Column: Where do kids go wrong?

Reality becomes distorted when virtue not mastered

In the past several weeks the priority question for the RCMP, military, Search and Rescue, and the general public, has been ‘Where are Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky?’

My question, however, has been: ‘What behaviours preceded the behaviour of suspected murder?’

While there is no one theoretical explanation for any behaviour, Eric Erickson’s Eight Psychosocial Stages of Development does offer information on how humans learn to interact with society. I will concentrate on the first five stages (birth to completion of the teen years) since Kam and Bryer are in this fifth stage of psychosocial development.

I have no knowledge of, not do I offer any explanation for Kam and Bryer’s suspected behaviours.

Rather am using this situation that has haunted the media for weeks to remind all of us that our psychosocial development is ongoing.

The First Stage: Trust vs Mistrust. When the baby cries and someone in attendance changes baby’s diaper or feeds baby (psychological needs), the baby learns to trust in his/her (social) environment. When baby’s social environment does not respond favourably to baby’s needs, the baby learns to mistrust his/her social environment.

The Second Stage: Autonomy vs Shame. The toddler stands independently, feeds himself/herself, chooses which toys to play with. If the toddler’s freedom of choice is too strongly curtailed, then the toddler learns to doubt his/her ability to make choices. Doubt leads to low self-esteem and shame that I am not capable of living independently or making healthy choices for myself.

The Third Stage: Initiative vs Guilt. Pre-Schoolers learn to develop interpersonal relationships and initiate play. If the child is affirmed for taking initiative and for his/her interpersonal interactions, then the child will continue to develop leadership skills. Conversely, if the child is discouraged from asking questions, the child may view himself/herself as a nuisance. When a child perceives himself/herself to be a nuisance, he/she may socially withdraw or become an attention seeker. Either option is an unhealthy response and may lead to further unhealthy interactions in adulthood.

The Fourth Stage: Industry (competency) vs Inferiority. Now teachers influence the child’s level of competency in learning school subjects and participating in extra curricular activities. While the child needs praise in order to grow in competence, he/she also needs to be challenged to overcome failure. If the child does not learn skills to cope with failure, then in adulthood he/she may judge others as more successful, accomplished, luckier and generally better off than he/she is in life.

The Fifth Stage: Identity vs Role Confusion. The teen wants to feel different/unique, important attractive and independent of parental control which to the teen often means being able to do whatever he/she wants to do. In his/her search to find himself/herself, the teen may change identities several times before becoming comfortable with a chosen identity (self- image). If the teen comes to the end of this stage of psychosocial development and is not comfortable with his/her self-image, then he/she experiences role confusion. Role confusion (the lack of a healthy integrated sense of self) manifests as lack of appreciation for others, floundering, changing jobs/careers frequently.

If I know that I have not mastered the virtues of these first five stages: Trust, Autonomy, Initiative, Competence, Healthy Self-image, or the virtues of the last three stages: Intimacy, Generativity (making my mark) and Ego Integrity (acceptance of my lifespan development and self as I am), then perhaps I need to return to the stage of development where my personal development has been stunted.

When I am trapped in the negative side of a developmental stage, I create my own reality which justifies my behaviours to myself. It takes courage, maturity and recognition (that my behaviours are harmful to me and to others) before I can change them.

My hope for today’s children is in the Pre-School Program (PBIS) that teaches children to own their unhealthy behaviours and learn skills to overcome them.

(Kathleen Kelly is a Chemainus resident and author of the book ‘The Tornadoes We Create.’)

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