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What Kids Really Need

Jill Riethmayer

Sumary - under construction

I have begun to give a summary of Jill's article. A copy of the full article is here

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In this article Jill Riethmayer asks some interesting questions. For example,

"What common thread can be found woven throughout the lives of the young men who have killed classmates throughout the schools of America?"

"How powerful is the impact of unmet emotional needs in the life of a child or teen?  Is it potent enough to drive a child or teen to kill?  Is it truly a life or death issue?"

Then she says all children have six basic needs. These needs are similar to my list of human emotional needs.

She cites some other academic writers who say these six needs are (1) affirmation or validation; (2) someone to idealize; (3) twinship; (4) the opportunity to be adversarial; (5) making an impact; (6) the need for merger

She says "It is the confluence of these needs either being met or unmet that makes the crucial difference in the lives of children, teens, and adults.  When these six basic emotional needs go consistently unmet, any individual - a child, teen, adult, or even a senior citizen - will starve to death emotionally."

Then she asks "What do individuals need in order to develop a strong sense of self?  What must be present in the emotional world of a developing child in order for that child to develop a sense of feeling valuable and loved?"

She answers that by saying,  "Initially, self-esteem or self-value evolves from the way in which a child’s basic emotional needs are either met or not met by significant others in the child’s life.  From the earliest moments of time, a child learns that he or she is either loved or not loved; valued or not valued; heard or not heard, etc.  This message is communicated in a multitude of ways by the manner in which significant others interact with the child..."

"As children grow and develop, the six major life-long needs must be met in an appropriate manner for the child to develop a strong sense of self."

"Having the need for affirmation met communicates three important messages to the developing child – that the child is 1) acceptable, 2) desirable, and 3) important."

She then cites more academic work that says that if a child does not feel accepted and validated when it shows its true self, or what I would call expressing its true feelings, then "the child loses the real person he/she was truly meant to become."

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She ends her article with this:

"How potent is the impact of unmet emotional needs in the life of a child or teen?  Is it potent enough to drive a child or teen to kill?  Is it truly a life or death issue?  Yes!"

I would add, "Is it potent enough to drive a child or teen to kill themselves? I would say yes, absolutely."

S.Hein
Feb 9, 2017


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Full article

 

What Kids Really Need

What common thread can be found woven throughout the lives of the young men who have killed classmates throughout the schools of America?  If one closely examines the lives of Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, T.J. Solomon, Luke Woodham, Kip Kinkel, Michael Carneal, Larry Golden, and Mitchell Johnson, one of the common issues for each “killer” was the struggle for a strong sense of self– a good self-esteem or self-image.  The individual young men had received strong messages from peers that somehow each did not “measure up” (Begley, 1999; Canon, Streisand, & McGraw, 1999; Gibbs & Roche, 1999; Labi, 1998; Lacaya, 1998).   How powerful is the impact of unmet emotional needs in the life of a child or teen?  Is it potent enough to drive a child or teen to kill?  Is it truly a life or death issue?

            Each individual comes into this world with six basic life-long psychological needs  (Busch, 1980).  A child must have these needs met from the first breath of life until the last.  It is the confluence of these needs either being met or unmet that makes the crucial difference in the lives of children, teens, and adults.  When these six basic emotional needs go consistently unmet, any individual - a child, teen, adult, or even a senior citizen - will starve to death emotionally.  Unfortunately, this is all too often illustrated when an elderly person is placed in a nursing home.  In spite of receiving more nutritious meals, more regular medication, a more comfortable and safer physical environment, the nursing home resident often quickly declines – emotionally and eventually physically.  Why? Could it be perhaps that this elderly individual starves to death emotionally?

            What do individuals need in order to develop a strong sense of self?  What must be present in the emotional world of a developing child in order for that child to develop a sense of feeling valuable and loved?  Initially, self-esteem or self-value evolves from the way in which a child’s basic emotional needs are either met or not met by significant others in the child’s life.  From the earliest moments of time, a child learns that he or she is either loved or not loved; valued or not valued; heard or not heard, etc.  This message is communicated in a multitude of ways by the manner in which significant others interact with the child as the child passes through major developmental stages of life (Bowlby, 1988).   As children grow and develop, the six major life-long needs must be met in an appropriate manner for the child to develop a strong sense of self.   These needs include the need for:  affirmation or validation; someone to idealize; twinship; the opportunity to be adversarial; making an impact; as well as the need for merger (Rowe, 1989). 

