Family: The Only Attachment a Child Needs
- Brian D. Ray, Ph.D. National Home Education Research Institute
- 2013 7 Jul
"Little 4-year-old Tommy needs a play group."
"Mary must have a lot of friends or she will not know how to get along with others."
"Eventual adult psychological autonomy can be had only if teens are with other teens more than they are with their parents."
"Sam is with his family too much; he needs more team sports."
"The most important people in Suzy’s life are her parents and siblings: that is not normal, and school would be better for her than home-based education.
I have heard all of the above claims and many more as I have testified as an expert witness in dozens of court cases across the nation. And I am sure that many homeschool parents reading this article have heard the same, and probably more extravagant, claims than the ones above. (I have too, by the way.)
I have searched high and low for empirical research that substantiates the claim that children and youth need to spend six to eight hours per day, five days per week, nine months per year together in schools in order to be healthy and successful as teenagers and into adulthood. It seems to not exist. I have testified to such in courts, repeatedly. I have asked psychologists and academics to refer me to the research, but they cannot seem to do so. One might wonder, then, Why do so many people think that children need to be institutionalized in places called schools to “turn out okay socially”?
Then along comes a gem of a book that hits hard at the claims mentioned above. Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a developmental psychologist, and Dr. Gabor Maté, a physician, both of Canada, published Hold On to Your Kids in 2004 and, unfortunately, I was not introduced to it until a few months ago.1 Reading it, one might think they were some of the founders of the modern homeschool movement in North America.
Consider the following conclusion Neufeld and Maté made about peer-orientation and success, or not, in school.
In the first days of school in kindergarten, a peer-oriented child would appear smarter, more confident, and better able to benefit from the school experience....Thus, in the short term, peer orientation appears to be a godsend....In the long term, of course, the positive effects on learning of reduced anxiety and disorientation [because of being comfortable with peers] will gradually be canceled by the negative effects of peer orientation. (p. 237)
How does peer-orientation affect children and youth with respect to “schooling”?
When children go to school to be with one another, they are primed only to learn enough to not stand out, to remain with those their own age. Other than that, learning is irrelevant and can even be a liability to peer relationships. Anxiety also comes back to haunt peer-oriented learners. Because peer attachments are inherently insecure, anxiety often becomes a chronic condition. Peer-oriented kids are among the most agitated, perpetually restless, and chronically alarmed. (p. 237)
Many North Americans think peer orientation is normal and acceptable. What impact does it have on children becoming adults?
As they discussed in previous chapters of their book, aggression and disobedience are the legacy of peer orientation (p. 239). “Peer orientation is not the only cause of disturbed attachments, but in our children’s world it is the major one. Viewed through the lens of attachment, the findings of the three lines of research could not be clearer in pointing to the risk of our young of [sic] becoming peer-oriented in our day cares and our preschools” (p. 240).
If so many parents, schoolteachers, psychologists, attorneys, judges, policy makers, and grandparents think a lot of time with peers is so important for children and youth, then there must be a lot of research evidence to back up this thinking, right? Consider what Neufeld and Maté write.
The belief is that socializing—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 socializing with peers led to getting along and to becoming responsible members of society, the more time a child spent with her peers, the better the relating would tend to be. (p. 241–242)
If it were true that more time spent with peers was better for people, then since attendance at institutional schools five days per week became the norm for children in North American by about 1900, would not all of society be near heavenly by now, with more and more civil behavior, no rudeness, no road rage, less crime, no street gangs, fewer and fewer prisons, and less need for courts and judges? This does not appear to be happening. The authors pointed to well-regarded research showing that 12-year-olds who preferred spending free time with their parents rather than gravitating to their peers “...demonstrated many more of the characteristics of positive sociability. The kids who spend the most time with one another are the most likely to get into trouble.” (p. 242)
Two quotes will fitly wrap up this article that is supposed to somehow relate to education and the importance, or not, of parents to it.
To be sure, socializing plays a part in rendering a child capable of true social integration, but only as a finishing touch. The child must first of all be able to hold on to herself when interacting with others and to perceive the others as separate beings. This is no easy task, even for adults. When a child knows her own mind and values the separateness of another’s mind, then—and only then—is she ready to hold on to her sense of self, while respecting that of the other person. Once this developmental milestone is achieved, social interaction will hone the child’s individuality and hone his relationship as well. (p. 242)
Keep in mind, neither Drs. Neufeld and Maté nor I are saying children should never be with children.
Finally, do Dr. Neufeld and Dr. Maté have anything to say about parents? Yes, a lot. For example, consider the following statements:
Until children are capable of true friendship, they really do not need friends, just attachments. And the only attachments a child needs are with family and those who share responsibility for the child. What a child really needs is to become capable of true friendship, a fruit of maturation that develops only in a viable relationship with a caring adult. Our time is more wisely spent cultivating relationships with the adults in our child’s life than obsessing about their relationships with one another. (p. 244)
It appears many in the modern parent-led home-education movement knew, thirty years ago, what these two men gleaned from research and experience and put to work in their noteworthy book, Hold On to Your Kids.2
1. Neufeld, Gordon, & Maté, Gabor. (2004). Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
2. For a full study on how adults who were home educated are doing in “the real world,” consider the following book: Ray, Brian D. (2004). Home Educated and Now Adults: Their Community and Civic Involvement, Views About Homeschooling, and Other Traits. Salem, OR: National Home Education Research Institute.
Author’s Note: Please feel free to send your questions about research related to home-based education and raising children to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., is president of the National Home Education Research Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization. Dr. Ray he often serves as an expert witness in courts, testifies to legislatures, and is interviewed by the media. Brian is married to Betsy and they have eight children and four grandchildren.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: July 19, 2013