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Keeping sane - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Keeping sane
miss_daizy posted a link to a Psychology Today article about overanxious parenting, connecting it to anxiety and depression, as well as to grade inflation and extended adolescence.

It's a good article. Check it out.

But at one point, in the course of it, the author (listed as PT, so I take it to be a PT editor), said (in talking about the lack of development of planning skills in an instant-gratification world),

Further, it's in the setting of goals and progress in working toward them, however mundane they are, that positive feelings are generated. From such everyday activity, resistance to depression is born.

This is really interesting to me. The meme-post I did the other day asked, "What kept you sane?" and I answered, Shifts. It was an off-the-cuff answer, but I think it was true. It gets me a little hyped up now and then, but having that appointed expectation every day really keeps me on an even keel in a way that waiting for The Muse or whatever simply doesn't. Apparently, there's an actual reason for this--the part of the brain involved in planning is also the part involved in depression and anxiety, and making and keeping plans helps stave them off.


The article quotes David Elkind at length, a man who is lauded at all levels of the profession and who teaches introductory courses at Tufts University. I was lucky enough to have him for Intro to Child Study. He seemed to be as happy to talk to random frosh as to grad students.

I took quite a lot of Child Study courses, which was the name of the department that was, for all intents and purposes, developmental psychology. It was a pretty big department at Tufts, which is, I suppose, why it bridged off from the regular Psych department. I also took classes from David Feldman, who did a neat longitudinal study on child prodigies called Nature's Gambit.

Obviously, the subject interested me, but I had--and have--a serious love/hate relationship with all kinds of psychology, especially dev psych.

On the one hand, it's interesting to see the general, broad patterns of behavior of the human species. What's the basic shape of any given part of life? What's 98.6?

(Sorry about the brief privatization of the post; had to switch computers in the middle of a thought.)

AbPsych is interesting--though I'm prone to med student syndrome, of course--but it tends to be more clinical and case-based, and less a system of studying mankind. Dev really is trying to understand how we work, kind of an anatomy of the mind. It interests me as science, though I'm leary of social sciences in general (too easy inadvertantly slant results to research bias).

However, as a writer and in my general life, I'm really put off by generalizations. Is it really not "developmentally appropriate" to read at whatever age a child feels compelled to learn how to read? Are we supposed to use this information to force the median on everyone, punishing kids who push ahead? And so on and so forth.

As a writer, it's even more troubling to me, because of the tendency to make characters behave either as they are "supposed" to or in direct rebellion against expectations. Personally, I don't know many kids who look at the development charts and say, "Ah, I'm supposed to be struggling with issues of identity right now." As Willow tells her mother in Buffy, "I'm not an age group! I'm me! Willow group!"

It's deadly to characterization to start ticking off symptoms of something in AbPsych (I love to deal with Voldie the sociopath, but in the end, you just have to remember that he's Tom Riddle, a particular person with particular personality traits, which may include the characteristics of a sociopath... but not necessarily all of them); it's equally deadly to decide that it's "developmentally inappropriate" for, say, twelve year old James to have a decidedly monogamist streak. Your characters will be what they will be. Dora in "The Doll Army" is a smart little cookie; Dora in "Your Very Own Dora" is still a smart cookie, but has been heavily protected for three years and is a bit younger, psychologically, than eight. This isn't anything I decided--it's just how her voice came out.

Basically, I think my approach to psychology is to study it independently of writing, to have it in my brain, but not consciously reference it when I sit down to write. It's helpful to know the symptoms of sociopathy because Tom might have to deal with them, but in Tom's POV, he's not defined as "sociopathic." He's defined as "Tom." It's the same thing with writing children and teenagers and referencing DevPsych. It may or may not be useful to know that kids have an interest in X, generally between the ages of Y and Z, but if the particular kid your writing doesn't, then it shouldn't be forced.

