I made a promise to myself at eighteen- no child psychology.
I love children. I’ll call them ‘sprog‘ and ‘brats‘ in my mind and have unjust opinions about them and with this attitude you’d want to keep your little miracle away from me. But beneath whatever personality they’ve developed due to circumstance I love the child underneath. It’s cliché but their confidence and unmarred perceptions are beautiful before the real world decides to crush them and I feel ill equipped to be in a position where I might be complicit in that crushing.
I’ve worked with children since I was fourteen doing stints at summer camps and I later interned at the psychological practice I often bring up, managing children from all age groups. Many were diagnosed with autism, which required a specific knowledge to make them comfortable, but they were the most delighted children you’d find, unacknowledged by Pakistani society. There was Danial, the strapping boy with ADHD, that struck me with terror and compassion. Did I have suspicions that he was a sociopath? After running at me with a knife you bet I did. But mostly, I attributed his misbehaviour to his challenging upbringing. Danial’s parents loved their son, an oblivious love they believed acted as a comfort in their physical absence while they fought mental health experts on every matter.
Forewarning now- I’m not a parent. I can’t conceive the destruction of life and sanity that having a child is so I can’t pass judgement. But as someone who has seen what certain parents can do to their children I feel justified in stating that parents are one of the reasons why working with children is demonstrably difficult. Seeing a child regularly, being their confidante, results in developed affections but unfortunately you don’t wield any of the accompanying responsibilities- the parents do. In a utopia parents are all knowing and unquestionably devoted and some of us may have grown up with these parents. Many do not.
At university I was getting firsts in developmental psychology so my work experience mirrored this as I began shadowing a school’s psychologist. We dived into teenagers and their desire for perfection while they starved themselves and purged. The culture of cutting with knives, scissors and razor blades was prevalent and hysterical. Schools are amass with self loathing, self doubting and self deprecating youngsters, so many of whom are accompanied with a parent who is ignorant, blasé, enraged or in denial. It becomes about the parent’s hard pressed lives and questionable choices while the child remains a convenient end-note in the essay of their guardian’s personal crisis. My mentor told me one child was threatened within an inch of his life because he was gay. Another showed classic signs of a little girl being molested by her father while the mother turned a blind eye. But lack of evidence and the parental right to raise a child as they see fit prevails.
Child psychology grew less appealing, revealing the despair of working with someone who doesn’t have full autonomy. I went to a party and was introduced to a young woman on a similar path and we began hashing out experiences with the underage. Out came anecdotes, such as of one teenage boy, a substance abuser, who had been using undetected since he was twelve. Another of a young boy who had lost his elder sister and was never allowed to talk about it. The parents grieved and moved on, mitigating the trauma of the youngest family member until he regressed into an aggressive creature, screaming into wall corners. I told the tale of my supervisor, a consultant psychiatrist, who was called by the police to the house of a boy accused of multiple felonies akin to mugging and assault. The parents provided the following diagnosis- “He’s just a lad”.
I have seen children dying of cancer, children with the most frightening schizophrenia they can hardly comprehend or on the high end of the autism spectrum. Children physically, sexually and emotionally abused until they fold into the corners of their own minds. But this isn’t the worst part of a profession that appears to be moulded from tears and heart break. What makes me want to quit children is that adults are not accompanied with maternal and paternal forces that swoop in and veto your efforts.
But committing to this decision is, ironically, childish. Working with children is an inevitable commitment within clinical psychology and it would be adding to the problem to refuse to treat children on the virtue that they have it worse. Am I emotionally prepared to attend to their needs and be an advocate when my voice inherently holds no legal value? I now know the answer doesn’t matter. When these children are neglected, abused or misunderstood on our collective watch they don’t need yet another person thinking about themselves.
Child psychology – yes or no? If the answer doesn’t matter, is there even a question?