Saturday, October 10, 2009

Complete Book Review - Hold On To Your Kids

I've already mentioned this book twice. First in - Daycare = Child Abuse.

And then subsequently in - Partial Book Review. Definitely read this second link here for a primer on the book and my thoughts thereupon.

Now for the book excerpts, which I finally got around to typing up:


Seeking to be the same as someone else immediately triggers the need to be different from others. As similarities within the chosen group strengthen, the differences from those outside the groups are accentuated to the point of hostility....In this way, tribes have formed spontaneously since the beginning of time. The crucial difference is that traditional tribal culture could be passed down, whereas these tribes of today are defined and limited by barriers among the generations.


Walking through the halls of my son’s high school during lunch hour recently, I was struck by how similar it felt to being in the halls and lunchrooms of the juvenile prisons in which I used to work. The posturing, the gestures, the tone, the words, and the interaction among peers I witnessed in this teenage throng all bespoke an eerie invulnerability. These kids seemed incapable of being hurt. Their demeanor bespoke a confidence, even bravado that seemed unassailable but shallow at the same time.

The ultimate ethic in the peer culture is "cool" – the complete absence of emotional openness. The most esteemed among the peer group affect a disconcertingly unruffled appearance, exhibit little or no fear, seem to be immune to shame, and are given to muttering things like "doesn’t matter," "don’t care," and "whatever."


Studies have been unequivocal in their findings that the best protection for a child, even through adolescence, is a strong attachment with an adult. The most impressive of these studies involved ninety thousand adolescents from eighty different communities chosen to make the sample as representative of the United States as possible. The primary finding was that teenagers with strong emotional ties to their parents were much less likely to exhibit drug and alcohol problems, attempt suicide, or engage in violent behavior and early sexual activity.


Eleven-year old Matthew….had replaced his parents with a solitary peer, Jason. The two were inseparable. Matthew requested that he be allowed to go to a Halloween overnight party at Jason’s house....his parents refused. Matthew erupted....wrote to his parents:

Now, please just think for a minute about the situation here. Say Jason wants to do something with someone, he would normally call me. But he won’t even bother now because you won’t let me. So instead he becomes acquainted with other people, which normally would be okay but now he won’t be friends with me. That makes me pretty f*cking mad!!!!!!! It makes me so mad I want to hurt someone and I mean really f*ck them up….I’ll swear to god your little boy you love so much will be no more. I’ll f*cking kill myself if I have to! Perhaps I’ll slit my rists[sic]....ONCE I HAVE NO FRIENDS, I HAVE NO LIFE.


In Lord of the Flies, a group of British choirboys are marooned on a tropical island. Left to their own devices, they spontaneously divide into bullies and bullied, to the point of murder.

Pay special attention to this next one which I found most trenchant:

In a laboratory of monkeys at the U.S. National Institutes of Health a group of infants was separated from adults and, by default, reared only by one another. Unlike with adult-raised monkeys, a large number of these peer-oriented animals displayed bullying behavior and became impulsive, aggressive, and self-destructive.

In a South African wildlife reserve, park rangers became concerned about the slaughter of rare white rhinos. Poachers were originally blamed, but it later transpired that a group of rogue young elephants were responsible. The episode drew so much attention that it was reported on the TV program “60 Minutes.” An Internet account provides details:

The story began a decade ago when the park could no longer sustain the population of elephants. [Rangers] decided to kill many of the adult elephants whose young were old enough to survive without them. And so, the young elephants grew up fatherless.

As time went on, many of these young elephants roamed together in gangs and began to do things elephants normally don’t do. They threw sticks and water at rhinos and acted like the neighborhood bullies….A few young males grew especially violent, knocking down rhinos and stepping or kneeling on them, crushing the life out of them...

The solution was to bring in a large male to lead them and to counteract their bully behaviors. Soon the new male established dominance and put the young bulls in their place. The killing stopped.


To this end, the first item of business in any attachment relationship is to establish a working hierarchy. As discussed in Chapter 5, under normal circumstances the attachment brains assigns the child to a dependent mode while the adult takes a dominant role. However the instinct to assume either a dominant or a dependent position can be activated in any attachment relationship, even if both parties are immature and neither is in a position to look after the other’s needs…..When the subjects are children and children, the outcome can be disastrous. Some children seek dominance without assuming any responsibility for those who submit to them, while other children become submissive to those who cannot nurture them. The result of peer orientation is that powerful attachment urges force immature kids who should be on equal terms with one another into an unnatural hierarchy of dominance and submission.


The failure of parents to establish attachment dominance seems to be escalating, due in part to contemporary parenting practices and the devaluation of parenting intuition. It seems that many parents put their children in the lead, looking to them for cues on how to parent.

When parents fail to take their rightful positions in the relationship with their children, the attachment becomes inverted. If my own practice is any indication, children are coming increasingly to bully their parents. When these children become peer-oriented, their brain naturally selects the dominant mode. They will go on to bully their peers.


Peer orientation breeds both bullies and their victims. We have been dangerously naïve in thinking that by putting children together we would foster egalitarian values and relating. Instead, we have paved the way for the formation of new and damaging attachment hierarchies.


