Deprivation and the Savage Child

1.  the quality of being moderate; restraint; avoidance of extremes or excesses; temperance.

When we think of moderation, the first thing that comes to mind for most is food.  Too much of one thing, healthy or not, is not good for you.  The same can be said for too little or none at all – even something that may be considered “unhealthy.

Other than food, there are many other things out there where moderation is healthy.  For instance, introducing technology to your children.  There are countless article and studies available spewing reasons to not have a TV in your home—it forms conversations killers, there is a lack of educational benefit.  This may be true on the over-indulgence side of the curve, but I never see mention in these studies of a moderately controlled use of television.  There are plenty of educational stations such a PBS, Nick Jr., National Geographic, NOVA and the like, providing experiences and reinforcement of what is learned (or not being learned) in school.

This notion of no TV stretches to the realm of no technology for kids as well.  Some households choose not to let children use computers, notebook computers, smartphones and the like.  But technology is all around us.  Exposure is inevitable, and when used in moderation, make for a normal childhood experience.

In any of the studies I have read showing benefits of no TV or technology for children, all fail to follow these children into high school, college and the workforce to monitor any positive or negative effects.  Based on the history of studies done on deprivation of anything, no long-term good can come from it.

I know of three different households of which my son plays with their children that either do not allow TV, technology or “junk food” in the home (not only candy but snack crackers, pudding, chips etc.).  Each of these homes is in different socio-economic situations.  Two of the homes have boys, and one has a girl my son plays with.  My observations of their behaviors when introduced to thing they are deprived of at home are astonishingly similar.

There was a day one of the boy from one of the homes came over to play.  After a while, I asked if they would like a snack.  At first, I got a glazed over look from my son’s friend like I was asking them something in a foreign language.  I brought down two small bowls of Whole Grain Goldfish Crackers (not a bad snack choice in my opinion).  What happened next was surreal.

The sweet boy turned into a savage!  Eating out of the bowl with his mouth so fast you’d think he hadn’t been fed for days.  Then, a couple of days later, the same boy came over and my son had a small snack pack of M&M’s® from Halloween.  My son asked if he wanted any, and again the transformation was rival to Jekyll and Hyde.  He began panting like a dog (literally), jumping up and down repeating over and over, “yes, yes, please pleeeeeeease, yes yes,” until my son gave him some.  In an instant they were gone.

On a different day, a different friend (from a well-off household). We were in a sitting area waiting on a class they were taking together.  My son pulled an iPad® from his backpack and that’s when it happened.  Savage.  Again, this was a very nice boy any other time, but coming from a household that feels technology should not be for elementary age children, his entire demeanor changed.  He was grabbing for the iPad, jumping up and down and repeating over and over, “gimme, gimme, gimme, I don’t have one, gimme, I want to see, I know what to do, gimme!”  He almost knocked my son’s iPad to the floor!  I had to take the iPad and settle my son’s friend down and explain to him that this was not a toy and that he needed to use manners before even thinking about using it.

So now, I see a behavioral pattern emerging in children when deprived of common, normal things in life.  Two different boys, two different households of varying means, two normally well-mannered children, transformed into crazed animals over something to which they are normally not exposed.  I began thinking this was just a “boy thing,” typical male reaction rearing its evolutionary head…until the girl who watched TV.

It was a cold rainy afternoon when she came over to play with my son.  They played with Legos® a while, some ping pong, put together a puzzle, colored, did a little role play and had some lunch.  After lunch I thought they might like to watch some TV, a movie perhaps.  My son thought nothing of it, but she gave me that same, glazed over look I got when I asked his other friend if he wanted a snack.  When I asked what they wanted to watch, she had no idea, never hearing of any of the TV shows or movies offered.  How is this normal?

When it was time to go home, I went to turn off the TV and it happened.  Savage. All hell broke loose. She screamed, “nooooooo, why did you do that!  Turn it back on! NOW! Turn it back on! Turn it back on!”  Of course I did not, and once I got her down from the ledge, I explained to her that you do not speak to adults, or anyone for that matter, in that tone!  And, if you want to come over again, that behavior will not be tolerated.  Again, a normally sweet, respectable girl breaking out into temporary insanity over something of which she was deprived.

So, back to moderation.  No one is saying that you should buy your kids all of the most modern technology, let them watch TV all day, and eat junk food at will, but exposing them to levels at which you are comfortable is not going to hurt them in the long run.  However, forcing them to not have certain experiences that everyone else around them has, based on my observation, does some sort of mental damage, and possible long term effect like “gorging” on these things as they get older and away from parental control and guidance.  When depriving a child of the World around them, whether technology, TV or modern foods and trends, it is setting them up for potential rebellion in the future.

Take for instance, the Amish community. They have a respectable lifestyle and choice of living.  They choose to live differently than the World around them and raise their children in that manner.  Yet, the children see what is going on in the modern cultures surrounding them.  They see what other children are doing and crave the experience.

Knowing that, the Amish have a rite of passage for teens called Rumspringa, a period of adolescence for some members of the Amish community during which a youth temporarily leaves the community to experience life in the outside world. It is a time where young people defy parental norms and explore the world, after which they make a choice to commit to the Amish way of life, or leave the community.

From personal experience, being exposed to Amish youth in the Mercer, PA area, once these kids get a taste of the outside World, they, to no surprise, become savage.  Normally well-behaved teens, raised with stern Christian values, go absolutely berserk! Another Jekyll and Hyde transformation.  Many of these youth return to the community, however signs show an increasing number leaving.

My take as a parent, is to allow moderate exposure to experiences such a technology, TV, food, “new media” and the like which will then give the child building blocks for their decisions in the future.  Of course, at younger ages, it is also the parent’s responsibility to teach what is appropriate, to help shape their child’s decisions and steer them in the right direction so they can make smart choices in the future, when you may not be there to guide them.