A civil discussion with a small child

January 22, 2010

This morning I was having a discussion with one of my children about the wisdom and consequences of future actions. The way the conversation evolved cracked me up.
YHN: “No, you can’t put the horsie in the bathtub, because it has batteries.”
Child: “Yes, I can.”
YHN: “No, see it will get wet and eventually corroded and ruined.”
Child: “No, it won’t.”
YHN: “Yes, it will. Whatever gives you the idea that you can put this horsie in the bathtub?”
Child: “[Elder Sibling] said it was okay.”
Right. This would be the [Elder Sibling] who Child opposes at just about every turn, particularly when it comes to [Elder Sibling] informing Child what Child may or may not do. With toys, generally.
Our conversation ran aimlessly for a good while after that with Child sticking firmly to the assertion that throwing a horsie in the bathtub was okay under the aegis of [Elder Sibling]’s authoritative permission*. The discussion was more or less amicable and The Man did not have to break out the tools of repression. I.e., Child was eventually distracted by something shiny.
Deploying a cherry-picked authority in support of what you already believe or want to do, to avoid engaging evidence and rationale (and yes, opposing authority) which you fear might contradict your pre-existing position or desire is apparently an early-formed trait.
No wonder we have such difficulty maturing past it.
*note that it is entirely possible that Child misunderstood what [Elder Sibling] had to say on the topic or that [Elder Sibling] had never ventured an opinion on the topic.

No Responses Yet to “A civil discussion with a small child”

  1. Coturnix Says:

    Your footnote is important – we have difficulty maturing past that as well.


  2. S. Rivlin Says:

    How about letting Child experiment with horsie swimming in tub and later see for him/herself the consequences? Or horsie is too expensive for such an experiment? Could Toys-R-Us grant award solve the latter possibility?


  3. DrugMonkey Says:

    Ahh, S.Rivlin, very interesting. First of all, note that the PI and CoPI on this particular project may differ in their approaches so until there is a collaborator’s meeting, I can’t assert firmly that things might not proceed differently during a later experiment. Second, when the research equipment belongs to another trainee in the laboratory, things can get complicated. Other trainees are not always sanguine about their favorite pipette being messed up, even if you DO offer to buy them a new one later. The ensuing lasting resentment between lab members may be more important than providing an immediate empirical opportunity.


  4. S. Rivlin Says:

    Years ago, the late Ephraim Racker visited our lab (my doctoral mentor was once Racker’s postdoc). At the time I had an idea for an experiment that my mentor and I were arguing if it would provide us with the information we were seeking. My mentor suggested that I’d ask Racker for his opinion upon his visit. I did. Racker’s response was: “Young man, by the time you mull the possible outcomes of that experiment, debating it with your mentor and waiting for me to visit here to ask for my opinion, you could run the experiment and have the results.”


  5. anne Says:

    I would let Child experiment but would include in the pre-experiment conversation a little discussion on potential consequences of assuming that Elder sib is correct (horsie will survive). And if your experiment proves that Elder was incorrect, who is going to take responsibility for horsie’s death and no horsie in the future. Are we going to blame anyone ?. Who ?.
    It is possible that the pre-experiment conversation discourages Child from playing with horsie in the tub. It is equally possible that his/her drive for the experiment is so intense that he/she’s imagining or making up Elder’s claim to deny her own intuition on probable horsie’s death
    I think that the lessons Child can learn from the experiment are worthy the cost of a new horsie. If time (coping with no horsie for a while) shows that Child integrated the lessons appropriately, I will get her/him a new horsie (or another toy).


  6. becca Says:

    Don’t you need IRB approval?
    I don’t think electric battery things mix well with water. Furthermore, what about the consequences of OH LOOK, SHINY!…


  7. Eric Lund Says:

    Don’t you need IRB approval?
    Only for experiments involving people who are not the experimenters, and maybe for experiments involving live animals. For most physical science experiments like the one proposed here the IRB plays no role.


  8. S. Rivlin Says:

    “Don’t you need IRB approval?
    Maybe IACUC approval, not IRB. After all, it’s a horsie.


  9. anne Says:

    I think that DM/Rivlin transposed the initial discourse on civility between an adult and a toddler into a more complex setting that includes rules on playing, arbitrators, personal property toys, tantalizing players with more attractive items for playing etc. IMO, those two possible situations are not comparable; however we can always decide which setting is preferable for the purpose of discussion.


  10. becca Says:

    Eric- I was expressly informed I needed IRB approval to participate in my own experiments. I can’t even use my own blood to grow my parasites without it.
    Typically, this is explained as protection for grad students, whose PIs would treat them as walking organ farms waiting to be harvested without some ethical oversight.
    I admit I was imagining this conversation taking place with Child IN the bathtub (or at least planning to submerge horsie personally). If you devise a remote operating submersion devise, you would avoid that issue.


