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Outsourced children

Changes in the traditional concept of the family are generating a crisis in infant-juvenile education

AZEITE DE LEOSThe family, as it had established itself during the last three centuries, is lying down on the couch of psychologists and psychoanalysts. It is passing through a crisis of conception as yet only lightly discussed and that involves moral and religious values profoundly rooted in practically all of the religions in the world. This is an ongoing transformation that, for many, wounds even divine principles. In day to day events this is especially reflected in the collapse of the traditional model of education, which is generating conflict among the three parties involved: parents, children and educators. To define what are the responsibilities of the three has turned into the greatest challenge. And has led to clashes of opinion in the classroom, many times with the reproduction of the domestic way of life, where children and adolescents appear to confuse rules, limits and authority.

This is a phenomenon that can be explained by the conflict between the old model and the new possibilities and perspectives of education – that need to be looked at as a consequence of social transformations. “The world’s changing rapidly, the demands and the roles are very dynamic and make it difficult to find equilibrium. I believe that it’s this contradiction that’s generating consequences for the practical issues of children’s education”, evaluates the psychologist Maria Paula Panúncio-Pinto, author of the doctorate thesis entitled, “The feeling of teachers’ silence in the face of domestic violence suffered by their pupils: an analysis of the discourse”, defended at the University of São Paulo (USP) in May of 2006.

For her, the old fashioned manner of thinking about education is that in which the educator has only to “train”, to transmit values and ready made truths, negating to the child their condition of being a person: parents give orders, children obey them. A system that functions without answers. Or that is to say, the father gives an order and the son, on asking “Why?” hears as the reply, “Because I want” or ‘Because I say so, because I’m ordering it”. “This is an easy manner for an adult to impose his will on a child, who knows little and depends on the adult for almost everything. I don’t know if it’s possible to call this education.” Within this authoritarian style the limits are positioned, and to get around them children lie, do not show their parents how they really are and never speak about their desires.

What kind of relationship is this, the psychologist asks. If the parents cannot be trustworthy guides when the dependency of care is the strongest bond, she observes, it will be difficult to know what type of contact there will be between parents and offspring, starting from the moment they begin to walk on their own and look at the world from their perspective. “If to educate isn’t to impose, but to direct, to mediate, to present the world to the child, then this traditional model hasn’t been making sense for a long time.”

The main challenge of current education appears to be attaining equilibrium between extremes: to choose between the imposition of limits as a mere exercise of parental power or its total absence, would be this crossing point. Some perceptible distortions would be, for example, to attribute to the school the ethical and moral education of children, something that goes beyond school learning. Parents are accustomed to charging the teachers with certain corrections that should have been done at home. The ignorance of basic educational rules points towards a lack of clarity as to the prerogatives of parents. Unconsciously, they give up their time with the children for the need to earn money to maintain their family. Extreme examples are children educated by the TV. At the same time, it falls upon the nursemaids, with their different social and cultural values, the responsibility to assume the children of others.

The unquestionable authority of the father, anchored in religious tradition and in the economic power that sustains the woman and children, is passing through a transition, according to the specialists. There are those who point towards a process of the dissolution of this situation, as observed by the psychologist Rubens de Aguiar Maciel, from USP’s Public Health School and the author of the opportune master’s thesis entitled, “About the circumstances in which was developed the infancy of the young who lived on the streets of São Paulo municipality and the possible effects on their personalities”. Indeed yes, he affirms, there is a weakening of paternal authority, with more autonomy of the young reared within flaccid parameters. “To elect one’s own rules calls for maturity beforehand and good education”, he underlined.

Maciel defends the idea that a limit is fundamental in what concerns  both social and personal conduct. It is essential for the young person to understand that to follow rules is good and does not signify living with restrictions. If confusion always existed as to the development of values about how one relates, today this aspect appears to be even more complex. “Not everything is the parents’ responsibility, there exists a two way street. The child has its own constitution of temperament and character.” This is reflected in the ciris of the idea of consumption and ferocious individualism, where concern for another will remain diminished..

The psychologist recalls that many centuries were needed for the family to turn itself into an important social cell. With the power of religion, it was used to transmit ideas and religious values. Starting from property, came the idea of inheritance. This was when the group got together and strengthened itself in order to maintain their ownership and wealth.. Until, starting from the 17th century, there began to come forward the idea of modern paternity. Before, the child was seen as an adult in miniature, lived in promiscuity, worked and had a sexual life. There was not the idea of their emotional fragility.

AZEITE DE LEOSDuring the 18th century, there was the beginning of a new concept of the child, of being an innocent human being corrupted by society. The Industrial Revolution led to the migration of children and to their independence and autonomy, and the father stopped being unquestionable. Finally after the Second World War (1939-1945), the unity of the family that had been sustained through economic power was broken with the insertion of women into the labor market. “Today there’s androgyny, when paternity is confused and ancient values are no longer sustained. This is mainly due to access by children to information. The child has the ability to question and even knows more than its parents.”

At the moment, according to researcher, there is a valuation of the child and a directing towards more affectionate contact, whilst previously this was an indulgence, without the demonstration of emotion. Within the positive aspects of these transformations, younger children can identify more with their father, live together with someone more loving, in a role more in keeping with that of the mother. “We have different types of families – homosexuals, one-parent, only with the grandparents or adoption. While this is happening, a revolution in education is taking place, the situation being that we don”t know where this is going”, observed the psychologist.

