Child Independence

There is an amazing article, in, of all places, The New Yorker, How People Learn to Become Resilient, by Maria Konnikova. I have very little use for psychologists, but this article is truly an exception. The title is a bit misleading and the term, "resilient," is not quite the right one; nevertheless it is a wonderful illustration of a fact about children and all human nature—independence is at the heart of all human success.

The story is about some long-standing research by psychologists attempting to discover why some so-called "at-risk" children seem to defy the accepted view of why children fail, because these children do not fail, but become very successful. What puts them "at risk" are all the things psychologists and socioligists like to blame for human failure, like: "parents with psychological or other problems; exposure to violence or poor treatment; being a child of problematic divorce;... witnessing a traumatic violent encounter;... or being in an accident."

Why did some so-called "at-risk" children succeed? In her 1989 published results of her thirty-two-year study of almost seven hundred children, Emmy Werner reported that the successful ones, from a very young age "tended to 'meet the world on their own terms.' They were autonomous and independent, [and] would seek out new experiences. 'Though not especially gifted, these children used whatever skills they had effectively.' The successful children, 'believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements.' They saw themselves as the orchestrators of their own fates." [Emphasis mine.]

While the report did cite other possible contributors to the children's success like having, "a strong bond with a supportive caregiver, parent, teacher, or other mentor-like figure," it is doubtful if those advantages alone would have made those children successes if the children themselves were not, "autonomous and independent."

Independent Individualists

There was one other characteristic that was attributed to the "at-risk" children who defied the accepted view and succeeded. I am not exactly sure what it means; the expression was that they had, "positive social orientation," but I'll assume it means they were able to get along with others, being both courteous and considerate, without subordinating themselves to others or using them.

Ayn Rand once described the experience of such independent autonomist children, including many children who are not considered, "at-risk," which she called, "a thinking child."

"The 'socializing' aspects of the school, the pressure to conform to the pack, are, for him, a special kind of torture. A thinking child cannot conform—thought does not bow to authority. The resentment of the pack toward intelligence and independence is older than Progressive education; it is an ancient evil (among children and adults alike), a product of fear, self-doubt and envy. ... Instead of teaching children respect for one another's individuality, achievements and rights, Progressive education gives an official stamp of moral righteousness to the tendency of frightened half-savages to gang up on one another, to form 'in-groups' and to persecute the outsider.

"The thinking child is not antisocial (he is, in fact, the only type of child fit for social relationships). When he develops his first values and conscious convictions, particularly as he approaches adolescence, he feels an intense desire to share them with a friend who would understand him; if frustrated, he feels an acute sense of loneliness. (Loneliness is specifically the experience of this type of child—or adult; it is the experience of those who have something to offer.) The emotion that drives conformists to 'belong,' is not loneliness, but fear—the fear of intellectual independence and responsibility." [The Objectivist—October 1970 "The Comprachicos."]

The whole idea of, "at-risk," children is wrong. It is not circumstances that determine what any individual is, but what an individual chooses to be and make of himself. It is not conforming to what others believe or expect, but choosing to be what one knows they can be, because they can if they are willing to make the effort. So long as one allows anything from outside them to influence either what they think or choose, they have surrendered the one characteristic that makes them human, their volition, the necessity to consciously choose all they do and think using their own mind and reason.

Though neither the writer of the article or the psychologists who made the studies ever made the obvious connection, the one reason for the success of all children is determined by the degree of their independence and their ambition, which both spring from an individual's own mind.