  11. DSKS Says:

    “How about letting Child experiment with horsie swimming in tub and later see for him/herself the consequences? Or horsie is too expensive for such an experiment?”
    Judging by the number of gizmos I’ve accidentally put through the wash only to have them come out the other side with their function intact, I think DM made a safe bet not to risk either damaging an expensive toy or the possibility of being proven wrong.


  12. anne Says:

    I am not sure if DM made that safe bet that you mention. I don’t even know what you mean by safe. “Not risking damaging an expensive toy or the possibility of being proven wrong” sound like a good recipe for REPEATING what is known or supposed to work and not learning anything new or advancing new ways for learning. I don’t know how safe is that for the future of a child or an experimenter.


  13. Sharon Astyk Says:

    On the same note, this Chanukah, upon receipt of a truly awesome microscope from his aunt, my six year old turned to me and said “Daddy said we could build a lab in the garage.”
    I turned to my husband in some measure of astonishment. Husband raised his hands in the universal “not me” gesture. I looked back at my son. “Well, I thought he must have said that. It would be really cool!”
    Subtle distinction.


  14. S. Rivlin Says:

    Sharon, if one is allowed to believe in the “great miracle that happened there”, one should be allowed to believe in a lab in the garage.


  15. Pascale Says:

    I am just delighted to observe the degree of civility present in an exchange rife with conflict.
    My kid would have pissed on the bath mat…


  16. Stephanie Z Says:

    Don’t overestimate a child’s willingness to learn broad lessons from…interesting experiments. I do have a friend who had to find out (at some young age) whether a knife in the electrical socket ended in the same result as a key in the socket.


  17. anonymous Says:

    Stephanie Z,
    I do have a sister (Elder Sib) who at a rather old age found out that a placing a knife in the electrical socket ended in the same result as playing the lady with the big cigar.
    Common experiences on learning broad lessons from unanticipated experiments !!!!


  18. Andrew Says:

    DM, There is a third alternative to your footnote. Depending on the age of Elder Sibling, it may be aware of the possible damage but jealous of young siblings horsie and want to see it broken


  19. sikiş Says:

    I don’t expect everyone to love science, but the strong aversion to the subject I see in many people is troubling. What happens when this person has to make a health decision? Can they look past the pseudoscience in advertising and make good choices as consumers? Can they fully participate in questions about policy regarding science and technology such as stem cell research, environmental issues, genetic testing or engineering?


  20. Jim Thomerson Says:

    While raising my children, I decided they should win the small arguments, but I would win the large ones. OK, you can have a purple streak in your hair, No, you cannot pierce your tongue. They need to develop individuality with out getting carried away.


  21. S. Rivlin Says:

    What so individual about purple streak in one’s hair or pierced tongue? Kids will mostly copy what their class leader or bully does rather than their parent.


  22. Shitlin, I got a deal for you. You put a purple streak in your hair and post the picture–you can blank out your face and any other identifying features–and I’ll buy a copy of your stupid fucking book. Deal?


  23. stripey_cat Says:

    Is older sibling sneaky enough that they could have set up younger sibling to destroy their horsey, and then go squealing to parental authority to demand retribution and/or compensation-more-interesting-than-horsey?


  24. VRWC Says:

    Some people never grow up.
    Reactionaries: “Be careful with credits, this may create a bubble”
    Progressives: “Nonsense, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are not in any danger, and this reactionary talk only restricts the housing opportunities for the poor.” (Rep. Barney Frank)
    2007 The bad credits bubble: “BOOOOM!”


  25. Jim Thomerson Says:

    Re Comment 21. I suppose by developing individualism, I mean being different from me. As it happened, all three of my kids were leaders and instigators and not inclined to put up with bullies. I was most pleased when my adult daughter remarked to her mother and me, “It scares me how much of you guys I see in myself.”
    There is a brand of psychology which holds that our nature is made up of three components, Our adult self, our inner child, and our parents. Interesting idea!


  26. S. Rivlin Says:

    For whatever reason, a comment of mine to which Jim Thomerson responded in comment #25 has been twice deleted, that despite the fact that DM claims he has not done it. While I have my suspicions, I will try once more to post that comment here, so here goes:
    “Shitlin, I got a deal for you. You put a purple streak in your hair and post the picture–you can blank out your face and any other identifying features–and I’ll buy a copy of your stupid fucking book. Deal?”
    [blah] kids, when they, supposedly, demonstrate “individuality” (comment #20), they actually immitating another kid they or their friends admire, whether for the right or the wrong reasons. [blah]


  27. Rivlin, you’ve been told numerous times that your commentary on the ue of “profanity” at this blog is off-topic, and that any such comments will be deleted. Commentary on the use of “profanity” by any other bloggers–either here at ScienceBlogs or elsewhere–is even more off-topic, and will also be deleted.
    If you want to endlessly whine about how “profanity” is destroying the world, get your own motherfucking blog asshole.


  28. Eli Rabett Says:

    What is a blog asshole?


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