‘Secret life’?
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    Default ‘Secret life’?

    I watched the secret life of 4 year olds last night and I felt very uncomfortable. It was no longer, in my opinion, ‘secret life’ but a series of experiments on children for no reason other than to entertain adults and upset children....with secret life bits in between.
    DH and I had a long discussion afterwards around the ethics of it, given both our experience of Educational research and having to fill in detailed ethics forms if we or University students conducted research in schools .....as outlined by the ‘Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research ‘ published by the British Educational Research Association.
    I was concerned about the experts and their reaction or explanation to some of the distressed children during the experiments.
    I didn’t like that the games were set up knowing that some of the children would be scared or to stimulate conflict.
    Watching them interact was interesting but the games led by the adults was not, it was scary.
    The dinosaur section just sent me over the edge and I shouted at the tv, the air, the parents of the children who allowed it...
    I couldn’t believe that there hadn’t been a negative feedback from the press, presuming, as in the case of Michael Gove’s recent gaff, that the public find all sorts of things funny that I don’t.

    Then, this afternoon Michael Rosen wrote a piece with the exact same thoughts, he is an author and lecturer and so expressed his outrage far more eloquently than I did, but quoted the same ethics as we had discussed last night and added further information around psychology.
    I wonder what others thoughts are?
    I have added below some extracts from MR’s piece:


    Needless to say, the contests or competitions were presented to the children as fixed and rule-bound according to the rules set by the adults - a mixture of the people running the nursery and the academics who watched what happened on video, making comments. Remember - the claim being made here is that these contests showed the 'secret life' of these children. In fact, it showed the children responding to fixed rule contests devised by adults in order to show that one or more children would be distressed by losing. In fact, it emerged that the child in question was probably more distressed that he didn't win the prize than actually losing. Educationally speaking, what is a TV programme doing telling children that if you answer some questions right, you win chocolates? Or, worse, if you answer them wrong, you don't get chocolates! In the aftermath of the contest, the child in question cried and seemed to be uncomforted for a while. Then we watched while the experts discussed why and how the child was distressed without any commentary on the fact that the whole situation had been engineered - unethically - by the researchers.

    Later in the programme, they set up another experiment which caused the same child distress. They showed that the boy knew a lot about dinosaurs. They asked him if he was scared of dinosaurs. No he wasn't. Then a man dressed as a 'keeper' brought in on a leash, a 6-7 foot tyrannosaurus rex (with someone inside). The boy was clearly scared. This was presented to us as revealing that in some way or another the boy was dishonest about his real state of fear. This again was clearly unethical and at the same time absurd. The more we know about T-Rex the more scared we should be, especially if grown-ups surround us with nonsense of notions that dinosaurs co-existed or still co-exist with humans! So the little boy cowered and - again - was distressed.

    What was all this for? What did it prove? Who benefitted from this 'research'? All it did was assert the right of adults to limit the choices of children, set up situations in which it could be predicted that one or more children would be distressed. This was done for our entertainment, showing us...what precisely? That grown-up researchers are clever people who know how to make 4 year olds cry?


    Of course there are programmes that can be made about the 'secret life' of young children. All you have to do is set up situations in which young children can discuss things, make things, play with things, plan things. To be fair to the programme, we did see scenes where children played in the home corner a couple of times, but these seemed to be interludes between the real 'knowledge' of the programme in these adult-led experiments, with predictable outcomes of conflict and distress.

    Wihat is particularly worrying is that two academics were involved in this, sitting as it were to one side, commenting on and laughing at what the children were doing.

    Excuse me while I say something extreme. On many occasions in the history of psychological testing over the last 120 years there have been experiments conducted on children and adults. Some of these have been unethical and at a distance, we can easily see how monstrous they've been, with terrible consequences for the participants. Sometimes we scratch our heads and wonder how could people calling themselves psychologists have done such things? I think the answer to that question lies precisely in the way this programme was set up and carried out: the children were treated as if they were fodder for experiments, with no volition, sanctity of the person, no sense of their potential, no sense that an experiment could open up new possibilities, new educational insights. In fact, the educational value of the dinosaur
    experiment was precisely the opposite: it was educational rubbish from several perspectives at the same time.

