Every day, we are seeing our teens and young adults expressing so much anger, desperate and unnerving demands for attention, self-destructive behaviors, and acts of terror against other people. We ask why… and wait helplessly for the next time. Instead, let’s examine what we know about human development and specifically the development of infants and young children, because it just may be the place where some of this begins.
Children, from the day they’re born, need time and attention from their parents and other significant adults. Spending time interacting with their children is important for multiple reasons:
- The parent and child develop a stronger bond.
- The child has a chance to express his thoughts and feelings..
- The parent can see, first hand, his child’s strengths and weaknesses, in order to provide appropriate guidance.
- The child has a chance to model appropriate adult behaviors..
- The child feels important and loved.
More than several studies reveal the negative outcomes of little or no focused attention from early on. When adolescents, these children have learned to feel they don’t matter to their families or other people in general. The concept of “not mattering” means the individual believes they make no difference in the world. Some researchers contend that mattering is a fundamental motivation in human beings and that failing to matter increases the probability of some type of violence.
From birth, children need relationships and experiences that show that they’re valued and capable beings. Infants pay attention to what we say and do and they respond to an adult’s body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. The child’s self-image builds over time, with collective loving and positive messages. This becomes crucial for his relationships with others and his confidence as he discovers the world.
When a young child receives reassurance and support in an unfamiliar, frightening, or new situation, he feels safe and secure. If interactions like these are repeated, his confidence and comfort are reinforced. It is not any one particular incident, but what happens over time that makes the biggest impact.
When key adults are repeatedly distracted or unable to focus on a child’s needs, there will be negative consequences. This often begins in infancy and children as young as 6 months can show evidence of stress. This, in turn, will not only affect the child’s health and well-being as a young child but also as he grows older. Lack of attention starts the child down a path of mistrust of other people.
Children don’t just want attention. They need it. If they don’t get it from parents or significant adults, they will learn to seek it elsewhere. They will also begin using negative attention to engage others, when there isn’t adequate positive attention.
The emotional development of young children is fundamental to who they will become. Research indicates that love and attention are more critical to a child’s physical and emotional health than food, clothing, or shelter. Read the previous sentence again and let it sink in.
When a child experiences a lack of attention and affection, their relationship with themselves becomes the most difficult one they will ever have. They may feel like their own worst enemy and see no value in their existence.
As you can imagine, this is scary stuff. There may be no restraint on thoughts of harming himself or other people, because it simply doesn’t matter.
This has become an age of multitasking, engaging in the constant distraction of phones and other devices, and the misconception that keeping children busy or entertained is helping their development. It’s time to stop and see what is happening.
This is just not working. From the very first moments, we need to make children the first priority. They need our full attention. It’s what is absolutely necessary for them to become stable, confident, and happy.
And, it may save more than one child from becoming a danger to himself and others.