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Review of Psychologist Nigel Latta
Politically Incorrect or Just Plain Incorrect?, by Byron Clark
Who is Nigel Latta..., by Byron Clark
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Nigel Latta is a popular psychologist in New Zealand. I am very concerned about what is saying to parents. He makes a lot of jokes at the expense of children and teenagers. He seems to place very little value on their feelings, and in one book he actually encourages parents to show what he calls "robotic disengagement" to the emotions of their own children.
On this page I am collecting my thoughts and feelings, along with many examples of Nigel's work. Because we disagree on so many points, I see this as an opportunity to compare and contrast our approaches to parenting.
Message to New Zealand and Australian Parents
I was raised in America, so I have seen the future for New Zealand and Australia, and I don't like the way it looks. Personally, I have suffered greatly from the behavior modification psychology practiced in the American culture. This kind of parenting approach, I fully believe, will take Australia and New Zealand closer, not further, from all that is wrong in America today.
I am not saying parents don't need some way to control their children and teens. Instead, what I believe happened in America is that the legal right to hit children was taken away without giving parents (and teachers) another, better, form of control.
This is a bit like removing the brakes from a car without providing an alternative. There are times when children and teens, like cars, need to be stopped or slowed down. EQI.org offers many practical alternatives to causing children physical or emotional pain as a form of control.
Concern for Suicidal Teens
From over 10 years experience with suicidal youth I am quite concerned that if a parent of a suicidal teen were to insist on obedience and use the kind of authoritarian, pain and shame producing emotional punishment suggested in various places throughout Nigel Latta's work, and to adopt his attitudes towards children and teenagers, such as the belief that teenagers are "not right in the head," it could push their son or daughter over the edge.
We see in the case of Megan Meier that teenagers expect and need their parents to provide them with emotional support. In Megan's case, the mother was focused on Megan's disobedience, behavior and language rather than Megan's intense painful feelings. The immediate outcome was that she lost her daughter forever. Megan's last words to her mother were, "You are my mom. You are supposed to be on my side." She then ran upstairs and hanged herself.
Following certain selected pieces of Nigel's advice would almost surely leave a young person feeling less understood, more controlled, more alone, less cared about and more hopeless -- all of which are well known to be common factors in youth suicide. I want to bring attention to those pieces in the hopes that A) Nigel will reconsider the wisdom behind them and B) Well-intentioned parents will take careful note.
Nigel does have a chapter specifically addressing teen self-harm, depression and suicide in at least one of his books, "Fathers Raising Daughters," which is less worrisome, but I am afraid that chapter will remain largely unknown to, and unappreciated by, the average parent.
I am also concerned that Nigel doesn't adequately understand why a teen becomes self-harming, depressed and suicidal in the first place.
* March 21, 2011- I have asked Nigel for permission to reprint that chapter here and am waiting for his reply
|Social Natural Selection
One of my concerns is Nigel's joke about "social natural selection." Latta leads into this by saying that all parents "screw it up in one way or another." Then he adds:
Before corresponding with Nigel and finding his writing on self-harm and depression I felt very afraid that Nigel may truly believe in his idea of "social natural selection" even as it applies to youth suicide. I am less afraid of that now, but I am still quite worried about the message it sends to parents. Specifically, I am worried that if an abused, highly sensitive young person were feeling suicidal due to a lack of the empathy, understanding and emotional support needed from their parents, the parent might remember this phrase and use it to somehow justify their lack of concern. Some with chillingly cold hearts might even go as far as actually attributing youth suicide to this idea of "social natural selection."
While Nigel is obviously making a joke, it is a rather bad one when thought of in terms of youth suicide. Certainly, it is no laughing matter.
To his credit, Nigel does understand this and he makes no jokes at all in his writing specifically about suicide. Yet I believe that encouraging this kind of thinking in other writing, even as a joke, is dangerous if not irresponsible on the part of a psychologist. I also believe Nigel would personally feel very bad if he learned that a teen did kill themselves after a parent misunderstood and misapplied his advice and his humor. I also feel sure that he would not tell such a parent that they should just chalk up the death to social natural selection. But if he wouldn't joke about that, then why joke about any pain experienced by the children and teens?
