You only have to pick up a newspaper, open up a new tab or turn on the TV to partially witness the rage, violence and self-harm that is rife in youth-culture today. There is an undeniable and quite frankly alarming current of aggression on not the only ‘the street’ but also in schools, universities, workplaces and so on. And worst of all, it seems to be growing – not to mention extending deep into the digital realm of social media and other community-based networking platforms.
What you see in the media is condensed, one-sided and often misreported. It’s also only the tip of the iceberg and far from being solved until perspectives change and economic issues somewhat stabilise. The solution is a drastic change, based on equality and scientific research – both of which do not benefit or entice the power-hungry, money-grabbing elite. We are led to believe facile explanations, such as the failure of moral teachings, permissive parenting or the glamorisation of gangs, violence, anger, sex and self-destruction in the music industry.
I say we look beyond this, as thus far moral preaching strategies and non-violence programs have been fairly ineffective – if not dismissive of the real problems young people face in this ‘modernised’ society. Psychologist Gordon Neufeld coined the term peer-orientation, which I personally believe to explain a lot in not only my childhood but both of my parents’ upbringings. He says;
“Peer-oriented kids look not to adults, but to each other for satisfaction of their emotional needs and cues on how to be, how to look and how to act.”
This was such a paradigm-shifting sentence for me to read. It sent shivers down my spine. I knew, upon reading these words, that Dr. Gordon Neufeld had hit the nail on the head. The source of ALL aggression and emotional shutdown is frustration, and frustration is a primitive human response – one we have since birth. When we are babies, we cry if our needs are not met – if we are hungry, tired, unwell, insecure and so on, we demand attention. With this in mind it comes as no real surprise to me that young adults and teens, especially those who were peer-orientated as kids, lash-out in an aggressive or emotional manner when their basic needs are not met and their individual value is undermined.
As a young adult myself, I know what it feels like for your some of your basic needs not to be met. I am 22 and grew up in a household where the worry of redundancy and accumulating debt was perpetual. Luckily I was well-fed and well-clothed, and that is more than can be said for many. Still, today I do not have a home to call my own (currently renting), I struggle to enjoy many aspects of life due to financial stress (the cost of living, being self-employed etc) and have several mental health issues (stemming from an overload of pressure and circumstantial adversity). My needs as an independent individual are not met, and never really have been – at least not all at the same time. I have worked continuously since I was 12 years old, alongside studying, and the recession is all I know. That alone is frustrating.
But frustration doesn’t always equal violence or self-harm. Many people are able to control their aggression, some far better than overs. Violence and self-destructive behaviours in young adults and teens display emotional immaturity. The root of the issue is not peer-orientation alone, it’s also the sick system we live by, which is slowly but surely depriving the lower and middle class of its basic human rights and needs. Dr. Gabor Maté (another huge inspiration of mine) put this perfectly;
“We no longer live in villages, tribes, communities, neighbourhoods where adults mentor and raise children. The extended family is, for many kids, geographically or emotionally distant. The nuclear family is itself under extreme stress, as indicated by high divorce rates.
Economic pressures for both parents to work deprive children of the active presence of adult connections for much of the day, a lack our ill-funded and ill-conceived daycare system is unable to compensate for. Into this void steps the peer group, with disastrous results.”
And Dr. Neufeld adds;
“Kids were never meant to nurture one another or to be role models for one another. They are not up to the task. It’s the immature leading the undeveloped.”
You see, the more over-worked, economically-strained, value-deprived and stressed-out we are, the less time we have to provide our children with the blanket of unconditional, stable, reliable love they so desperately need. When this emotional need is void, kids seek acceptance elsewhere. But we all know that to be accepted into many peer-groups, you must appear “cool”. Dr. Gabor Maté explains;
“Cool is the absence of emotion, the denial of vulnerability. Cool means the shutting down of emotion, or at least the pretense of shutdown, a false sophistication characterized by invulnerability. Peer orientation has overturned the natural order of things. Our children will heed our leadership only if we can reattach them to us.
The young of any species, humans especially, belong under the protective wings of adults. Youth’s frustration and rage will be resolved only if we succeed in restoring children’s attachments to the adult world.”
I simply couldn’t put it better myself (and I didn’t try to)! But one last thing I do feel the need to emphasise is the necessity of acceptance. In my experience, peer-orientation isn’t only due to distant parenting but also relevant to controlling parenting, in which you are not viewed as a separate entity but instead as an extension of say, your biological mother or father.
ALL people, not just babies, children and teens, have the right to be heard and their emotional needs acknowledged. It is important to recognise that emotional maltreatment can be just as damaging as physical or sexual abuse. To ensure clarity, the NSPCC provide official definitions, which you can find here or view a small excerpt of below:
“The persistent emotional maltreatment of a child as such to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to a child that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate or valued only so-far as they meet the needs of the other person. It may include not giving the child the opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or ‘making fun’ of what they say and how they communicate.”
If you are worried about a child, please call the NSPCC helpline and seek support from professional counsellors on 0808 800 5000 or email [email protected]. If you are 18 or under, then please call 0800 1111 for confidential advice, support or concerns.
I hope this article has provided some insight or at least provoked some thoughts as to what peer-orientation is, how it is caused and what we can do to solve the issue collectively. There’s still SO much to cover, I know, but for now I think that’s more than enough to absorb. As always, I’m going to ask that you kindly leave any comments/feedback you have on this subject using the section below and share this with anyone you think it could help. It’s always amazing to see your appreciation, explore your views and hear about your experiences.
Lots of love, as always…
Further reading, viewing, references, credits & resources: