Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man

Posted by Arjendu on January 2, 2010

During the Fall, I taught a Cross-Cultural Studies first-year seminar called “Growing Up Cross Culturally”, which looks at the birth-to-death arc in the United States, compared and contrasted with other cultures around the world. As part of this class we used films and extensive clips from the remarkable Seven Up series by Michael Apted, where a set of children are filmed and a snapshot of their lives recorded every seven years. I had seen one of these films (35 UP) as a graduate student in Austin, and it was unforgettable. I was thrilled when my co-teachers (there were 4 of us teaching different sections of this seminar this year,  it’s a team-built syllabus) were also very struck by the films and made room for them in the course.

The premise is a quote attributed to St. Francis Xavier “Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man”. The specific context for the series was strong class boundaries in the UK — the film-makers thought they would be able to show how class origins determine the possibilities of your life. Whether they succeeded in that or not, they certainly made a compelling sociological study as they track the subjects over their lives (they are now over 50 years old). I’ll let you discover the movies for yourselves (and you can watch pretty much the last one and ‘get’ the full series, so it’s not a massive commitment) and/or follow the links above, or read this essay.

What brings them to mind for me today is that my child is turning seven shortly. And I can’t help but wonder if I can see the woman she is going to grow up to be in the child she is now — precocious reader as she is, for example (show-off/startled dad data-point: starting in late Oct and lasting through early December, she blitzed through the entire Harry Potter series, and in the last week, has read Dickens’ Christmas Carol and Kipling’s Just So Stories among others).

Coincidentally, my brother just sent me a copy of a family photograph taken when I was about seven years old, and I keep looking at that as well to see if I can see my present self in there. If it’s personality I am looking for, I think yes — I am just about as nerdy, bookish, shy, absent-minded as I used to be. And my brother, even at 4, has that familiar fierce squint.

The up-coming term, starting Monday: Quantum Mechanics. Yay!

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10 Responses to “Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man”

  1. Sue Knight said

    ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.’
    I quoted this today to my future daughter-in-law who has a five year old son. He was throwing a tantrum because he didn’t want to eat the lunch prepared for him, he wanted something else. She gave him something else.
    My understanding of this quote is, everything you teach a child, every value you instil in a child, is so important in forming the person they become. Teach them manners, respect, understanding of handicap/differences, love of books, awe of nature, friendship to animals, ANYTHING, early in their lives – before they are seven – and they are the values that they will take through life with them, forever.
    All major formation of a child’s mind and understanding of the world around him is in place by seven, it’s almost too late to change things after that age.
    The film ‘Seven Up’ started at age seven so, in my opinion, we didn’t see the vitally important formative years of those children.

  2. Trish said

    Sue said it’s all “in place” by 7 and “too late to change”. I doubt that, but I would more particularly call out into the open for consideration some assumptions underpinning the advice to the daughter-in-law.

    It is possible that the child might also learn that he has a mother who listens to what he wants, rather than one who thinks her role is to always to impose on her child (or her daughter-in-law) her own judgment about what they need — her own beliefs and prejudices (I mean in the sense of leanings (biases) and ‘pre-judgments’ I do not mean that disparagingly).

    Of course, the child could just be a brat. But the parenting style that “instils values into a child” as if it is a kind of repository for one’s own opinions, an empty container into which one stuffs one’s own cultural values is I think more likely to produce a brat than a parent who speaks rationally to a child as if the child is an equal AS A HUMAN BEING. People talk down to their children, and to animals, and to other races, and men to women — if we stopped seeing our role as forming others into our own image, and instead treated them as equals to be allowed to flower in their own way, we might all be better off.

    Just a thought.

  3. VJ Grimes said

    On the one hand I agree with Trish–give the kid what he wants for lunch to extinguish the behaviour for a reasonable request, teaches him that he’s been heard and valued, and in turn makes way for flexibility that will be expected of HIM later on. Though Sue’s point must be that flipping out in a tantrum has been rewarded and perhaps learned to be useful in certain circumstances as a tool for attaining all kinds of goals.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t say values are opinions–a mother listens for what he needs, rather than what he wants–it’s naive to think catering to what a kid wants (or debating with him, as if the possibility of wrong-choices is up for discussion), isn’t going to make him confused about what is good for him now or in the long run.

    Hm, “…to flower in their own way,” having said Treat children, animals and other cultures equally, I tease you when I say “Oh, please!” that the phrase sounds kind of condescending (I shall allow you to flower …), but I get what you mean, people can think they must impose their views, if they don’t know any better.

    Meanwhile, I figure the 7 Up program, St Francis Xavier, and Sue meant there is a clear window, an epiphany point where you “see” or know who this young person is–not seeing the formative years doesn’t mean you missed them, you get to age seven and see nature and nurture solidified within the one child, no matter what sort of controlled or dog’s-breakfast of a background they might have emerged from–read A Separate Peace, and The Kite Runner, to get my point about two people, raised similarly or differently, and one-is-so and the-other-is-such, with their paths to this point, and the divergent paths from here are perceivable, palpable, at age seven. The coddled cad, or the puzzled pessimist, trying to understand the nature of a person who can’t fathom a cad or a pessimist.

    The theory, Gordon Neufeld I think, is to teach your children your values and, even if they go on a tangent toward the opposite of your values in their teens, they will elastic-back to your values later (like in their late 20s? or when they raise their own children), (or maybe when an issue comes up and they subconsciously know what to do–what is that, the Parent voice in some theory?)