Classrooms are increasingly unmanageable and academic performance appears to be slipping....Yet our teachers have never been better trained than today, our curriculum never as developed, and our technology never as sophisticated.


Ideally, what should lead a child into learning is an open-minded curiosity about the world...

Curiosity is a luxury, developmentally speaking. Attachment is what matters most. Until some energy is released from having to pursue safe and secure attachments, venturing forth into the unknown is not on the developmental agenda.


The first blow strikes the trial part of the process. Trying new things involves taking a risk: reading out loud, offering an opinion, stepping into unfamiliar territory, experimenting with an idea. Such experimentation is a minefield of possible mistakes, unpredictable reactions, and negative responses. When vulnerability is already too much to bear, as it is for most peer-oriented children, these risks seem unacceptable.


For many adults, children’s ability to hang out together and entertain one another feels like emancipation. Peers appear to be a kid’s best babysitters. Especially since parents can no longer rely on grandparents, extended family, and the community around us to share in child-care tasks, peers can seem like a godsend, giving a break to weary and worn parents and teachers. How many of us have not felt grateful when the invitation from our child’s friend has liberated us for a weekend day of relaxation or has granted us much needed time and space to work on necessary projects? The children seem happy and our workload is lightened. Little can we imagine how much more time, energy, cost, and remedial parenting these experiences will exact in later years should peer orientation take hold.


Peer-oriented kids go to school to be with their friends, not to learn. If these friends are also not into learning, academic performance will slip. When children go to school to be with one another, they are primed only to learn enough not to stand out, to remain with those their own age. Other than that, learning is irrelevant and can be a liability to peer relationships.


Interestingly, home-schoolers are now the favored applicants of some big-name universities. According to Jon Reider, admissions official at Stanford University in California, they are desirable applicants because "home-schoolers bring certain skills – motivation, curiosity, the capacity to be responsible for their education – that high schools don’t induce very well."


The belief is that socialization – children spending time with one another – begets socialization: the capacity for skillful and mature relating to other human beings. There is no evidence to support such an assumption despite its popularity....If we take the socialization assumption to the extreme – to orphanage children, street children, children involved in gangs – the flaw in thinking becomes obvious. If socializing were the key to socialization, gang members and street kids would be model citizens.


Attachment and individuation are necessary for maturation, and maturation is necessary for genuine socialization. Social integration means much more than simply fitting in or getting along; true social integration requires not only a mixing with others but a mixing without losing one’s separateness or identity.


The very concept of friendship is meaningless when applied to immature people. As adults, we would not consider a person to be a true friend unless he treated us with consideration, acknowledged our boundaries, and respected us as individuals. A true friend supports our development and growth, regardless of how that would affect the relationship. This concept of friendship is based on a solid foundation of mutual respect and individuality. True friendship is not possible, therefore, until a certain level of maturity has been realized and a capacity for social integration has been achieved. Many children are not even remotely capable of such friendships.


A person must gain the capacity to reflect on her thoughts and feelings, a capacity that, again, is a fruit of maturation. When someone has a relationship with herself, she can like her own company, agree and disagree with herself, approve and disapprove of herself, and so on. Often, relationships with others preempt a relationship with oneself or are attempts to fill in the vacuum where a solid relationship with the self should be. When a person isn’t comfortable with his own company, he is more likely to seek the company of others – or to become attached to entertainment technology such as television or video games. Peer-oriented relationships, like too much TV watching, interfere with developing a relationship with oneself. Until the child manifests the existence of a relationship with himself, he is not ready to develop genuine relationships with other kids. Much better for him to spend time interacting with nurturing adults or in creative play, on his own.

I really enjoyed reading this book - though it definitely had some drawbacks which I'll take the liberty of highlighting.

First of all, the book was too long, too verbose. What encompassed 264 pages could have been readily articulated in 164 pages. When my wife stole the book from me, I knew I'd get it back quickly - as she hasn't the patience for reiteration upon reiteration of the same theses.

Secondly, while the authors did a fabulous job with *symptoms* and *diagnosis*, the book was thoroughly deficient on *prescription*.

Their little suggestions to regain a child lost to the peer culture amounted to little more than taking a long walk here and there with them; getting the spoiled brats to break down, open up, realize life's *futilities*; and *collecting* them with warm greetings - you know, how your favorite uncle used to enter the scene: big hellos, big smiles, high fives, etc.

But the biggest criticism I will aim at this book is it complete lack of context.

They write a book about parental *attachment* like its some newfound concept or subject.

Meanwhile, there's an entire, highly developed philosophy called attachment parenting; which, unfortunately has been caricaturized as *breastfeeding 8 year olds* and *family beds*.

Well, writing a book so clearly ignorant (or *ignoring*) of already staked out territory....that would be like writing a 200+ book on the wonders of stretching, breathing, and good posture without mentioning the millennia-old practice of YOGA!

Furthermore, while we are talking about this book's oversights....

By my count, there were only a grand total of FOUR, highly superficial mentions of *homeschooling*!

And, most ironically, homeschoolers everywhere are reading and discussing this book!

