Is it healthy for kids to experience pain and fear?
Though it is understandable why kids should not be exposed to certain things at their young age, it is unreasonable to shield them completely from content that is frightening and sometimes painful. Censorship for children should exist, but it should not extend to the point that certain disciplinary methods are outlawed and well-meaning films cannot be watched. Pain and fear are part of the human experience, and if children learn to cope with these feelings, they will ultimately be better prepared for when they enter the real world.
I want to thank Pro for posting this debate and look forward to what’s to come.
First to frame this issue I want to start by providing some definitions to frame this debate (all from Merriam Webster1) on the following: Is it healthy for kids to experience pain and fear?
Healthy:conducive to health
Kid:a young person; especially: CHILD — often used as a generalized reference to one especially younger or less experienced
Experience:the process of doing and seeing things and of having things happen to you
I would also like to offer a few observations for this topic:
1 – it was not specified if we are discussing psychological health, emotional health, physical health, etc.; thus we shall evaluate health in the general and all areas are applicable.
2 – the burden of the Pro side is to prove that in some way experiencing fear and pain are healthy for children, in order to disprove this my burden is to show that these emotions have either no effect on our health, or have a negative effect.
3 – the Pro’s constructive focused on exposing children to these emotions both through media and punishments, framing this debate as an evaluation of children’s need to deliberately experience the emotions, shifting the focus to if they are exposed to these feelings in an intentional matter.
Throughout my arguments I will be strengthening the points with quotations from a Lifespan Psychology textbook I have with me in the physical form*. By using only direct quotations I will be making the information easier to collaborate, and if anyone has a paradigm against this you may disregard the evidence from this source and my case still should stand.
Psychological - Children Need a Secure Environment to Have Proper Psychological Development
It is important that a child has a secure base that they’re allowed to explore the world from. For them this person is generally their primary caregiver and babies develop an exclusive attachment to them. This relationship is demonstrated in behaviors like proximity-seeking behavior (“acting to maintain physical contact or to be close to an attachment figure”* pg. 13) and social referencing (“a baby’s checking back and monitoring a caregiver for cues as to how to behave while exploring”* pg. 14). Being able to enter the phase of clear-cut attachment (“critical human attachment phase, from 7 months through toddlerhood, defined by separation anxiety, stranger anxiety, and needing a primary caregiver close”* pg. 14) is essential for a child to successfully venture out into the world. Deliberate introduction of emotions like fear and pain compromise this relationship because the caregiver can’t be exclusively depended on, harming a child’s ability to explore and develop.
Erik Erikson was a lifespan psychologist who set out theories about the different “tasks” that an individual strives to master throughout their life, showing in a series of 8 stages the progression throughout human life. As seen in definition section above, the term “kid” posed in the topic of this debate references one who is “younger or less experienced”, so to stay in line with this, I will be focusing on how fear and pain affect someone within the first 3 stages of Erikson’s theory, spanning up to age 6 (as addition of the next stage would place us evaluating children 6-12, requiring exploration of preteens who are in a significantly different stage of life)2. During the first stage (Infancy 0 to 1) children struggle between trust vs. mistrust. Given that an infant cannot really provide for themselves they are largely dependent upon others to meet their needs; therefore, during this time infants need a secure environment in which they, “must be able to blindly trust their parents”2. Introducing fear and pain deliberately to an infant in this stage would have major harms in that not only would it take away their ability to blindly trust their parents, but it would also damage the security of their environment by making it unpredictable. Looking at the second stage of development (1 to 2) we see toddlers differentiating between autonomy and doubt. As they became more independent, mainly through being able to walk, it is important that toddlers learn what they are capable of themselves. In this stage, pain as punishment in particularly would be psychologically damaging, since, “if parents are overprotective or disapproving of the child's acts of independence, she may begin to feel ashamed of her behavior, or have too much doubt of her abilities”2. Finally looking at the third stage (2 to 6) where children face the conflict of initiative vs. guilt. This stage is mostly an expansion on the last as children are now equipped with more motor skills and begin socializing at large, and here being too harsh may leave children feeling, “that it is wrong to be independent”2. Erikson’s stages outline what an individual struggles to understand at each stage of life, and there are clear psychological consequences if they fail to learn these lessons properly. Given how experiencing fear and pain pose a great risk to children during this vulnerable time, it is clear that deliberating exposing children to these emotions (through media, punishment and other mediums) does not benefit a child’s psychological health.