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    I purposefully didn't watch, having caught some of the other 'secret life of' programmes and not enjoying them ( apart from the ones when they put trackers on cats !!! )

    so, having read your thoughts Flora, and those of the wonderful Micheal Rosen, I am glad I didn't watch.

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    Oh goodness, i have seen these programmes advertised before i became a childminder and a mum and i wondered about watching it this time around. For some reason i decided that i didn't want to as i almost didn't want that "secret view" in to their little lives in case it upset me! What you have said is so interesting and particularly that you are backed up in your thoughts by Michael Rosen.

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    Thank you for raising this Flora Dora; an interesting but disturbing post.

    I didn't watch the programme, as I tend to get frustrated or angry by most such pop-psychology shows which parade ill-thought out pseudoscience as entertainment. Oddly enough, I am not a fan of Rosen's children's books, but find myself sitting up and taking note whenever he speaks or writes for adults about children.

    I agree this sounds highly unethical and appears to have such poor methodology as to make any supposed findings about children very questionable. But, as such, we may well find it slots nicely into future child development qualifications with consummate ease. I recall doing my level 3 and, amongst other shocks, discovering that we could meet the 'criteria' without being required to consider any critique or questioning of those messiahs of child psychology: Freud, Skinner, Piaget, Maslow, et al.

    As Rosen alludes, the 'research' says more about the adults than the children. I wonder who will take note and listen to that particular uncomfortable message. Adults in authoritarian institutions (typically schools) have always controlled children through fear and manipulation, and continue to do so. And there are increasing demands for us to collude in this damage through the emphasis on "school readiness".

    The experiment mentioned with the prize of chocolates puts in mind difficult issues of education and behaviour management, which we tend to conveniently overlook on a daily basis. When we get children to 'perform' for a prize, is the 'learning" or behaviour exhibited anything more than a superficial and temporary means to an end? The child's thoughts will surely be on the chocolate, the sticker, the reward, and not on the required action, particularly if they have no other personal interest in the activity.

    Similarly, all that stuff about 'positive reinforcement' that is drummed into us as the current training vogue for 'behaviour management'. But how is the denial of a reward (chocolate, sticker, praise) any different to a child than outright punishment? To a child, denial is punishment.

    I have a mindee who is a real handful, but I've no desire to crush her spirit or love of discovery by fear. Her nursery have identified issues of 'challenging behaviour' which they address through the standard industry solution of praise and positive reinforcement; fair enough and not the least unusual in the world of childcare. So whenever she does the 'right' thing (i.e. the thing adults want) she is told "mummy will be so proud." Sounds great; all very positive. What could possibly be amiss in this happy, positive world of fluffy joy and encouragement?

    Well, plenty, as it happens. She now gets utterly distraught when she is told off, prevented from doing something, or realises for herself that taking that other child's toy will not be well received. She looks pleadingly at me and repeats the mantra, "mummy will be so proud." Then breaks down in utter trauma when I can't tell her what she so badly needs to hear. It's as if praise and 'positive reinforcement' have become her equivalent of crack cocaine, without which she cannot function. I don't espouse physical punishment, yet I feel what she is going through is worse than when I used to get the back of my mum's hand.
    Last edited by bunyip; 10-11-2017 at 07:48 AM.

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    It sounds awful. No respect for the children, or for their intellect. Let's hope that more viewers were disappointed/disturbed and stop watching it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bunyip View Post
    Thank you for raising this Flora Dora; an interesting but disturbing post.

    I didn't watch the programme, as I tend to get frustrated or angry by most such pop-psychology shows which parade ill-thought out pseudoscience as entertainment. Oddly enough, I am not a fan of Rosen's children's books, but find myself sitting up and taking note whenever he speaks or writes for adults about children.