In any case, this idea of social natural selection reminds me of a conversation I had with a businessman from Norway. When we discussed youth suicide, it was clear he really believed that if some young people kill themselves, it is just part of the price we have to pay for living in a society where we have rules, authority, etc. He said society works for most people. But this would be of little consolation to a parent who just lost their son or daughter needlessly.
In contrast to a view that some young people are simply dispensable, and this is part of nature's way of ensuring the survival of the fittest, the EQI.org site is dedicated to advocacy for highly sensitive, and often highly emotionally intelligent youth.
I personally feel a chilling sense of certainty that as I write these words, some sensitive, but non-conforming soul, one with great potential, is now being raised by parents who show a twisted form of "robotic disengagement rather than empathy, understanding and compassion, and that this young person, whose parents may sincerely but incorrectly believe they are doing the right thing, will indeed *not* survive their parents' treatment.
Nigel calls this a "key ingredient for success"
He says, "We can learn much from killer robots. Principally the one big thing is robotic disengagement." Then he continues, "When the robots eventually take over the planet... and kill us all..you can bet they won't feel bad about it."
He adds that when the humans manage to destroy a few of the robots while battling them, the robots "won't feel bad about that either." He said "robots will approach the problem logically." This reminds me of the quote, "You can't heal an emotional wound with logic."
He goes on to say that "Teenagers are always looking for a way to knock you off balance and getting you all wound up is one way to do it. They will argue just for the hell of it sometimes and the more you argue the more chance they have of getting what they want...
If you simply apply the LOCD in a removed and dispassionate way, there is nothing for them to argue with.
From Before Your Teenagers Drive You Crazy p.184-185
This reminds me of a corporate employee robotically telling an irate customer. "I am just following company procedure" something which will definitely not help the customer feel better or develop good will or repeat business. Personally I want more humane treatment in the world, not more robotic treatment. As Nigel suggests, robots make good soldiers and murderers because they lack empathy, but is that a what we really want more of in the world? This also brings to mind Obama's quote about the "empathy deficit."
Here is an interesting, related quote to consider
See also this page on Robotic Disengagement and Robotic Indifference
|Using Punishment in Adult
Nigel tries to justify and defend the use of punishment by reminding us that we use punishment in adult relationships. He gives some examples like being punished for speeding. Throughout his work he says repeatedly that punishment is effective in changing behavior.
One question is this: But what would happen if you tried to change your adult partner's behavior using punishment?
Also, using punishment in adult relationships is expensive. It costs society and the taxpayer more than voluntary compliance. If people don't believe in the laws, you need more police, more speed cameras, more security systems etc. You also need more judges, more jails, more wardens more probation officers. And when someone is in jail, they are not contributing to society - they are costing society. If you are tempted to believe that punishment keeps people out of jail, please read this article from the USA which I have called "Does punishment always work in the long term".
So if we could design a system in which people voluntarily follow the rules, it would save a lot of money - not to mention create a lot less resentment of authority.
Another problem is "crimes of passion." When someone murders someone else in a momentary fit of insane jealousy, they are not thinking of the possible punishment. So no matter how severe that punishement is, it still does not change their behavior. It would have been better if they had been less emotionally needy, less insecure and more self-confident so they would not be so desperate at the thought of losing someone they so needed in their life.
In other words, what would have prevented the murder is having had their emotional needs met when they were young, not the threat of punishment as an adult.
|Using Punishment With School-Age
Let's imagine a child who is punished at home in order to change his behavior. Now please think about what is likely to happen when this same child gets to school and wants to change the behavior of one of his peers. - SH
|Things I Like About Nigel's Work
He usually uses the word punishment, instead of consequences or saying "withdrawing privileges."
He is pretty open about what he does with his own children.
He doesn't make jokes when he writes about self-harm, depression and suicide.
He doesn't bring religion and any gods into his arguments. Nor does he seem to attribute things to "evil."
|My Correspondence with Nigel
Nigel contacted me after I posted part of his list of suggestions on how to emotionally punish a teenager, saying my writing about him was defamatory. We then corresponded a few times and I agreed to make some changes in how I worded things.
