I recently saw a movie entitled, “Flower and Garnet,” which could have just as easily been labeled “How to Train Your Child to be the Next Unibomber”. It is the story of a child, Garnet, whose mother dies delivering him and who grows up in an environment where he gets only the most minimal attention and nurturance by his clearly depressed father and his only sister Flower, six years older. He stays in the hospital after this traumatic birth longer than necessary because Dad doesn’t even want to pick him up to take him home. Dad’s sister finally takes him to stay with her, from where the baby’s older sister, Flower, goes to get Garnet herself and bring him home, carrying him several blocks in her arms. Left with no emotional sustenance or support other than the unreliably inadequate–how could it be otherwise?–attention of his older sister, he flounders around on his own, left to attend to all but his most basic physical needs.
When Garnet is around eight years old, he is making his own meals–for how long it is anyone’s guess–because no one prepares meals; each family member just forages for something and eats alone. He sits alone unattended while his father has his friends over and they play cards and drink, oblivious to his presence. When Dad is at work and his sister is occupied with having sex with her boyfriend, he is left to roam around the yard and neighborhood at will, entertaining himself in a very unstimulating environment. When the boy asks if what his father and girlfriend “do at night”–in the bedroom–“hurts” (after observing his father and girlfriend in bed and after finding his sister’s blood-spotted underwear) Dad tells him that they don’t do anything, that the girlfriend doesn’t even stay over. When Garnet asks for help, which is very seldom, he is ignored or treated like he is a bother.
When Dad gives him a beebe gun for his birthday, he doesn’t talk to him about any possible danger, dad merely shows him the basics of how to use it. When the boy begins to kill animals, no one notices because no one checks on him or is the least bit aware of what he does. When he uses his father’s gun to threaten the housekeeper, his father doesn’t consider the option of referring him to see a professional therapist, he just tells him that he can “just talk to him (Dad) and his sister (Flower) about anything” when this has never been the case, and Dad puts the gun back in an accessible place.
When Flower is about to give birth—because, of course, she got pregnant, and, of course, she wants to keep it in order to have her “own” child–having expressed her resentment over having to raise her brother, Garnet is just left to agonize in silence and feel overwhelmed by the anxiety that he is not only possibly going to lose the only “mother” he has ever had–the same way he lost his actual mother–but also by the knowledge that he is being replaced by his sister’s baby and so losing the only surrogate “mother” he has had. When he again finds his Dad’s gun and runs away to where his sister has been staying since her argument with Dad over her pregnancy, he lays in his sister’s infant’s crib where his father eventually finds him and finally tells him that his mother’s death was “not his fault” and that his sister “wants to see him”. All well and good but way too little, way too late. The story ends with Garnet being taken to the hospital to see his sister after her delivery, who luckily survived the birth of her child, and his asking to hold the baby, which his sister allows him to do.
One hopefully need not be a psychological professional to see how even though this small beginning in repairing this very damaged family, the family is a long way from being actually functional. If the dad had received the therapy he needed for his depression following the loss of his wife, he could have had the strength to be a father to both his children and had the sister received therapeutic support for the loss of her mother (and had her father been acting as a parent to her) she wouldn’t have felt compelled to be her brother’s parent or become another unprepared teen mother. In addition, the harm done to the boy from all the neglect would not need undoing.
In order to ensure that your child becomes very emotionally disturbed, alienated, and not only capable of harming others but prepared to do so:
- Make sure that he has no emotional support. This ensures that he feels isolated and alone and teaches him that his feelings and fears are unimportant and meaningless.
- Make sure that you lie to him or her, deny reality, and that you invalidate her or his perceptions. This teaches the lesson that lying is ok and that you are not trustworthy, planting the belief that no one should be trusted and that reality is arbitrary. When his or her perceptions are invalidated, it teaches the child to doubt his or her reality and begin to feel crazy and anxious. It also models and encourages secretiveness and emotional distancing and he or she will begin to share less and be more deceitful.
- Make sure that you neglect your child’s needs and give her no direction. This telegraphs her unimportance and teaches her that no one cares, that she is on her own and can’t expect any assistance, encouraging distrust of others. When a child is left to figure out things on her own when unprepared and inexperienced, it makes her feel overwhelmed, stupid, and helpless.
- Make sure you don’t talk about anything important with your child or ask him how he is doing. This ensures that your child learns that interaction is supposed to be superficial and detached, that it doesn’t matter what she is feeling or experiencing because no one cares, leaving her feeling abandoned and unloved.
- Delegate raising of your child to an older sibling. This lets you off the hook and puts undue pressure on the child’s older sister or brother, allowing him or her carte blanche to act out his or her frustration onto the younger sibling. This is how many children get abused emotionally, physically, and sexually; even if the older child is well-meaning, it sets both children up for conflict and the abuse of power.
- Attend to your own needs at the expense of your child’s. This way your child gets the message that when you’re an adult (translate older and bigger) you can do as you please and not consider anyone else’s needs or feelings. It is a perfect way to build resentment and disrespect for adults and to set the child up for very poor relationships with others.
- Put your child in the position of raising herself or himself; leave your child alone and unsupervised. This is perfect preparation for learning to be a loner because the child feels abandoned and meaningless, that nothing he or she does matters to anyone else. Therefore, he or she learns to ultimately disrespect and defy authority, to possess a sense of entitlement to make his or her own decisions, decide what is right or wrong without any tempering influence from others, and to later view attempts to correct him or her as intolerable interference.
- When your child asks for help or feedback, ignore, or worse yet, shame him. This teaches the child that it is smart to hide his fears and inadequacies, that it is dangerous and painful to open up to others.
- Give the child dangerous toys without proper instruction or supervision. This allows him or her to start misusing power on a serious level, prepares her or him for doing real damage, and to expect no limits or consequences.
- Ignore serious danger signs until they are at a catastrophic level. This allows the child to graduate from being a victim to a perpetrator and begin acting out by displacing his rage onto others.
On the other hand, if you would prefer to raise a healthy child, I would recommend that you not adhere to this list. In fact, it would be a good idea to basically do the opposite: give the child a lot of good, quality attention and support so he can bond with you and build healthy self-esteem; be honest and open in your communication so she can trust you; be receptive to your child so that she can come to you and express herself freely; encourage honest owning of his emotions and mistakes by modeling this yourself so that he develops openness and truthfulness; spend time with your child and make sure her feelings are addressed so that she feels valued and loved for who she is; never assign parenting to older siblings—this is a recipe for disaster—shoulder the parenting yourself; take care of yourself and your child but don’t put your needs ahead of his—this makes him feel devalued; give the child appropriate supervision so you can monitor her activities and redirect when necessary; pay attention when your child is showing signs of distress and act responsibly to protect your child and your family!
Do these things and your child will be emotionally intact and connected to other human beings in a meaningful way, rather than possess the psychological characteristics of a future unibomber: alienation, shame, isolation, inadequacy, resentment, emotional detachment, secretiveness, disconnection from his feelings and other people, and problems with authority. Don’t do these things and we all need to worry about the result: a destructive and violent sequel to the Flower and Garnet story.