One of the aspects most studied at universities such as USP is domestic violence against  children. Camilla Soccio Martins, who in her master’s thesis defended “The understanding of the family from the viewpoint of parents and children  involved in domestic violence against children and adolescents”, believes that the fact that the parents are absent for a large part of the time does not make it impossible for them to actively participate in the education of their children. Yes, it is important that they have to develop some important strategies and to take ponderous decisions about with whom or where to leave their children in their absence. “The involvement of parents in the education of their children depends upon the quality of the effective bond established between them.”

On the other hand, fathers and/or mothers can be present during the major part of the day, but may well not be interested in investing in the quality of education and are not affectively available for this. In this context, innumerable difficulties related to authority in inter-family relationships are observed. “The mother figure doesn’t manage to impose authority and to place limits, leaving this up to the father, who, for his part, may well not be present in order to exercise it, making the family micro-system of the child be deficient in what is said to be the placement of limits”, affirmed researcher Camilla. To this end, sentiments of guilt and impotence are constantly related when the difficulty in establishing obedience is present.

The child and the adolescent, she continues, need from the adults that they exercise their authority in a secure manner, so that they can develop internal and external sources that help them to establish solid relationships in their social living. Nevertheless, it is not necessarily required to do this by way of a constant physical presence. “What we consider to be of fundamental importance is the quality of the bonding and the potential for change that the disciplinary practices unchain.”

For Maíra Bonafé Sei, who defended her doctorate thesis in clinical psychology at USP’s Psychology Institute on domestic violence, to affirm that the duration of marriages causes problems in infantile education could be dangerous because children with behavior problems are found both in intact and separated families,  as well as without problems in these two spheres. “Behavioral problems are multi-determined, that is to say, there are various risk factors that act together, and thus, separation is considered a risk factor, but can’t be seen as a unique factor and not even as the most preponderant.”

AZEITE DE LEOSThe psychologist Alessandra Turini Bolsoni, who, in 2003 at the São Paulo State University (Unesp),  defended her doctorate thesis entitled, “Social education abilities, contextual variables and behavior problems: comparing fathers and mothers of pre-school children”. She cited examples of the past in order to explain the present. In past generations the family knew what to do in order to educate in an authoritarian manner, an example of this is in phrases of the type “in my time children had respect for their elders, it was enough for my father just to look at me and I knew that I was wrong”. “It was not respect that the child felt, but fear.”

Alessandra highlights that, with the advance of science, many people speak of not punishing the child. Nevertheless, little was emphasized when one was then going to educate, which collaborated for the families to reduce coercion on the one hand and to increase negligence on the other, leaving out the establishment of limits or making them in an inconsistent manner. “As well, it’s also a myth to believe that the families of today don’t make use of coercion in order to educate, the same research points out that when families establish limits they still do so in a coercive manner (for example, hitting, screaming punishing).”

The author of the master’s thesis entitles, “for an education of sensibility: the experience of the Round House Studies Center”, presented at USP’s Communications and Arts School (ECA), by Maria Cristina Meirelles Toledo Cruz suggests that we need to rescue essential values in education, such as solidarity, cooperation, ethics, respect for diversity etc. As to the question of family, whilst being an institution, she agrees that the family is in crisis and that it has been reinvented with other forms and standards of relationships.

But what one can observe in small children, she stated, is that, in spite of the new forms of relationship, they feel the need to make up families, to play houses, with animal toys, dolls, representing the figure of the father, mother and child. “This is an archetype of living, which helps the child to establish its relationships and to bond with the family nucleus, widened by new groups. The child needs these references as polarities and distinct universes so that it can integrate, becoming aware of itself, differentiating itself from another, in the construction of its very own self.”

The psychologist and educator says that the female role has changed, also transforming that of the male, which in turn then changed the female role in a continuous process of readjustment and adaptation of these roles in current society. “The question is the performance of the various feminine roles, such as mother, professional, woman, housewife, daughter, wife etc. and her satisfaction, or not, in the sense of being able to integrate all of them. It’s not rare to have to delegate the role of mother to nursemaids, grandparents, kindergartens, etc.”

The fact that the mother is not present very often attempts to be substituted with presents, as compensation for the lack of acceptance of the maternal role. “The maternal bond is the matrix, it’s that which guarantees self-esteem and security, even when present for only a few hours per day, depending more on the quality and completeness of this contact.” The child can establish other affectionate bonds with other adults, who perform this role and are well resolved. Education, justice, is daily work, of details, of references, of positive models, which the child is going to build upon in its day to day, with all of the people with whom it relates.

Maria Cristina underlined that often the father figure is absent more than the mother figure, since being the provider, he is delegating the role of father and mother to the female figure, who becomes mother and stepmother of her own children. Absent fathers, who spend little time with their children, lose out on the little conquests and jumps in the development of their children. Both absent and negligent fathers can be substituted by other figures who represent this role, such as a grandfather, grandmother, aunt, teacher, nursemaid, etc. The children need to survive and create their own personalities, whether it be a fantasy friend or a super hero, as a reference to occupy this omission, this absence. It must be clear that the bond of the mother is different from that of the nursemaid, since it is a visceral and umbilical linkage.

Within this context appears the nanny. The ideal situation, in her opinion, would be if the mother could stay with the child until it is 2 years of age, until the basic questions have been assimilated and the child can feel the need to widen its universe, through entry into a kindergarten, and having contact with other children. Many mothers, when the period of breast feeding ends, suffer from the fact that they have to leave their children in kindergartens or with nannies. A number of them feel in competition with the nannies  for the dispute of love and affection.

It is quite common that the nannies over protects these children, which impedes their growth, even to justifying their role. “They’ve difficulty in setting limits, creating tyrannical children instead of teaching them how to deal with authority.” It is important to invest in the formation of nursemaids as sensitive human beings, who can harvest in an effective manner the child who is with them.