            The first major need for a child to develop a strong sense of self is the need for appropriate affirmation or validation (Rowe, 1989).  Affirmation or validation is the need for the appropriate response from the child’s significant others.  The significant others of the child change as the child grows and develops.  At first, the significant others are the child’s mother and father.  Soon the sphere of significant others enlarges to include siblings and grandparents.  When the child enters school, teachers join the sphere of significant others.  In just a short time, classmates are also included.  As the child enters the teen years, peers as well as romantic interests become the primary significant others for the teen.  Finally, in young adulthood, the spouse becomes the most significant other in the individual’s life.            Having the need for affirmation met communicates three important messages to the developing child – that the child is 1) acceptable, 2) desirable, and 3) important.  The child needs to feel unconditionally accepted when the true self of the child is exposed.  Exposure of the true self at first comes naturally for a child.  As long as a child continues to receive the appropriate responses from significant others when the true self is shown, the child will continue to grow and develop into the person that child was meant to become (Whitfield, 1991).  This continues unless at some point the child begins to feel a sense of being “unacceptable” or a sense of shame when the true self is exposed (Bradshaw, 1988).  If this occurs, in time the child will then begin to slowly submerge the true self to a place where it cannot be made to feel unacceptable.  In essence, a child loses the real person he/she was truly meant to become.  The greater the validation a child receives or does not receive, the greater value the child does or does not place upon the “self”.  The greater value placed upon the self, the greater the sense of self-esteem or self worth (Whitfield, 1991). 

            The second major life-long psychological need is the need to idealize someone.  This is the need to have someone that a child can look up to as stronger than the child – a “hero” of sorts.  This is the person to whom the child runs when the child feels fragmented or afraid– physically, emotionally, or spiritually.  The need to idealize is strongest when the child or teen is either frightened, in danger, frustrated, or in search for meaning in a life experience.  As a child, the parent is initially seen as the one to idealize – the “perfect” person who can always solve the problem or conquer the fear.  As a child grows into a teen and later an adult, the need to have someone to idealize is never outgrown although others will join or replace the parent as the one to be idealized.  Each individual - child, teen, or adult - must have someone to idealize and lean upon when that individual feels overwhelmed by life (Busch, 1980; Rowe, 1989). 

            The next vital life-long psychological need is the need for twinship – the need to have one’s sameness with others acknowledged.  This is the strong need to have a sense of belonging.  All individuals need to be a part of a larger “group.”  Human beings are social by nature (Austin, 1999).  Although adults are quick to criticize teens in regard to this need for belonging, it is equally strong for adults.  For example, when adults enter a workshop at a conference, what is the first thing that most individuals do upon entering the room?  Usually, one can see participants scanning the room.  For what is that individual searching?  The search is for someone familiar – someone that the individual can “join.”  The need for twinship is also seen in the way in which individuals dress.  Why not wear the same clothes that were popular in the fifties?   It would be far more economical than buying new clothes as the styles change; however, the need to belong or fit in is stronger. The “message” each child, teen, or adult is yearning to hear through the search for the fulfillment of the need for twinship is the message that he/she is accepted and fits into a larger group (Levin, 1988).

            One only has to observe either a two year old or a teen to see the fourth need vividly personified - the need to be adversarial with significant others.   This means that a child or teen is allowed to experience significant others as a benign force – to be able to push up against those significant others and yet the “pushing up” does not break the bond of connection with this person.  This bond remains strong and supportive regardless of the adversarial force being exerted upon it.  Every child and teen needs to know that there will be a significant other that will: 1) set appropriate limits 2) allow those limits to be tested, and 3) then will either keep the limits or negotiate the limits – whichever is most appropriate for the situation.  It is in the pushing up against that the child develops the strength to make independent choices and decisions later in life.  It is this very ability to say “no” (appropriately) that later allows the grown child or teen to say “no” to peer pressure, drugs, gangs, sex, etc. (Busch, 1980; Rowe, 1989).   Nature illustrates this concept with the moth that emerges as a butterfly.  If the cocoon were cut open, and the moth were allowed to emerge prematurely without the struggle of pushing up against and breaking out of the cocoon, the butterfly would not be able to fly.  It is in the very struggle of pushing up against and breaking out of the cocoon that the butterfly develops the muscles and strength to fly. Take away the struggle, and one takes away the butterfly’s opportunity to be able to fly.

What is learned helplessness?  It is the direct contrast of the fifth life-long psychological need - the need to know that an individual can make an impact upon his environment as well as the significant individuals in that person’s life.  When this need is no longer met, an individual loses hope.  At this point, the individual comes to believe deep in his/her soul that no matter what the individual might do, it will not make a difference; this is learned helplessness.  In a marriage or relationship, a divorce illustrates learned helplessness – the belief that no matter what the individual does, it will not make an impact upon the relationship.  As a result, the individual gives up, and divorce is imminent.  In the workplace the concept of learned helplessness is illustrated as well.  When an employee no longer believes that he/she can make an impact in the immediate work environment, then the employee gives up.  This individual no longer brings new ideas and proposes new projects to the supervisors because deep down the employee already knows that the “powers that be” will do nothing with the new ideas or proposals.  What is the common term for learned helplessness in the workplace?  Burnout.  In life, suicide illustrates the concept of learned helplessness – the belief that no matter what the individual does, it will not make any difference in that person’s quality of life or in that individual’s ability to find any amount of joy in life.  In each instance – divorce or suicide – the belief that nothing can be done to change the person’s immediate environment causes a person to literally give up.  Without the inner belief and the outward reinforcement that what an individual wants, thinks, or dreams makes an impact upon the immediate environment, that person will cease any attempt to bring about a change in his/her world.  In time, that individual will simply cease to “be” (Seligman, 1975).