Attachment theory, proposed by John Bowlby, is centered on the idea that how an individual is able to bond with their primary caregiver, ultimately affects the relationships that they will have throughout the rest of their life3. The work of other psychologists, mainly Mary Ainsworth, who built off of Bowlby’s ideas has resulted in the labelling of 4 possible attachment styles: secure (good), avoidant (bad), resistant (bad), and disorganized (bad)4. Placing in a kid in a situation of un-do fear or pain can harm a child be causing them to develop one of the insecure attachment styles – “Insecurity can be a significant problem in our lives, and it takes root when an infant’s attachment bond fails to provide the child with sufficient structure, recognition, understanding, safety, and mutual accord”5. Given that the attachment style shared with a primary caregiver is largely indicative as to how an individual will relate with other people, putting a child in circumstances that encourage insecure attachment early on has long-lasting negative effects to that individual’s emotional health.
“Scaring and hitting a child are two different behaviors, but they are both abusive and unnatural. Remember frightened children will become the frightened adults who have great difficulty trusting others because they are in fear and waiting for the attack.”6 – Dr. McDonald, Health Psychology of San Diego
Given these clear harms to both the psychological and emotional health of a child in response to exposure to fear and pain, it is clear that when evaluating if it is healthy for kids to experience pain and fear we must answer no.
* Belsky, Janet K. Experiencing the Lifespan. 3rd ed. New York: Worth, 2013. Print.
2Sense forfeited this round.
As my opponent forfeited the rebuttal round, my points stand unattacked so far in this debate and should flow through.
To address my opponent's case - as I stated in my constructive, the burden of Pro is to prove that in some way experiencing fear and pain are healthy for children. However, while my opponent poses many interesting questions in her case regarding censorship and punishment, she never actually speaks to how experiencing these emotions are harmful to kids. Whereas, in my case, I outline how experiencing these emotions through being exposed to the harsh media or possibly physical forms of punishment that the Pro advocates for is detrimental to both the psychological and emotional health of children.
The closest my opponent comes to upholding the burden when she states "Pain and fear are part of the human experience, and if children learn to cope with these feelings, they will ultimately be better prepared for when they enter the real world." However, for this I want you to apply my secure base argument from my first point on psychological harms. It would be ridiculous to assume that children will never experience pain or fear in any source throughout their life; however, the importance of the parental relationship is that it serves as the base that children can explore the world from. This is exemplified in the proximity-seeking behavior I referenced, with children referencing back to their parent*. It is also described in the following:
"Watch children. You can see how they use the secure base. It is easiest to see when the child is old enough to move around on his own. The child may be sitting with the parent and then roll, crawl, walk, or run away from the parent. He will explore, play, and discover new things about the environment, but often checks back with the parent. He may look back and smile. He might say something to the parent, or hold up something he found or made. If the parent responds, he will go back to exploring. Sometimes he will come back and hug the parent or sit on his lap then go off again." (http://www.extension.purdue.edu...)
In order to properly experience the fear and pain that are natural, unavoidable aspects of life, children must have a secure base to reach out from. My stance is that deliberately experiencing children the emotions of fear and pain harms their relationship with their primary caregiver and therefore damages the relationship with the one that they're going to explore the world from (from a psychological stance). I also uphold damaging this relationship damages their ability to form other relationships.
I will include my rebuttal as well as the summarization of my position in this round.
The points within my rebuttal will include:
1) Children's response to pain and fear
2) How children should be exposed pain and fear deliberately, yet controlled.
3) The reasons why pain and fear are emotionally, psychologically, and physically healthy
For this topic, it is important to keep in mind that not all children are going have the same response to certain things. Something scary may be interesting to one child, while something scary may be too much for another child to handle. In the latter situation, I do not believe the parent should deliberately expose their children to something they are not ready for. And it is up to the parent to determine what they will or will not expose their children to.
That being said, what a child is ready to experience, and what a child wants to experience are two different things. No child wants to experience being yelled at by a parent or to experience the unpleasant sensation of a spanking. No child wants to have their favorite toy taken away or to be placed in a corner for extended periods of time.
But these are disciplinary methods, and, depending on the child, all of them can be effective in their own way.
The defense for fear and pain initiated through physical punishment is that it shapes expectation. If the child does something once, and is punished for it, the child will know what to expect the next time he or she is inclined to do it, and will avoid it out of fear of the consequences. Some argue that fear and pain are one of the strongest of human's responses, therefore this method of discipline can be considered effective. The key factor however, is that these things must be doled out in a controlled and moderated manner. Fear and pain do not create an insecure environment. Irrationality and lack of control do.
The parents or whoever is responsible for the child must have awareness of their actions and an understanding of why they are doing what they're doing. If the awareness and control is there, the child should not feel insecure in his or her environment because the punishment will not be constant, irrational, and unexpected. Most importantly, the reasons behind the punishment will be understood, therefore construed as a learning tool, rather than an unpredictable threat. Also keep in mind, even for parents who don't use physical punishment, fear still becomes a factor for children. That fear of losing their toy, or being sent to their room still exists. It's just fear on varying levels that ultimately depend on the child.
