seems pointless and vain to me for anything but the greatest accomplishments (major scientific break-throughs, Olympic medals, …) Then again, I need not be representative for adults. For instance, while I keep my college diplomas somewhere in a stack of paper, many others, including my mother, have theirs framed and hung on the wall.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 22, 2017 at 10:03 pm

Interpreting statistics and research (housework among boys and girls)

with 2 comments

I just encountered a Swedish news service claiming that “Girls help [do housework] more at home”/“Flickor hjälper till mer hemma”.

While this article, to my mild surprise, did not make the usual partisan statements of e.g. “Girls are better at X”, it still manages to show some common problems with reading of statistics and how poor critical thinking can lead people (in particular, journalists) astray.

To quote relevant parts:

SCB har undersökt vilka hushålls-
sysslor barn i åldrarna 10-18 år
hjälper till med.

83 procent av flickorna och 79 pro-
cent av pojkarna hjälper till med hus-
hållsarbete minst en timme i veckan.

([“The bureau of statistics”] has investigated what household chores children in the age range 10–18 years help with.

83 per cent of the girls and 79 per cent of the boys help with household work for at least an hour a week.)

Syssla; Flickor; Pojkar

Bäddar sin säng; 82 proc; 77 proc

Diskar eller plockar i/ur diskmaskinen; 81 proc; 71 proc

Städar sitt rum; 78 proc; 64 proc

Tar hand om syskon; 35 proc; 36 proc

Arbetar utomhus; 23 proc; 40 proc

(Task; Girls; Boys

Makes own bed; 82 %; 77 %

Does the dishes or loads/unloads the dish-washer; 81 %; 71 %

Cleans own room; 78 %; 64 %

Takes care of siblings; 35 %; 36 %

Works outdoors; 23 %; 40 %)

(The news service in questione does not provide an archive, so I cannot give a permanent link. Should I encounter the data from another source, I will add one.)

Going by the numbers presented (but beware that the full report may give another view; for instance, the list of task is likely to be abbreviated), the claim is highly dubious. Firstly, the difference in overall numbers is comparatively small (certainly not large enough to allow for predictions about individuals) and, depending on the size of the sample, could lack statistical significance. Secondly, and more importantly, the tasks are oddly chosen:

Both making ones own bed and cleaning ones own room are things that do not constitute “helping at home”—they are something that a child in the age bracket given either does or does not do for his/her own benefit. (Similarly, baking cookies for ones own consumption is not “helping at home” either—nor is tweaking ones own moped.)

The natural step would be to adjust the overall numbers by removing these entries. For lack of in-depth data, this is not possible; however, we can make a very rough first comparison by simply adding percentages. Now, in the original version we have 82 + 81 + 78 + 35 + 23 = 299 for the girls and 77 + 71 + 64 + 36 + 40 = 288 for the boys. (Pleasingly, 288 / 299 * 83 is just shy of 80, which compares well to the original 79 % overall for boys—in particular, as rounding can cause minor distortions.) Removing the “self serving” tasks, we instead have 81 + 35 + 23 = 139 for the girls and 71 + 36 + 40 = 147 for the boys—who are now ahead by more than they used to trail (as a proportion of the total).

The tentative conclusion, then: Boys (!) help more at home. (Incidentally and anecdotally: This was definitely the case when looking at me and my sister as teenagers. She could barely be bothered to put her own plates in the dish-washer; I moved the lawn and chopped wood for the fireplace.) Of course, I cannot guarantee that this would remain true if the raw data was re-investigated, but the gap is sufficiently large that the original claim (that girls help more) should be viewed as unsupported.

As an aside, the removed categories reflect an issue that is worth keeping in mind when discussing housework: Men and women have different priorities when it comes to cleaning and use of available time. (In my opinion, men have it the right way around and women should take a more relaxed attitude.)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 19, 2011 at 2:06 pm