    I found a video through district media services to show to my Planning classes, the moderator got a question from the audience, “… Yes, but When do I get to enjoy my children?” and the fellow said, “Oh, ho! You don’t–you get to enjoy your grandchildren–you worry about your children, you enjoy your grandchildren.” He was being funny, but with a 16 and 18 year old, I can see why he would say that. A parent can raise them to seven, “Sigh, what beautiful children, haven’t we done a great job?” and then get hit over the head by the 14s (i.e. age 14 can reoccur for a number of years), but still have faith that it’s in there somewhere, those values that they seem to leave at the door.

    Don’t count on kids resembling their parents! Whether “a nut doesn’t fall far from the tree,” (kid turns out to be just like their parents), or the opposite–where kids don’t follow their parents good or bad examples, is NOT taught through good or bad parenting!

    An example from 20 years ago that I found confounding and enlightening–two students skipped typing class together, one student lied and said they had permission, but her mother was firm and supportive (for me, their teacher) and said, “I’ll deal with her when she gets home.” Meantime her friend was truthful and apologetic for skipping class, but HER mother lied and said, “Oh, yes, she had my permission”–both mothers produced daughters who didn’t remotely resemble their mother’s attitudes or values about respect or truthfulness.

    Point being that you can neither congratulate yourself nor take the blame for what teenagers are like during their formative years–and the theory is that grown children will ricochet back to your values.

    Conclusion being that you need to make your values clear to children as they grow–things like, Be reliable, respectful, flexible, show good judgment, don’t be influenced, plan your ride home, etc. And at age seven you can pretty much see leaders, manipulators, heroes, cheaters, those that still need heavy guidance for some time-to-come, and those that are going to be A-Okay, who might influence the late-adopters (of strong values) to be trustworthy and, um, flower as they should.

  4. Ben said

    I just found my school reports from when I was 7, and I am still interested in the same subjects and still lacking motivation in the others…

  5. [...] As can be seen in movies like “As it is in heaven“, things like bullying is not just innocent fun, but can result in a violent lifestyle. Racism ingrained into young children is extremely difficuly to overcome in later life. Not for nothing is there a quote attributed to St. Francis Xavier “Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man” (quoted by arjendu). [...]

  6. David said

    Genetics play a much more vital part in the individual and in race/class than most people are willing to admit.

    You are what you are because you are what you are.

    Do some research on identical twins separated at birth.

    They end up living in similar parts of the country working similar jobs.

    Eighty percent of what you are or ever could be is tied up in your DNA. Your experiences account for the other 20%.

    These are laws as undeniable as the laws of physics.

  7. Mike said

    I think the relevance of those early years 0-7 is because each thing learnt isnt isolated from everything else. The dendrites that form to store our knowledge are the pathways used to acquire all subsequent knowledge and as such introduce an almost hollistic influence to it

    I think its also important to not hat upto that age most absorbed knowledge whether cognitivie of subconciously absorbed happens without reason or question and is held as a blind truth.

    So poorly brought up childrens experiences will have the ability to negatively taint, value or classify all things learnt thereafter with children who have been taught better values having a more positive tainting

    And by “taught” I mean consistently taught, as many parents “tell” a child all the right things, but their own actions lack any consistency with what they verbally espouse and the child will absorb those consistencies even though their complexities and contradictions might not make any cognitive sense to them for years to come

    As for kids “springing back” to a way of thinking I dont honestly think thats the case at all. And to some extent I feel the view of childrens teens being “pot luck” is just a cop out to be honest

    I accept that theres a limited amount of control as kids are more independant at that age. But the decisions they make and the extent of their “mistakes” are in my opinion a direct result of what is instilled into them in their earlier formative years and of course how consistent their parents were in their actions

    After all, telling a young child they should always tell the truth but then having times when they see you lie for any reason teaches them that lying is ok, but also that what their parents say cant even be trusted just as one example

    The fact it might be a “white lie” might seem important and significant to the parent doing it, but to the child subconciously obseving it a lie is just simply a lie

    A parent who tells her child they shouldnt scream to get their own way who is then seen pouting, sulking or argueing with the other parent over a disagreement and who then “cheers up” when they get the holiday, kitchen or handbag they wanted is showing them that what they said verbally was once again a lie, and that manipulation is the way to go

    What children learn in their early years is I feel like the foundation of a building.

    If the foundation is just a fraction of a degree from being flat its barely noticeable, but by the time youre putting on the 50th story you can see that the whole structure is subtly skewed, by which time its almost impossible to correct the initial problem and trying to swerve it back to being straight whilst leaving the underlying flaw is your only real hope

    Children seeming to “swerveback” in adult life though I think is more to do with need. Behaviour patterns needed to be married, built a career, have and raise children etc etc arent needed UNTIL those things crop up in someones life. So why would they be seen or prevalent?

    But when their life does reach the point of having those things the learned, absorbed and observed behaviours of their parents will be the most instinctual starting place. That isnt “swerving back” in the slightest, its just the ONLY behaviour patterns they have to model on for a starting place. Where they go from there will be based on what else they have learnt, their other influences and their basic character

    • A. Keiles said

      You are all looking at the ‘too small picture’. The logic behind the idea is that from birth to 6 or 7 the brain has amazing capabilities to acquire and absorb ‘knowledge’. Just like a sponge. After that age the brain ‘slows down.
      Take language for example, during the very earliest months and years of life, children can absorb two or three different languages, with no effort at all. After age seven, watch some kids struggling in the language classroom, as the brain is noiw processing on a different level and it is not always easy for everyone to learn in such conditions……….

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