Again, the authors front like they are exploring a frontier when they talk about the importance of children attaching to their parents, looking to Mom and Dad for comfort, guidance, and instruction....BUT they do so without acknowledging the practice, philosophy, or history of millions of homeschooled individuals who've forged spectacularly tight family bonds.

And consider the following ridiculous excerpts:


Keeping our children at home, for most of us, would not be feasible.


Preschool is not the primary problem and home school is not the ultimate answer. The key factor is the dynamic of attachment. Subjecting children to experiences that make a child dependent on peers does not work. We need to ground children’s experience of schooling in adult attachments.

First of all, *home school* IS THE ULTIMATE ANSWER!!! (And it's 100% feasible for everyone.)

Secondly, the authors already laid out the case, meticulously so, throughout the book that *preschool* was a PRIMARY problem!!!



Another line of research has shown that the more time preschoolers spend with one another, the more they are influenced by their peers. That influence is measurable within a period of only several months. Boys are much more susceptible to becoming peer-oriented than girls, a finding consistent with the observation that boys’ attachments to their parents are often less developed. Thus, they are more prone to replacing their parents with their peers. Most significant is the finding that the more the boys identify with their peers, the more resistant they are to contact with the adults in charge.

Not only are the seeds of peer orientation sown in day care and preschool, but the fruit is already in evidence by the fifth year of life. One of the largest studies ever done on this subject followed more than a thousand children from birth to kindergarten. The more time a child had spent in day care, the more likely she was to manifest aggression and disobedience, both at home and in kindergarten. As discussed in previous chapters, aggression and disobedience are the legacy of peer orientation. The more they had been in day care, the more these children exhibited counterwill as indicated by arguing, sneakiness, talking back to staff, and failure to take direction. Their elevated frustration was indicated by temper tantrums, fighting, hitting, cruelty to others, and the destruction of their own things. These children were also more desperate in their attachment behavior: given to boasting, bragging, incessant talking, and striving for attention, as we would expect when attachments are not working.

But this explains how the authors get the diagnosis so spot-on, but yet are so weak with actual advice on how to *Hold On to Your Kids*.

At root, they haven't a clue about *pathology*....other than a clue that preschool sets in motion a sequence of development that irretrievably estranges kids and their parents.

You see, factory schooling was expressly designed to divide families. The authors would do well to acquaint themselves with John Gatto and his Underground History of Education.

Clearly, the authors are hesitant to Marginalize their own credentials. Like most *experts* whose walls are teeming with degrees, they haven't yet been able to see no less appreciate the social, moral, economic, AND intellectual supremacy of homeschooling. Hopefully, one day they will.

But enough already on this one; I have plenty more books to cover for y'all.

Overall, I very much liked this one and would recommend it to those of you out there who take your parenting seriously. Despite its notable shortcomings, Hold On to Your Kids provided me with added clarity on how I am raising and home-educating my brood.


Taylor Conant said...


This is a long way off (hopefully) but have you been thinking about how you'll handle "sex ed" with your kids?

I was just thinking the other day about ways the state dissolves the family and works to circumvent it and sex ed is definitely another one of them. I can almost imagine some kooky Utopian commies cooking this scheme up in a think-lab somewhere in the 50s or 60s. Just as it's quite sick for parents to give up to bureaucrats (strangers) the decision about what their children will study in class, it's equally sick to think that parents have given up to bureaucrats (strangers) the important decision of how to tell their kids about the birds and the bees. Holy COW... it's a big one, and it's got slippery slope written all over it. You think one day there will be a law that states it is 'child molestation' to discuss sex ed w/ your children? Hubetcha!

For some reason, it's considered awkward and uncomfortable to even imagine having that conversation with one's PROGENITORS, let's call them. But the idea of discussing sex with a total flippin' stranger is just fine? Is it any wonder people 'sexually abuse' themselves through totally careless, meaningless sex with strangers in our hook-up culture?

I'm no sexual puritan but something seems fishy about that set-up to me...

CaptiousNut said...

I'll answer questions and provide broad guidance...

But by the time that subject comes up, hopefully my kids will be able to use Google and other resources to self-educate!

My firstborn, now that he's web browsing and probably won't be long before he'll be completely self-propelled, educationally speaking.

Heather said...

Did this book mention anything about siblings as peers? I have 4 boys and a stepson (ages 9, 5, 4, 2) and although I stay home with my youngest 3, I don't actually DO much with them. They are very independent and content with each other as playmates (and Does that development unhealthy peer attachment?

CaptiousNut said...


The book didn't mention that.

But I don't think that siblings, unless the older ones are real bad apples, can possibly re-create the poisonous peer-centered *culture* of compulsory age-segregated schools.

So I wouldn't worry about that.

However, you should ideally, as a parent, dedicate some time each day to spending with each one of your kids. Free time - where you *play* with them. It could be only 3 minutes per kid.

I myself have to work on this. Too often I get caught up with managing them, the house, etc. and can go several days without any meaningful time spent playing with my children. They need adults in their lives. They need to hear complete sentences and they can't be insulated from the adult world.