The first 365 days of a person's life, they learn trust. If people can be trusted to take care of you, or not. This means, before they even know what they are doing, your parents are dictating the way you will carry out relationships for the rest of your life. The first year of life, we crave contact so much that we are literally willing to die for it.
In experiments documented and designed by famous psychologist Harry Harlow with rhesus monkeys, he sought to discover if love for a parent was true or if it was conditional. This means: does a baby only love it's mother because her breasts give it the nourishment it needs to live? Or does it absolutely love her as a being that provides love? The experiment was simple- create a metal cage in the shape of a mother and give it a feeding device to measure the attachment the monkey created. After some time, the monkey developed some attachment. A fuzzy "comforting" mother shape was then added to the enclosure. Shockingly, the monkey preferred to spend time cuddling with the fuzzy shape over time eating. In fact, when given the choice between the two, the baby preferred to stay only with the comfort mother, insomuch that it would starve to death in order to continue feeling contact.
This need for affection goes against everything we know about the things that motivate people. Our brains as babies and children are discernibly different than those of adults. The changes that take place in our brain because of neglect shape our neuron pathways forever. This is why it is imminently important to give parents the tools to handle the stresses of being a new parent, the support they need to get through the hard times and the liberty to express those stresses.
But parents are not the only people who need to provide loving support in order for the tiny humans to grow up sane. Peer groups distinctly shape our self-perception. During the critical ages of 6-9 and 12-15 children undergo a process of assimilation to their environment. They behave as they perceive others behave. In fact, entire educational methodologies (such as Montessori) have been designed specifically to teach differently them. Kids these ages are very aware of how they are viewed by others in their peer group, reassess their projection of themselves obsessively and compare their behaviors and appearance much more sensitively than at other times. During this time, we learn to properly form bonds and self-esteem, and our ability to do so depends on two major factors: having the ability to read others correctly, and having the support to be malleable to adapt to them.
Yes, yes, we live in the age of individualism and empowerment and we want our kids to be exactly who they are, special- just like everyone else!- and authentic unapologetically.
But the reality is that not having those two necessary skills leads to not being able to connect to other people. Think about this- our ancestors walked around in groups of around 100 people. Their kids knew no paternity or maternity- they were communal children. They saw how elders behaved, they shaped their behaviors to match. They observed hunting techniques, and learned to catch food. They examine mating techniques, and learn to attract a sexual partner. They watch a mother breastfeed, and learn how a baby is cared for. Our ability to "blend in" is crucial to survival.
A baby who was not given the needed amount of affection grows up to already lack trust in people, potentially unable to read social cues properly, inhibiting that child's ability to blend in. So what happens next? Does he finds a person who is also socially awkward and they live happily awkwardly ever after? No. Typically, other people with traditionally patterned brains feel that that person's interactions are difficult to predict. And because we like to limit our uncertainty, we limit contact with that person, lessening their chances of adapting to us.
A child who has a hard time connecting to other kids is harder for other kids to connect to.
A cyclical outsider. A self-fulfilling prophecy. He's so weird I don't want to hang out with him but he's weird because I don't hang out with him. So the child acts out! Our need for connection is so so great that we are willing to do stupid things to get it. We are willing to scream at people, to pull a little girl's hair, to throw a rock in a schoolyard. Do you think these behaviors cause the result that the child is needing? Does a child get to interact as a result? Yes. Action - result. That neurological pathway has been drawn. From here on out, every time that child needs affection, he has a nice smooth freeway to get them straight there. The tricky part is, the way our minds make paths isn't like roads pouring down asphalt, but like rivers digging craters. Grand canyons of BAD. FUCKING. HABITS. That turn into shots of heroin. Or pill in that chick's drink. Or gun to the rude jock's temple. All because your monkey mom didn't hold you enough and now we have to take care of you.
But guess what. We do have to take care of this. Half of the parents out there have absolutely no clue how to parent, much less at day one. Our ancestors, in their groups of dozens, they didn't do it alone. We are all responsible for rewiring these brains. We are parents of the herd. There are many stages in which the cycle can be broken. And there is no panacea. It's a proven step by step, warning sign by traffic stop, and the only tangible weapons we have are the little warriors we give birth to.
Bullying is everywhere. It is in the most classic Disney movie, in the silly joke, in the darkest corners. But we have our babies. Our children are powerful, wonderful forces of change. They go out into their world and carry with them the ability to redirect behavior, to channel new rivers, build damns and change the history of the world. The biggest lesson we must teach them is how to recognize the need for connection and how to answer it. Tell them every morning as you usher them out of the car or onto the school bus "you can change the world today". Encourage them to move mountains. Do not tell them they cannot take to the streets in protest while reading them books about following their dreams. They are the real weapons of mass creation.