Fear created from other sources such as TV, books, and other media are justifiable for children to experience as well. Many people fear that this type of exposure is the most dangerous because it is the least controllable. Thus, instead of letting kids' curiosity lead them to viewing frightening things on their own, we tend to shut those sources out completely. But it's this curiosity that children have towards the fearful that is important to consider. Indeed, there are plenty of innocent and bright sources of entertainment out there for kids such as Barney and Friends or Sesame Street, and these shows are meant for educational purposes. But what about darker tales that are still meant to educate? Grimm's Classic Fairy Tales were highly more graphic and disturbing than their Disney counterparts, but they were initially intended for kids. Similar to a parent's use of pain as a punishment, those stories utilized fear as a mechanism to teach lessons.
Yes, children enjoy the educational lessons of Barney in the modern day, but what about the darker content present in films that are still intended for children? What is it about Coraline that speaks differently to children than what Barney does?
An important thing to keep in mind is that kids should not be underestimated. While it doesn't take much to scare some kids, as they are easily intimidated, other kids will be frightened but will continue watching nevertheless. My opponent and I can probably think back to some examples of scary films from our own childhoods that simultaneously scared and intrigued us.
My argument is that because the very fact these scary images contrast the friendly face of Barney and friends, children take interest. The fear factor is something new, as well as the lesson being taught.
Don Bluth once said, "You can show anything to a child as long as it has a happy ending".
Adrenaline, shock, dread, and anxiety all feed into fear and play a role when something scary is being watched. But they also feed into the feeling of being challenged, the feeling of adventure, and perhaps the feeling of hope. In a way, even though it's scary, it's fun for kids to experience. It's exciting. The scary experience ultimately pays off even more when the resolution is reached, a lesson is learned, and the happy ending is found.
My opponent stated that exposure to fear and pain creates an improper connection with parents, but it is actually a proper connection that is necessary in order for parents to observe what their kids are ready for and thus control what they will and will not be exposed to. This observation and control are basically the foundation of building and preparing kids for the world.
As my opponent stated, "It would be ridiculous to assume that children will never experience pain or fear in any source throughout their life; however, the importance of the parental relationship is that it serves as the base that children can explore the world from."
With that in mind, how else are children going to learn to deal with pain and fear later in their lives, if their parents never teach them to cope with fear and pain to begin with? Scary moments are a part of life, and rather than avoiding those moments, children have to learn to deal with it. Parents have to challenge their kids with feelings they haven't experienced, and sometimes feelings they may not even want to experience. Scary movies, TV shows, books, pain, and discipline all teach children that is alright to feel afraid, that there is no shame in fear, that it is part of the human experience, and ultimately, they teach how to appropriately cope with fear and pain later in life.
To summarize, if in moderation, fear and pain are healthy for kids to experience for the following reasons:
-It challenges kids to experience different emotions, cope with life's scares and obstacles, and to understand themselves as well as the world around them.
-Helps them experience new feelings that they will deal with later in life
-Educates kids about morals and self discipline
-Shapes and strengthens kids as humans
-Motivates kids to question the world
-Shows kids how to use caution without feeling paranoid or terrified
In conclusion, fear and pain teaches children that there can be scary and good things in the world. If it is within the reasons provided above, and doled out with control and in moderation within a secure environment, it should be acceptable to say that it is healthy for kids to experience fear and pain.
2) The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales by the Brother's Grimm
Thank you to Pro for the debate and I’m sorry you’re Internet went down!
I will start by highlighting a few voters that are central to our debate:
-Evidence and burden of proof. As I stated in my initial post, “the burden of the Pro side is to prove that in some way experiencing fear and pain are healthy for children”. Unfortunately, my opponent has still failed to achieve this. While she presents many interesting questions regarding how it may be good, she never proves this. Whereas, I outline with specific citations to research and psychological theories how deliberately exposing children to pain and fear harms them both psychological and emotionally.
-Secure base. The secure base argument that I presented was never attacked by my opponent. The importance behind this argument is that it means that when children experience unavoidable pain and fear in the real world, they can return to their parents and rely on them to help understand the emotions. It is because of this that children don’t need to be deliberately exposed to these emotions to understand them. Therefore, we see that deliberate exposure provides no unique benefits they won’t achieve through other means.
Now I shall move on to address some of the points my opponent brought up in her summary and show how they fail to uphold the Pro’s side.
