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Vasaris, the Fuzzy Dragon
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March 2014
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Vasaris, the Fuzzy Dragon [userpic]
For discussion: The feelings of children vs. those of adults

Are the feelings of children more worthy of empathy/sympathy than those of adults?

There's a thread on cf_debate which I'll link to a bit later when I'm using tabbed browsing, that brings up something that I've been wondering for a bit.

It seems to me that a lot of people expect me to take more care and/or care more about the feelings of children than I do of adults.... that I am supposed to assume that adults are able to "care for themselves" emotionally while the pain of children should somehow be of an greater intrinsic empathic value.

I think that's bogus. The discussion that brings this up was sparked by Heath Ledger's death and the spontaneous responses of "Oh, his poor daughter."

Me, I feel bad for his daughter, but my reaction was more "Oh, his poor family." I don't think that his daughter's future difficulties and lacks because her father has died are somehow intriniscally more worthy of sympathy than everyone else who knew and loved him. Not to mention, my sympathy for her is, IMO, adequately expressed by my immense empathy for those who have lost someone they loved, no matter their age.

But the attitude extends to more than instances of death -- in terms of work ethic, a child's feelings about lacking mommy or daddy at the school play are supposed to supercede, for example, someone else's friends/parents/whatever who might be expecting to see a non-childed worker in some other venue. I would, in theory, be expected to take the feelings of children into account for the issue of "who's covering Christmas" even if my mother were alive and I wanted to spend it with her -- but I don't get why my Mom's feelings about not having me available for Christmas would be less "valuable."

I'm sure everyone can come up with other instances where "think of the kids feelings" comes into direct conflict with "thinking of everyone's feelings regardless of age."

*skritches head* Opinions?

Current Mood: confusedpuzzled

Well, people seem to have been all of sudden more grief-stricken upon finding out Brad Renfro had a son. (Which from the reports I read, he had nothing to do with his son.)

So yeah, why is it that the feelings of Heath's 2 year old daughter (who won't really remember him) far more fragile than his parents? (Who btw, found out about his death on the news!)

In short, I agree with you. I think everyone's feelings should count the same. (Even his exes were extremely upset)

Well, people seem to have been all of sudden more grief-stricken upon finding out Brad Renfro had a son. (Which from the reports I read, he had nothing to do with his son.)

It is interesting, isn't it, how the death of a person -- the deletion of an existence -- becomes more tragic with kids involved, even if the person had nothing to do with them. *shakes head* I completely understand perfunctory "Oh, that's too bad, but it has nothing to do with me" but how it becomes everyone buisness when a child is involved is... kind of boggling.

So yeah, why is it that the feelings of Heath's 2 year old daughter (who won't really remember him) far more fragile than his parents?

I have no idea. I've also got no idea why one would even compare them. I had one woman on cf_debate say "Well, my concern with the girl is her future and all that not having her dad means" more or less, but it's apples and oranges. She's a toddler and it's the only thing she's really going to know.

And it's not like he's out of her life because mommy and daddy aren't together and daddy can't be bothered to spend the time with you because his life is so much more important, or because mommy and daddy use you as a weapon to hurt eachother and neither one of them can be bothered with your feelings -- or if it was like my biological father, daddy doesn't see you because he sincerely doesn't love you or particularly care about your welfare in more than a vague academic way. The damage and trauma of dad being alive and absent is almost certainly more damaging to self-esteem and development than the feeling you're just not worth his attention.

(Who btw, found out about his death on the news!)

I wondered about that, given how fast it hit the news. I remember thinking how awful for them and how I hoped that the reporters hadn't pulled a Steve Irwin on them -- too much to hope for I guess.

edited to fix a tag and a direct object, 'cause wow, that sentence didn't make sense as orignally stated O.o

Edited at 2008-01-24 09:28 pm (UTC)

Who says that Matilda might not have a very good stepfather down the road? Mum's parents divorced when she was 3/4 and Poppy (her stepfather) married Grandma M when Mum was 5. She didn't have anything to do with her biological father and he was killed in a train accident the day after her 13th birthday.

Mum vaguely remembers him. She actually didn't even know Poppy wasn't her biological father until she was 15. (Mum found her birth certificate and the divorce papers at 9/10 but wasn't told the truth until 15)

Exactly -- cold as it kind of sounds, Matilda actually has a chance (even fair probability) of a decent "replacement." Not all step-parents are equal by any means (much as I loved him, mine kind of sucked) but assuming the permanent lack of a father-figure seems... off. Heath's parents, on the other hand, haven't exactly got a handy 28-year-old replacement standing by. A child who knows nothing else has a distinct advantage over an adult in that. For her grandparents, there is no advantage of ignorance.