I feel a bit...: curious interested

5 comments or Leave a comment
azaelia_culnamo From: azaelia_culnamo Date: January 3rd, 2005 06:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Regarding Dora, I wrote her the same way. (I'm sorry, I know you're probably sick of hearing it - but that's what happens when Dora authors get together! ;)) Anyway, I wonder if it doesn't somewhat show now. Tonks is obviously caring, and yet sometimes acts more like a preteen than a 22 year old young adult. (Asking Harry if he had Seer blood the day after he'd witnessed his friend's dad get bit by a snake wasn't overly clever. Granted, she didn't know he thought he'd done it, but she knew he'd seen it).

And I can also see there being hostility - Andromeda is never mentioned, except for "my fool of a mother" and "Andromeda was my favorite cousin." The "fool" and "was" stick out, imo. I know things change, and that people drift apart, but the fact that we also see no sign of her having been in contact with Sirius, and the fact that Dora called her a fool, makes me think maybe Andromeda isn't that easy to be with.

Could I be looking into it a bit too much? Definitely; for all I know, the "fool" was just Tonks being weird, and the "was" was because things just don't stay the same. And maybe Tonks is immature by nature, not nurture.

I really should write an essay on Tonks...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 3rd, 2005 07:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
As far as the "was" goes, I assumed he just meant, "When I was a child, she was..." I wouldn't read that much into it. And I thought Dora sounded quite fond of both of her parents, if a bit exasperated with her mother's naming choices.
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: January 3rd, 2005 10:14 pm (UTC) (Link)

My mother was a psych major, because she wanted to learn about how people think. (I have the uneasy feeling that I am not adequately willing to explore this myself. Especially real people.) She most certainly did not try to slow me down -- she homeschooled me and my brother at first, partly because she suspected that we would be put off very badly by sitting in a classroom while the teacher tried to get the rest of the class through the alphabet when we were already reading pretty much whatever was available.

Of course, the fact that I eventually found the section for parents in the back of some kids' magazine or other more interesting than the rest made for at least one incident that I'm not sure whether to be more amused or chagrined over. (The bit about not knowing kids who looked at developmental charts reminded me. Heh.) I went to her one day and inquired in all seriousness as to whether I was being disobedient enough, as I had been reading that children my age were supposed to test their limits. (I can't remember what she said, aside from that I tested my limits plenty. I think there was something involved about how general observations were not prescriptions and that doing things one knew to be wrong wasn't a good way to test one's limits anyway.)

Now, my mother has also been known to say that the important thing was to be able to act like a grown-up in public, and the rest was your own business, and that a psychological abnormality was only a disorder if it impeded your ability to function. I don't know how typical she is of psychologists, particularly those who might be more statistical-minded. But certainly she knows the difference between a chart or a group and an individual.

Of course... I have doubts about treating JKR's reference to Voldemort as a psychopath as a diagnosis anyway, but that may just be me.
From: arclevel Date: January 4th, 2005 07:03 am (UTC) (Link)
I sort of know the feeling. My family got an encyclopedia, complete with Childcraft books, when I was 6. Before terribly long, the parenting book was my favorite of the set. I remember once telling my brother that he was no longer school-aged (like me), he was now a preteen. He thought I was either a bit insane or terribly stupid.
From: arclevel Date: January 4th, 2005 07:13 am (UTC) (Link)
I strongly agree with the majority of the article, but I think it leaves out (or at least underemphasizes) the fact that peer relationships are also changing. Of course, this is at least partly because of changes in parenting, but I think it has an important impact that's separate from that. IOW, I think my parents screwed me up in some ways, but I think my classmates screwed me up far more. Of course, this was a while ago, so hopefully it's changed again since then, and parents can go back to being the primary screw-uppers. ;-)

I agree that there's a danger in expecting everyone to fit generalizations and treat them as such, but I don't know how much of a problem it generally is in dealing with individuals. I don't remember; is Mrs. Rosenberg actually a psychologist, or does she just read too many articles and believe herself competent?
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