    I agree this sounds highly unethical and appears to have such poor methodology as to make any supposed findings about children very questionable. But, as such, we may well find it slots nicely into future child development qualifications with consummate ease. I recall doing my level 3 and, amongst other shocks, discovering that we could meet the 'criteria' without being required to consider any critique or questioning of those messiahs of child psychology: Freud, Skinner, Piaget, Maslow, et al.

    As Rosen alludes, the 'research' says more about the adults than the children. I wonder who will take note and listen to that particular uncomfortable message. Adults in authoritarian institutions (typically schools) have always controlled children through fear and manipulation, and continue to do so. And there are increasing demands for us to collude in this damage through the emphasis on "school readiness".

    The experiment mentioned with the prize of chocolates puts in mind difficult issues of education and behaviour management, which we tend to conveniently overlook on a daily basis. When we get children to 'perform' for a prize, is the 'learning" or behaviour exhibited anything more than a superficial and temporary means to an end? The child's thoughts will surely be on the chocolate, the sticker, the reward, and not on the required action, particularly if they have no other personal interest in the activity.

    Similarly, all that stuff about 'positive reinforcement' that is drummed into us as the current training vogue for 'behaviour management'. But how is the denial of a reward (chocolate, sticker, praise) any different to a child than outright punishment? To a child, denial is punishment.

    I have a mindee who is a real handful, but I've no desire to crush her spirit or love of discovery by fear. Her nursery have identified issues of 'challenging behaviour' which they address through the standard industry solution of praise and positive reinforcement; fair enough and not the least unusual in the world of childcare. So whenever she does the 'right' thing (i.e. the thing adults want) she is told "mummy will be so proud." Sounds great; all very positive. What could possibly be amiss in this happy, positive world of fluffy joy and encouragement?

    Well, plenty, as it happens. She now gets utterly distraught when she is told off, prevented from doing something, or realises for herself that taking that other child's toy will not be well received. She looks pleadingly at me and repeats the mantra, "mummy will be so proud." Then breaks down in utter trauma when I can't tell her what she so badly needs to hear. It's as if praise and 'positive reinforcement' have become her equivalent of crack cocaine, without which she cannot function. I don't espouse physical punishment, yet I feel what she is going through is worse than when I used to get the back of my mum's hand.
    You got me really thinking bunyip as your last example of this poor little girl stopped me in my tracks. I hope this is the more unusual of cases but do you agree that the pc world has got the balance wrong? As well as praise and encouragement I think kids should be shown that certain behaviours are just not acceptable so they get both sides of the coin? I obviously don't use physical punishment but they are reprimanded in my setting for misbehaviour and it's generally a 'time out' depending on age. I did watch the program and don't think I could be any of the adults in it as I couldn't stand by and see a scared child or one who couldn't find a friend without jumping in to help, saying that though it did bring out the different personalities very well and she did have a friend and the scared child learnt to overcome his fears.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chris goodyear View Post
    You got me really thinking bunyip as your last example of this poor little girl stopped me in my tracks. I hope this is the more unusual of cases but do you agree that the pc world has got the balance wrong? As well as praise and encouragement I think kids should be shown that certain behaviours are just not acceptable so they get both sides of the coin? I obviously don't use physical punishment but they are reprimanded in my setting for misbehaviour and it's generally a 'time out' depending on age. I did watch the program and don't think I could be any of the adults in it as I couldn't stand by and see a scared child or one who couldn't find a friend without jumping in to help, saying that though it did bring out the different personalities very well and she did have a friend and the scared child learnt to overcome his fears.
    Ever since I came into childcare, I've been conscious of what I see as the frankly risible degree of 'over-praising' that goes on. You know the sort of thing: everyone from Level 0.5 nursery assistants to middle-class mumsies fresh from their latest child-rearing lifestyle paperback, shouting American-style "good jaaahb" at little Tarquin just because his poo is the right colour, or "good clapping", "good dancing", "good goddamn breathing", etc.

