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Bronson and Merryman have written a book that tries to address a central question of our time: how can we bring up our children to be fully developed, considerate human beings, who live not only for themselves, but for others? How can we help them become people who inhabit a wider world, and not just hang out in a video parlor?
The fundamental concept underlying the "new science of kids" as reported by Bronson and Merryman is rooted in what they call the need for "self-regulation." This may sound like a pumped-up way of making an obvious point about the need for civil behavior among the wild and unruly and selfish. It's certainly related to Daniel Goleman's concept of Emotional Intelligence, which tells us to promote habits of self-control, maturity, and delayed gratification, as well as civilized behavior in the family and workplace. But self-regulation is something more encompassing: it refers to the growing science of self-monitoring, of what it takes to build a cohesive, balanced inner self. It's not simply a stiff upper lip, a right whip hand. Think of Plato's image of the charioteer: balanced and tempered, pulling the reigns on his (inner) bevy of horses in a balanced way.
They profile an educational program called Tools for the Mind, which is supposed to develop self-control in children and enhance their capacity to learn through an intricate regime of structured play (yes, you read that right, not military discipline). It's an experimental program for preschool and kindergarten kids, which requires them to take part in highly developed, imaginative scenarios. They play parts like fireman and victim and ambulance driver, while the whole classroom is turned into a street scene, with burning buildings in the corner. Through the use of these play scenarios, young children begin to monitor their own behaviors as they spontaneously get into the "flow" of the intense action. The object is to cultivate what might be called the inner monitor. This inner self, as yet barely developed in these children, forms the groundwork upon which a mature self can emerge.
It's an experiment that has caught on in various parts of the country and improved classroom scores on a variety of educational and behavioral measures, but it requires a visionary thrust, elaborate training by teachers, and coordination with higher grades so that the program's results don't "decay." Whether it will catch on, who knows? We've seen such programs come and go before. The point is that we're learning more and more about what it means to bring up emotionally balanced, competent, socially aware children, even amid the noise and glitter of our digital, consumer culture. That's what Bronson is trying to do for his son Luke, and what all of us want for our own kids. With all the confusing information that's out there today, Bronson and Merryman have provided the service of pulling together how "the new science of kids" can help all of us do the best job of parenting we can.
Richard Handler, M.A., is a radio producer and columnist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto, Canada. Contact: email@example.com. Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.psychotherapynetworker.org. Log in and you'll find the comment section on every page of the online Magazine section.