My opponent acknowledges that some children may respond negatively to certain disciplinary actions, but then tries to uphold that they may still be beneficial for some children – however, she has no sufficient evidence backing this point up (returning us to the first voter). For example, she attempts to use classical conditioning to back this up, “If the child does something once, and is punished for it, the child will know what to expect the next time he or she is inclined to do it, and will avoid it out of fear of the consequences.” However, this assumes that classical conditioning is a flawless disciplinary action that needs to be used once before collecting my opponent’s proposed benefits; yet, she has nothing backing this assumption. Furthermore, this is largely flawed because it is based on the assumption that children, who I outlined in my constructive to be aged 0-6, can reason through their actions rationally and exercise perfect self-control. This flaw is repeated when she says, “… the child should not feel insecure in his or her environment because the punishment will not be constant, irrational and unexpected. Most importantly, the reasons behind the punishment will be understood, therefore construed as a learning tool, rather than an unpredictable threat.” Again what is crucial to this is that this argument is incredibly hypothetical and lacks sufficient support from evidence.
Here my opponent turns to the argument that fear serves as a healthy teaching mechanism. Again return to the first voter and realize that there is a lack of substantiation of this point. She uses the existence of Grimm’s Classic Fairy Tales as support claiming, “those stories utilized fear as a mechanism to teach lessons”. However, she fails to show, even with this example, what is so uniquely beneficial about using these tales over their Disney counterparts. While she claims they’re effective teaching mechanism, she doesn’t prove it. The closest is a quotation from animator, “You can show anything to a child as long as it has a happy ending.” This doesn’t demonstrate any healthy benefits from doing so, and again fails to uphold her burden of proof.
My opponent describes how a person physically reacts to watching something scary and explains these are the same reactions as someone who is feeling challenged claiming, “In a way, even though it’s scary, it’s fun for kids to experience.” However, just because to emotions share similar reactions doesn’t mean that you feel both under a certain circumstance. If you get an adrenaline rush when you do something challenging and one when you watch a scary movie, that doesn’t mean you feel the same emotions under both situations. Again, we’re looking at what we should expose children ages 0-6 to and they lack sufficient cognitive development to remove themselves from the situation as they are still struggling to determine who they are.
Emotional Harm Through Connection with Parents
Here we return to the second voter as my opponent ignored the secure base argument when she attacked this point. She asked, “…how else are children going to learn to deal with pain and fear later in their lives, if their parents never teach them to cope with fear and pain to begin with?” This is the entire premise behind the secure base, the child goes out and experiences the world, and when they inevitably encounter a situation where they experience pain or fear, they return to their secure base who helps them understand the situation and comforts them. There is no need to deliberately expose these children to these emotions to teach them how to respond when they will naturally encounter learning experiences. Furthermore, promoting a healthier relationship with their parents increases their ability to learn from their parents as they feel more reliant upon them.
While new arguments shouldn’t be introduced in the summary, I would like to respond to the new evidence my opponent only introduced in her own summary post, as I’ve had no other chance to do so. So the following addresses her four sources (as my opponent never sources which sources tie into which arguments, I will be attacking their relevance to the debate in general):
1) This is a journal article that seeks to tie together the physiological and psychological aspects of feeling chronic pain to help shape physical therapy. As we are not looking at treating chronic pain due to injury this doesn’t apply to our debate.
2) Here she simply cites the existence of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. However, existence of something doesn’t serve as sufficient evidence to prove it is healthy. Neither does the fact that it was once socially accepted, as there are many examples of things that used to be accepted but are no longer are (i.e. slavery which gets hammered as an example of this).
3) This is an article that speaks to panic attacks and having a “fear of fear”. However, it doesn’t speak to any aspect of my opponent’s case. In fact, it goes against what she advocates for as it describes in a hypothetical situation an unavoidable instance of fear (a woman almost being hit by a car) as “justified”; however, it explains how fear may be unhealthy (when she’s in a movie theater and contemplates which exit to use in case of an emergency and then essentially has an anxiety attack). This article speaks to how dangerous and unnecessary fear may be when an individual is not actually in danger and doesn’t relate to Pro’s case.
4) This is a descriptive article on what fear is, but goes against Pro’s case. From the text, “When fear gets out of control, or when we fear something that cannot actually harm us, it can escalate to a point where it effects our daily functioning … Experiencing an alarm response when there is in fact nothing to be afraid of is known as panic … Panic is an immediate physical response to unrealistic and irrational fears. This can have a huge affect on both your emotional and physical well-being – as well as your ability to reach your full potential.” This article advocates against fearing something which can’t harm you, which is something a scary movie easily fits into the definition of. Even more, this article directly states, “Children are also at risk of overactive fear, as they are not always able to rationalize fears that are unrealistic or unfounded.” This ties back to my earlier arguments about how children aren’t intellectually developed enough to rationalize through their fear so using it deliberately wouldn’t be effective. Clearly, this article isn’t support for Pro’s case.
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