    Yes, I've tended to think we need a bit more, shall we say.....balance (it goes without saying, in a non-violent manner.)

    And yes, the example I gave is probably the most extreme I've encountered (to date: never say "never" in this job. ) But I keep turning this over in my struggling mind, and can't help thinking this applies to some degree in almost every case. Every child I see seems to have some sort of fear or disappointment if they miss out on the reward or the praise. I'm not saying I know a better way, but I can't help asking if a better way might not exist. If denial of praise amounts to the same thing as punishment or criticism (and I'm beginning to think it is) then do we have the right to use this sort of back-door coercion? What message eventually gets through to the child who never quite achieves? When do they give up trying to please, like the child who gives up on sports day because they never make the podium?

    I've begun trying to affirm children in ways that you could call non-behaviour-related: such as "it's so nice to see you today" or "I'm really enjoying us all being here together". Yes, I know..... it does go against the grain for a Miserable Ol' Bunyip, but there we are.

    Without wishing to hijack the thread, I'd be interested in others' views and ideas on this.
    Last edited by bunyip; 11-11-2017 at 12:09 PM.

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    When I initially set about prep for a PhD I looked into this area...and discovered loads of people had completed studies on it...mainly Americans. This article summarises some of these studies:

    The effects of praise: What scientific studies reveal

    I think children need boundaries established and praise. So I think a good mix is the way to go. I am not a fan of praising normal, everyday expected behaviour though, unless it is part of an individual plan. Younger children do need praise more than older children as right and wrong is established. Summary praise of what a great day we are having and why I think that is - is my usual way. Rewards, gifts, trophies etc... are not my way either. I remember my eldest coming home after a first report at high school with the fact that everyone in his friendship group had been rewarded for grades with money.
    He proposed we should start it and came up with a chart of how much A’s, B’s etc were worth. Considering he was always A* in everything he thought he was on to a good thing. We had a big discussion around his sibling, who found some subjects difficult and whether it was fair to give more money for an A when he was hardly likely to stand a chance of getting A’s in these subjects, through no fault of his own. I gave in to peer pressure in the end and rewarded the effort grade as that was something that they both had an influence over regardless of how clever they were. I suppose the point of this tale is that praise rewards I think should be given for something a child can achieve, but not easily.

    When I was people watching on the front in Brighton not long ago I watched a family from a distance, mum praised everything, from the child walking next to her, his ability to share, pat the dog, eat, to how nice he was being to his brother in a lovely soft voice.....but that was her only conversation, there were interesting seabirds, a man on a penny farthing, the Brighton i360, boats, interesting pebbles.....all ignored or not pointed out. So her only interaction was around the child’s behaviour. At the time I wondered where that would lead to and how self centred he might turn out to be.
    Praise can be over the top sometimes.

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    I agree with everything already said...

    There is a subtle (or maybe huge?) difference between 'praise' and 'attention'. We all crave attention and recognition, it doesn't always have to come in the form of a compliment the 'well done/good jaaaahb' (love the spelling Bunyip, it's a bit of a family catch phrase for when we're being mock sarcastic to each other).

    I've also seen two examples of the exact same thing Floradora - shallow but prolific amount of compliments. The conversation never went deeper and it was driving me insane in the short while I was subjected to it. It wasn't rich, stimulating interaction or interested attention which gave the recipient any feeling of self worth or developed them as a person in any way. I'd say in the examples we have all mentioned, the type of praise wasn't sufficient to be the 'attention' that humans crave.

    (Yes, I know it was just a snap shot and I am far,far from the perfect parent myself, and yes, I would rather see what I saw than someone shouting and swearing at their child, but in the context of this topic just adding my bit...)

    Bunyip I love your examples (I'm enjoying us all being here together etc) and they are far more affirming than a 'well done'.

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