Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hand-me-down magazine psychology

For as long as I can remember my mom has been a subscriber to the magazine Libelle (Dragonfly). It's been around for generations and their target audience is women of any age. I'm sure I looked at the pictures before I could read, I remember first reading the comic strip on the back and later the short letters sent in by readers and, later still, the articles and interviews.

The Libelle subscription crossed the Atlantic with my mom when we moved to Oregon and ever since I moved out of the house, my parents have been saving the magazines and present me with a stack almost every time we see each other.

It's nice to read some Dutch once in a while and whenever I get a stack, I try to pace myself, so I don't read them all at once. Occasionally, I will respond in Dutch if Jacob happens to ask me a question while reading.

The other day, I was happy to dig up an extra edition I had not yet read, that had fallen behind the shoe rack. It had a relaxation theme, with articles on the importance of taking time for yourself (Who has time for that? I thought as I flipped through it) and tips to increase your happiness.

One article "How to raise happy kids" caught my attention, 'cause really, who doesn't wonder and worry about their kids' happiness? It gave some obvious advice, like setting boundaries, giving kids responsibilities, allowing them to make mistakes, etc. but one, rather off-hand remark really got to me. It said "...want 'stel je niet aan' zeggen kan echt niet meer". Roughly translated, it means: because saying "don't overreact / act like a baby" really is not acceptable anymore.

"Stel je niet aan" has been somewhat of a slogan during my childhood. Not only me, but also my brother, classmates and probably much of our generation (and quite possibly generations before us) had this Dutch national mantra flung to our heads whenever we'd object too much, were convinced we'd been wronged, acted silly, pleaded or begged for something, dramatized anything or just plain wanted attention.

Reading the Libelle's opinion that the phrase should be scratched from the modern parenting vernacular made me realize what it has meant to me all these years. Just reading it, it immediately caught my attention and made me cringe. Why? Because amongst all the times it was tossed about when I was annoying or seriously silly, there were the times when I needed someone to listen. Whatever little, insignificant issue it was I was having, it was not insignificant to me a the time. "Stel je niet aan" rejects the idea that a child has an opinion, or rather, is experiencing an emotion worth acknowledging.

So, possibly for generations, Dutch kids have heard "stel je niet aan" when they objected because they thought their sibling was being favored, or when they threw a tantrum on the play ground because another kid took their toy, or when they cried when they did not want their mother to leave them at grandma and grandpa's house. And we've turned out ok - more or less, right?

We're a cynical, aloof, stubborn, suspicious, yet generous and equitable folk.
What will happen now?

According to the Libelle, we should listen to our children and, most importantly, acknowledge, instead of dismiss their feelings. This does not mean that you have to give in to the tantrums and whining, but you should acknowledge their frustration and express an interest in their problem. (I understand you are angry that girl took your toy. How do you think you can get it back?)

I'm trying to imagine a Holland with a generation of kids not having heard "stel je niet aan". Will they turn out to be confident, caring, well-adjusted adults? Probably. But maybe, 30 years from now, the Libelle will publish some contradictory advice like "Acknowledging kids' emotions turns them into over-confident, rude adults, so it's better to dismiss their problems now."

And so, I'm resigned to the fact that even if Joris will never hear "stel je niet aan", we're sure to mess him up in some other way.

1 comment:

Christine said...

I loved this post, from the title to the very end. Wish I'd written it.