As a father of two little creatures of 5 and 2 years old, I was really looking forward for this chapter. Despite my initial observations about chapters being too long, I have to admit that I wish this one to be longer.
Here the tone of the book changes,and we have a chapter focused on what can we learn from traditional societies. Diamond uses traditional societies as “a vast database of child-rearing.” that reveals “the outcomes of thousands of natural experiments on how to rear children”.
These experiments are also being carried away in our Western world, as parents are not that happy with the way states think children should be educated, like people trying again to give children at home instead of hospitals. And some are starting to be implemented as pilot experiments. For example, in the school I send my children, next course instead of putting in a classroom 22 kids of the same age, they are going to mix ages from 6 to 10 years, so kids do not learn just from the teacher, but from other kids of other ages as well.
The section on infanticide, of course, moves away from such tone, and we are shown how traditional societies do not have much options but to consider some forms of infanticide, besides some exceptions like the Siriono Indians in Bolivia.
Diamond understand that some differences on how different societies treat children are culture based, but he also argues that some others can be explained through differences in environment. For example, hunter-gatherer bands tend to do minimal physical punishment to kids, while they are a lot more common in farming societies. The main reason -according to Diamond- is that hunter-gatherers “tend to have few valuable physical possessions. But many farmers, and specially herders, do have material things, especially valuable livestock, so herders punish children to prevent serious consequences to the whole family.”
The same happens with child autonomy: it heavily depends on the environment. infants of hunter-gatherers under one year living in the Amazon rainforests “spend about 93 % of their daylight time in tactile contact with a mother or a father (…) it is not until about three years of age that Ache children between three and four years of age spend 76% of their daylight time less than one meter away from their mother.” And then, in mostly harmless environments like the Australian desert, children regularly go on foraging trips unsupervised y adults.
Like the others, this is chapter worth reading fully. Let me just list some of the stuff we, parents, can learn from traditional societies
– To stop using strollers, and carry babies horizontally and forward so there is physical contact between the child and the care-giver and infants and adults see the world from the same perspective.
– Giving more opportunities to kids to be with their fathers and allo-parents (aunts, uncles, grandparents) and share education among them all.
– To give kids more autonomy to explore, experiment with stuff and face the consequences of their behavior instead of over-protecting them.
– To pay more attention to children crying instead of the behaviorist position of letting them cry.
– To let children of different ages mix freely both playing and at school
– To let children sleep with their parents at least till a certain age.
– To develop games which are not based on competition or contest, but on cooperation and sharing.
– To help foster creativity in children letting them to build their own toys instead of buying them expensive “educational toys.”
– To let children learn from adults and not separating play and education so drastically.
– To let education in children follow naturally from social life.
As usual, Diamond is careful about his conclusions. So far we got impressions, not hard science. It is very difficult to establish what are the reasons that generally make children in traditional societies more resilient, autonomous and empathic. But those impressions are relevant and an invitation to explore these natural experiments.
Let’s give Diamond the last words:
Other westerners and I are struck by the emotional security, self confidence, curiosity, and autonomy of members of small-scale societies, not only as adults, but already as children. We see that people in small-scale societies spend far more time talking to each other than we do, and they spend no time at all on passive entertainment supplied by outsiders, such as television, video games and books. We are struck by the precocious development of social skills in their children. These are qualities that most of us admire, and would like to see in our own children, but we discourage development of those qualities by ranking and grading our children and constantly telling them what to do. The adolescent identity crises that plague American teen-agers aren’t an issue for hunter-gatherer children (p. 208)