Today’s challenge came in via the book of faces from the one and only Heidi VelvetShock, aka The Purple Lady, aka my Auntie DeNyse. She wanted me to opine on the Only Child Syndrome. I did some research and have written the following essay based on her request. Let me know how you think I did in the comments.
Stereotypes are an interesting phenomenon. Once they are established they are nearly impossible to get away from, and while they can be created very quickly, those that can eventually be overturned, take years to undo.
In the case of children without siblings, a single study (not well constructed or analyzed) led G. Stanley Hall, a renowned child expert in the late 19th century, to proclaim it a disease: Only Child Syndrome. These children are often labelled as selfish, are perceived to have difficulty making friends, and are deemed much more difficult to raise.
This is an interesting outcome of the study, considering its only true conclusion was that teachers were more likely to label these kids as “peculiar” and “exceptional,” and more often than not these kids performed very well academically and would do everything they could to please their parents. Yet, the negative connotations of the stereotype persisted.
In a historical context, families with only one child are extremely rare. Average family sizes have been shrinking recently (though, there is some debate on whether it can be counted as a trend or just a temporary statistical anomaly), and more research has concluded that the “spoiled brat” stereotype for only children is a fallacy. Despite the increased prevalence of only children in our societies and the scientific studies that have concluded there is “no evidence of any greater prevalence of maladjustment,” the stereotypes persist.
Interestingly enough, in the cases where the stereotypes hold true, it is likely a result of misinformation and societal pressure. If a child is told he is spoiled over and over again, they are likely to begin to believe that. Or, if parents are told that they are spoiling their child, they are likely to change their behavior to ensure they aren’t. These are not new problems. These are issues that only children and their parents are fully aware of do their best to combat. But, they can’t do it alone. A quick search on the internet or perusal of library shelves shows the prominence of the discussion around this topic. However, the stereotypes persist.
So, how we do fight these unfair stereotypes?
It starts with those of us on the periphery. We have to stop ourselves from spreading rumors, conjecture, and untruths. We have to help unravel these stereotypes so, over time, they will be forgotten in future generations.
It would also be wise to question all stereotypes your encounter in your daily lives. When were they started? Why? How? Is there any truth to them? Strip away all your preconceived notions and view the world with open eyes.