            The final life-long psychological need is the need for merger – the need to be totally one with another person.  This is the need to be able to turn oneself over to another person in times of great pain or great joy  - assured that one will not get hurt in the process.  Each individual craves a safe place or person where true vulnerability is welcomed, heard, and honored.   Created as social beings, individuals yearn to be with others in both times of great joy as well as in times of great pain.  This merger makes the joy more full and the pain more bearable.    Where does a child first run to seek merger – to the child’s mother.  Although children may outgrow the immediate need to run to “mother”, individuals never outgrow the strong need to merge in moments of great joy or great pain (Bowlby, 1988; Cline, 1992; Garbarino, 1999; Poland & McCormick, 1999).

            How vital is it for a child to have these six life-long needs met?  It is truly a matter of life or death?   It is so strong that if a child cannot find a way to get these six needs met appropriately, the child will find a way to get them met inappropriately.   The need for affirmation will be met in seeking the approval from those individuals that others deem unacceptable.  If the “acceptable” will not affirm a child, then the “unacceptable” will quickly step in to fill this need.  The need for someone to idealize will be met in gangs, the occult, etc. where the leader will provide the strong person to which the individual runs in time of need.  The gang or satanic cult will also provide a place of belonging or twinship for the child who has no other place to belong.  Individuals, who have not been allowed to push up against those in authority in a healthy way to meet the adversarial need, will then push up against individuals, schools, and society in a rage that runs out of control.  Simply look at James Byrd (the victim of racial rage) of Jasper, Texas (Pressley, 1998); Matthew Shepard (the victim of homosexual rage) of Laramie, Wyoming (Black, 1999); the bombing victims of Oklahoma City (Walsh, 1995); or the shooting victims of Columbine High School or Jonesboro, Arkansas (Gibbs & Roche, 1999).  Individuals will find a place not only to be adversarial, but also a place to make an impact.  Even making a negative impact comes closer to meeting this need than the feeling of a total lack of impact.  And finally, one only has to look closely at each of the shooters from the introduction to see that each young man was an emotional island – finding no one with which to merge in the deep pain felt by each.

            So, what common threads can be found in the lives of those young men who have killed classmates throughout the schools of America?  If one looks closely, the following threads can be seen:  the voices of taunting, bullying, and harassing by classmates instead of affirmation and validation; few strong male role models available to idealize; isolation, alienation, and an utter sense of loneliness in contrast to a sense of twinship and belonging; internalization of adversarial feelings until those feelings built into a rage that could no longer be contained; cries for help that made absolutely no impact upon changing these teens’ immediate environments; and finally, each young man was an emotional island where not one young man found a safe place nor person to merge in the deep pain of the teen’s young life.  How potent is the impact of unmet emotional needs in the life of a child or teen?  Is it potent enough to drive a child or teen to kill?  Is it truly a life or death issue?  Yes!

References

Austin, L. (1999). The counseling primer. Philadelphia, PA: Accelerated Development.

Begley, S. (1999, May 3). Why the young kill. Newsweek, 133 (18), 32-35.

Black, R. (1999). Matthew Shepard: A year later. ABCNEWS.com, October 8, 2000, pp. 1-2.

Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Parent-child attachment & healthy human development. New York, NY: Basic Books.     

Bradshaw, J. (1988). Healing the shame that binds you. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.

Busch, M. F. (1980). Doing psychotherapy. New York, NY: Basic Books.   

Cannon, A., Streisand, B. & McGraw, D. (1999, May 3). Why teens kill. U.S. News, 126 (17), 16-19.

Cline, F. W.  (1992). Hope for high risk & rage filled children: Reactive attachment disorder. Evergreen, CO: Evergreen Publications.

Garbarino, J. (1999). Lost boys: Why our sons turn violent & how we can save them. New York, NY: Free Press.

Gibbs, N. & Roche, T. (1999, December 20). The Columbine tapes. Time, 154 (25), 40-51.

Labi, N. (1998, April 6). The Jonesboro shootings. Time, 151 (13), 27-36. 

Lacaya, R. (1998, April 6). Toward the root of the evil. Time, 151 (13), 38-39.

Levin, P. Cycles of power: A user’s guide to the seven seasons of life. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.

Poland, S. & McCormick, S. (1999) Coping with crisis: A resource for schools, parents, & communities. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.         

Pressley, S. A. (1998, June 10). Black man dragged to death. The Washington Post, p. A03.

Rowe, C. E. (1989). Empathic attunement. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc.

Seligman, M.E.P. (1975). Helplessness: On depression, development and death. San Francisco, CA:  W. H. Freeman.

Walsh, E. (1995, April 22). One arraigned, two undergo questioning. The Washington Post, p. A01.

Whitfield, C. (1991). Co-dependence: Healing the human condition. Deerfield Beach, FL:  Health Communications, Inc.

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