I had mixed feelings about our correspondence which I won't detail now, but what I do want to say is that I remain somewhat hopeful he will agree to write something for my website, including answering some questions I have for him.
Here is my last email. It has been a few days and I haven't gotten a reply so I am feeling a little afraid I won't hear from him again. But in any case I want to continue working on these pages about his work because there are still many things which concern me and motivate me to write about.
My last email to him said this:
Since Nigel obviously has a good sense of humor, here is some for him :)
A marketing slogan which Nigel and his promoters might like to use
Nigel Latta - A bad parent's best friend!
And here is an endorsement. (This is almost exactly what one parent actually told me!)
Note that I am not saying Nigel is an *abusive* parent's best friend. But what is the difference between a bad parent and an abusive one? I don't know. Ask Nigel. He is the expert!
And for more parenting humor here is some from Bill Cosby
* More seriously, if you would like to learn about emotional abuse, you can read the EQI.org pages or do a web search yourself of course.
According to the book, "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, when it was still legal to own slaves in the United States, no contract with a slave was "legally binding; for, according to Southern laws, a slave, being property, can hold no property.
In other words, slaves had no property rights. In one of his books, Nigel Latta reminds parents that their children also have no property rights.
What is politically incorrect parenting? It came about because I think weve got incredibly precious about children and we stress and worry more than any other generation of parents. We worry about them walking to school, climbing trees, if we read them enough bedtime stories, if we read out all the plaques at the museum none of it makes a difference.
Isnt that just the natural order of things for a parent to worry? If youre constantly stressed and worried about whether you are doing a good job, youre not going to do a good job. Youre far better off enjoying your kids, and then when you stop enjoying them, tell them to go away and play. Like our parents did. Our parents raised us on some pretty straightforward guidelines: were adults; youre children. We play with adults; you play with children. Self-esteem hadnt been invented when we were children. Our parents could just get on with being parents.
Are parents these days too busy trying to be their kids best pal? Its okay to not be their little mate and its okay if they hate you. We got a letter last night posted under our door from our seven-year-old, saying how much he hated us.
How creative of him. Did you give him a prize? Why did he hate you? He was sent to bed early for being rude. Hes still learning that sometimes in life its best to zip ones mouth rather than keep arguing for a position thats already lost.
Are you New Zealands answer to Supernanny? If anyone described me as Supernanny, Id shoot myself in the head. Shes possibly the most annoying woman in the world. I really like the British series Little Angels because it shows parents fixing things.
On one hand you say theres this enormous anxiety about positive parenting and that we are very child-centred. But on the other, New Zealand has one of the worst records for child abuse in the OECD. The people who get anxious about positive parenting generally are concerned, and the people who beat their kids dont engage in things like the debate around Section 59 and they often come from generations of crap parenting. They actually dont care about hurting their children. So, this idea that we can appeal to them is ridiculous.
Not even through television ad campaigns Violence is not okay? Its just absolute bollocks. Its lunacy. There are lots of things we could do in this country to reduce the number of kids who die or are hurt, but the problem is that the country is run by politicians and people who are good at advocating to politicians. The good clinicians, the people who can solve the problem, are crap at working the system and they never have very much money.
People say parentings the hardest job in the world, even for those least marginalised. Absolutely. Ive been incredibly lucky, I had fantastic parents and grew up in a stable home and yet there are still times when I feel like chucking my boys out the window. Id walk into the fire for them, but some days my fingers itch for the want to throw them out the nearest window.
Have you ever hit your kids? Hit, smack absolutely. In fact, Im the only person in New Zealand who started smacking because of Sue Bradford.
But arent the big people supposed to be in control and not hit or bellow? Its not the fact that you bellow at your kids, its your lifetime average. Everybody bellows when they lose the plot and the reason you yell is that it makes you feel better. But as a long-term strategy, its not the best. I think that a lot of people, if they give their kid a smack on the bum, or yell, think, Oh, Im a terrible person. Well, not necessarily.
If you give a shit about your kids and you love them, they know that.