And your mother is an excellent case in point -- knowing nothing else, she bonded with someone who loved her and had a dad. (Although I do find the notion of not telling her the truth about her parentage until so late odd, if it did her no harm, then who cares, right?) If your mother had been older (or, like me, in a position where one can't be unaware of the living parent who doesn't give a damn) when the divorce happened, then the damage is actually greater... again, because of no advantage of ignorance.

Wow, there's apparently a limit to the number of times you can edit something -- I keep finding stupid errors. I meant to say clearly a dead parent is certainly less damaging to development and self esteem than one who is alive, absent, and not giving a damn about one. *rolls eyes*

well.. it comes out of the notion that we should do everything we can to protect children.. right or wrong I think it comes down to that.. We tend to view anyone under a certain age as being extreamly vulnrable.

Not right I'm certain, also how there are other dividers that tell us when a person's feelings are valid and should be payed attenion to and when they are viewed as being able to suck it up and deal.

Is it right in any case... Not really, The example of recently dead famous guy point that he had a large number of friends and family who will mourn him. But the daughter is focused on because children are an exelent way to hit at the heart strings.

In many ways children are more emotionally vulnrable on average.. Just do to the lack of experiences.. I can handle my grief better, because I've been around the block a couple times, I've dealt with grief in specfic, and emotions in general... if this is someones first go.. thats gonna suck, I know.. I was there...

Thats a second reason that children get focused on alot.. we all have varying experiences, but, we were all children once. So by calling to children we build at least a core of empathy.

Anyway, the notion of your feelings, or your mothers feelings being less valid than a childs feelings.. I'm not sure that is what people intend to say, but rather that you are a stronger more able to handle it person than a child.

On the other hand.. it's not your kid why should you give up your christmas..

meh.. I ramble.. this would be a lot better if you were here and we could talk rather than me just punch it at a screen.

well.. it comes out of the notion that we should do everything we can to protect children.. right or wrong I think it comes down to that.. We tend to view anyone under a certain age as being extreamly vulnrable.

Which is true, and also very misleading. Children are very resilient as well -- often much more so than adults, and generally have the attention span of gnats.

While I was on my way home I was thinking about the actual intensity of kids emotions (I've had more than one parent go on and on about how they feel more) and I do have a couple of thoughts on that:

a) To a small child, every emotion felt is the most amazing, devestating, horrible, and exalting thing they've experienced, because they've never felt anything quite like it. Every spike of adrenalin from fear or excitement, every bubble of happiness is only barely tempered. These emotions are very, very pure becasue they've got no scale to put them on, no way of saying "but the horrible-dreadful-monster in the closet is more terrifying than the charging rhino" because they've little basis for comparison.

So I'll give -- not on the intensity of emotion, but on the base purity of it and the inability to put it in perspective.

b) There's that attention-span thing. Right now, this instant, whatever they're feeling is the most amazing-wonderful-scary-horrible thing ever. That'll change in a minute. I've seen crying babies, even toddlers distracted from their trauma-of-the-moment with something shiny.

This is one of the reasons why I have difficulty with allowing a 2-year-old (in the specific case of Ledger) supercede the adults around her. She's distractable with shiny objects. She'll never know her dad -- and as terrible as that is -- it's the only thing she's likely to remember. There's nothing to compare it to when you lack a parent, and only a little sense of loss directly (I know this from having a single parent until I was 10.) One might argue that lacking a father is a horrible thing (it isn't as bad as it sounds), but lacking a living father (see comment to invidereliana, above) is worse. Heath's dead -- not deadbeat. And there's no guarantee that her mother won't marry a good man who will love the girl and be everything a dad should be.

Continued next comment, 'cause this is probably going to be long.

Thats a second reason that children get focused on alot.. we all have varying experiences, but, we were all children once. So by calling to children we build at least a core of empathy.

See, this is what bugs me. Not having a place to hang empathy, but that children have to be the hook. It's like as a society we think: It's okay (even encouraged) to have empathy for children but having anything more than a token reaction for adults is... wrong. Seriously -- six of us in the office and I was literally the only one who said *anything* about the growups. There was a moment of "Well, yeah, them too" but it was throwaway. It isn't that having empathy and sympathy for the child is wrong -- it's not -- it's just... okay, where's the rest of it?

On a comm half comprised of parents, until I said something, not one of them even seemed to realize -- here's what many of you have called your worst nightmare and right at this moment it's happening to this celebrity's parents. Don't any of you feel a pang for that? I don't get it. I don't have kids and it was one of the first things I thought of -- how horrible for them.

And I have this feeling like they don't even grasp that there's something wrong with that. I see that and think "There's something about us that's broken if we can't have empathy for other people without the natural protective instinct most people have for kids, or if we can only feel it when children are involved." Why odd looks and "well, yeah, them too. Let's talk about how horrible it is he left a daughter behind."

