By DAVID P. BARASH - THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
Added: Mon, 23 Jan 2012 18:54:13 UTC
"The course of true love never did run smooth," as Shakespeare noted. Although directed to romantic love, the observation also applies to parents and their offspring—which appears counter to basic evolutionary wisdom. After all, the biological interests of parents and children would seem to coincide perfectly, because the latter are the former's major route to evolutionary success. The two generations ought, therefore, to be on the same page, because successful children literally mean successful parental genes. (Indeed, success in projecting those genes into the future is the only biological reason to reproduce in the first place.)
Years of Walt Disney True Life Adventures, combined with cartoon images from Dumbo to Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, and One Hundred and One Dalmatians, have reflected, as well as generated, the expectation that animal parent and child—especially mother and child—are the epitome of shared goals and perfect amiability. The image among human beings is, if anything, even more clearly established: Madonna and Child convey a sense of peace and contentment that transcends the merely theological.
When rough spots emerge in the parent-child nexus, the traditional view among psychiatrists, psychologists, and sociologists—like Talcott Parsons or Jerome Kagan—has long been that the culprit is simply misunderstanding, with its attendant failures of communication. Everyone means well. It's just that in the course of conveying heartfelt parental assistance, advice, protection, nurturance, and information to the child, sometimes there are problems, largely because the child—being young—is necessarily inexperienced, perhaps occasionally a bit headstrong, and generally uninformed as to his or her true interests. The more mature child gradually recognizes that it is best to go along with parental inclinations, at which point, conflict ceases and "socialization" has been achieved. Thus parent-offspring conflict is largely due to the fact that children are primitive, even barbaric little creatures, who need time to become responsible adults.