August 30, 2014

Can stronger social connections help out children from broken homes?

Data and analysis are in the post below. This is more of a conceptual overview of the topic.

The the nature vs. nurture "debate," the pendulum has swung a bit too far toward the side of nature. Somewhere along the line, fans of behavior genetics — which is not to say the researchers themselves — convinced themselves that environments don't affect how we turn out as adults. At least, not in predictable ways.

There could be random environmental differences that affect development, like some molecule in the brain zigs instead of zags due to a quantum-level coin flip, and that winds up making the kid more extraverted instead of introverted. Or maybe there just happened to be a frightening dog on the way to school one day, and this traumatic experience makes the kid more fearful in adulthood. These are environmental effects, but they all boil down to chance and fortune.

What we tend to mean by "environmental effects" are when a parent uses corporal punishment, the child may wind up with violent tendencies in adolescence. But it could be that the parent had genetically influenced violent tendencies themselves, which expressed themselves in the use of corporal punishment, and expressed themselves in the kid as getting into pointless fights. Or perhaps the corporal punishment is an effect, rather than a cause of the kid's violent tendencies — natural-born hell-raisers induce parents to use tougher discipline than little wiener kids do.

What gets lost in this quibbling on and on is that what normal people usually mean by "environments shape development" is that some events have a much stronger impact than merely getting whipped with a belt. A small bruise will heal, but what about things that a kid is not going to be so resilient against, like growing up in a broken home, being molested, emotionally neglected, and so on?

In our neo-Dickensian world, such events are hardly uncommon. Recall this post which shows how increasingly common it is for white Americans to be growing up without both of their parents in the home — up to around 40% of those born in the late '80s.

To look beyond the individual level for how such kids are affected, a follow-up post looked at the loss of connectedness that children have when their parents divorce.

Now let's try to work both of these levels together. Depression and anxiety are found more often in children of divorce than in children from intact families. But depression isn't just a free-floating individual trait — it responds to how socially integrated you are. More connected environments might alleviate the sense of disruption and having been ripped out of the ground.

We can imagine all sorts of ways to define "more connected," and here I'll look at the outgoing, as opposed to cocooning, trend in social-cultural cycles. Children from broken homes must feel even more lonely and depressed when there's a larger climate of cocooning and atomization.

When folks are more out and about, milling around in public spaces, and neighbors are looking out for neighbors, those kids might not feel such a cripping loss when their parents split up. Compared to victims of helicopter parenting, kids in an outgoing climate have far greater support from their peers, and may also find surrogate parents throughout their neighborhood and peer group, to make up for their own dysfunctional parents.


  1. Just like the late Victorian era(1890s) - instead of becoming orphans though, children are now shunted off into decrepit social services.

  2. Today's children of divorce aren't Oliver Twist lite. They're not that down-and-out.

    They're like the children whose mothers were too busy with conspicuous leisure and consumption to nurture their children. Getting your crinoline skirt to stick out 20 feet was more important than tending to your kids in more than a superficial way. So was one-upping the other striver women.

    Ditto the distant, money-grubbing, status-striving Victorian father. Not much of a father, really -- passively withdrawing to let someone else deal with the kid, and not exercise any oversight.

    But cosplay Victorian morons tell us that it was a far superior world to today's. Women covered up more (because it was cold before global warming) and sex was a verboten topic (nevermind that about 1 out of 100 women in London of the right age were prostitutes, with tacit approval from the government that regulated them). And women didn't work! (Ignore that 95% of their waking hours were spent in wasteful, pointless competition with other competitive bitches, not cooking, cleaning, and nurturing, all of which were outsourced to hired help.)

    And of course the left retardedly harps on how awful it was that Victorian women were only worth something as wives and baby-makers. They make it sound like 1950s America, but June Cleaver actually attended to her children throughout the day, day-in and day-out. Not write them off emotionally because mummy's super-busy schedule of social one-upsmanship means she can't waste time nurturing her children.

  3. Not a scene from The Donna Reed Show:

  4. yeah, it seems like the Dickensian period correlated more with the New Wave, 1960-1990. I'm not sure exactly what decade Dickens wrote, but I know it was the mid-century. the New Wave was the period of latchkey kids.


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