I was a child when my biological father died. I was angry and grieved -- not because I loved him, because I didn't and I knew that even then, but because I'd never been given a chance to, becuase he'd never given me the chance to, because he'd never loved me or given himself a chance to know me. I was angry for the possibilities that never manifested for me. In the long run I'm *still* angry and grieved for those things and the damage they did and still do inside my emotions.

I was an adult when my step-dad died. I grieved, but mostly felt relief -- the cancer was over and years of passive death-wish were taken care of. All I can do is hope he's somewhere happy now, as he spent at least fifty years of his life fucking miserable because he refused to reach for happiness.

I was an adult when mom died, and that was devestating. Is devestating. It's just shy of three years right now and I dare anyone to tell me that a six-year-old who lost their mother at three feels more anguish about that than I do at thirty-six. I'll fucking punch them and I'm not a generally violent person. A young child has a chance at gaining a step-parent who loves them. I'm an orphan and nothing from now until my death can change that, no matter who I meet who would love to change that (Hi, Christina!). I would never -- ever -- say they feel less than I do, but I refuse to have it said I feel less than them.

A child does not know the meaning of "This is forever, honey, they're never coming back." They grow to accept it, and it becomes a fact of life. An adult knows exactly what it means and it's demeaning to say "Oh, it hurts a child more." Bullshit. I know what the cost of decades means. You do, too. A two-year-old doesn't and will be accustomed to her forever in a way that takes a lot more thought for grownups.

And I'm angrier about this issue than I thought. Not at the people saying "Oh, poor baby" but at society saying that's where all the empathy should go. What the fuck is wrong with us?

On to the workplace issue and general protectiveness of kids:

A couple of years ago on cf_debate I got into a longwinded wanky thread about the "Why the CF are whiners about the holiday thing because yes my kids are more important than your family and friends."

He did, indeed, directly say that his children's feelings should be more important to me than my mother's or mine because as adults we could just deal with it and his kids couldn't. I told him, longwindedly and politely, that I thought he was an entitlement-minded asshole. My basic presumption is that if a parent wants specific days or holidays off, they ask in advance like everyone else and if they sucessfully swap with someone, they owe that someone explicit thanks and a return (like swapping for some other day that that person wants) instead of simply expecting that a non-childed person fails to have a life, family, or friends they might want to spend time with.

Lack of planning on a parent's part does not mean an emergency on mine. I have sympathy for the kids, but they also need to learn to deal with disappointment and reality. This ain't happening if they don't experience it once in a while. I've been called hardhearted and mean for that (same guy, as I recall, although it might have been his equally crazy wife) but honestly, protecting kids from disappointments of the parent's maufacture is not my job. Protecting them from random world events, I'm down for that -- there's been an earthquake and you need to get to your kids and make sure they're okay? Go. GTFO, try and let us know how you're doing.

You planned badly and forgot Timmy's play? That's nice, I've got tickets to the Bolshoi. No, Timmy's play does not supercede my tickets and plans.

There's a very, very real air out in the world of making a living (I don't know if you're closely acquainted with this yet) that if you don't have kids and/or a SO, your life doesn't count -- doesn't matter. People with kids -- or pregnant, although that particular co-worker is kind of special -- will thoughtlessly assume that you must have the time to do X or replace them for Y, or aren't needed to deal with Z, because they have kids and you don't. You can do the extra time, they're too busy, their lives too important, etc.

All because of this universal "we must protect the children."

What happened to letting them grow up? Protection is all well and good, but people are stifled when they're wrapped in cotton-wool forever. Leave kids in swaddling clothes, they'll be infants forever. Let them fall. Let them experience disappointment occasionally. Let them know that reality is a lot of things, but fair isn't one of them. Allow colleagues their own lives and give due consideration for the adults in them. How hard can it be to have empathy for people who are just like oneself? Or is empathy -- true empathy for all other people -- something that we neither teach nor choose to learn?


I think from my perspective it has more to do with coping skills. Children have learned a lot less how to deal with disappointment and negative emotions in general at a young age, and it is generally assumed by our culture that they should be shielded as much as possible so that they will develop them slowly rather than in a sudden or traumatic fashion.

I'm not sure I agree or disagree... It's cultural... Japanese children are incredibly shielded, and allowed to do virtually anything they please until around the time they need to start crunching for high school entrance exams. From then on their lives are strictly regimented, and the transition is pretty sudden and I'm sure sometimes traumatic...

Re: *ponder*

I'll just have to say, see my replies to Ben -- I'm a lot more worked up about the issue than I thought. I'll get to asking about Japan, but I've got to get ready and go to work. *tackleglomphug*