The death of psychologist Walter Mischel focused attention on the famous marshmallow test which he created at Stanford University in the 1960’s. Critical of prevailing theories of personality he was interested in studying how actual life situations shape behavior. This meant looking at the context of an individual’s interactions, what a person’s goals are, and the rewards and risks of acting on impulse.

To this end he led a research team in a series of experiments with pre-school-age children. A child was presented with a marshmallow and told he could eat it, but if he waited until the examiner returned he could have two marshmallows instead of just the one. The children were videotaped during the time they were alone with the treat so it was possible to determine the range of time that a child was either able to wait or to eat the treat they were given.

Essentially, this was an experiment in delayed gratification and the videotapes made it possible to study the various things children did to enable them to wait. Looking at these videotapes one sees children closing their eyes, picking up the marshmallow and putting it down, picking pieces off the edges to taste, poking at the marshmallow, and various other creative moves. In one sequence, a child who has successfully waited for his reward stuffs both marshmallows into his mouth at once as if to compensate for the deprivation of waiting.

Mischel emphasized that the focus of the research was to identify the specific cognitive strategies and mental mechanisms, as well as the developmental changes that make delay of gratification possible. For example, between the ages of 4 and 6 years the older kids could delay their gratification longer. The executive function of the maturing brain was better able to override the impulses characteristic of younger children, a major challenge of development during the pre-school years. The research sought to identify the cognitive skills that underlie willpower and long-term thinking and how they can be enhanced.

The marshmallow test became famous when decades later Mischel was able to locate a number of the children who were in the original experiment and compare their later records to their behavior in the original test. A correlation was found between their earlier ability to delay gratification and later achievement both academically and in their achievement of other goals. This created a major focus on the importance of early impulse control and ability to delay gratification with the implication that one road led to success, the other to failure.

More recent studies that replicated the marshmallow test with preschoolers, while finding the same correlation between later achievement and the ability to resist temptation in pre-school, have interpreted the findings somewhat differently. The correlation was found to be much less significant after the researchers factored in such aspects as family background, home environment and the like. The conclusion was that the ability to hold out for a second marshmallow is shaped by a child’s social and economic background. It is that background, not the ability to delay gratification that is behind a child’s long-term success.

Mischel, himself, was less interested in the predictive value of early delayed gratification than he was in the strategies that can promote will power and the ability to delay gratification. Having been a heavy smoker for many years and having tried to no avail over time to stop, he was especially interested in what it was that could enable someone to succeed. The question he raised was, “how can you regulate yourself and control yourself in ways that make your life better?”

Finding and reinforcing those strategies for the individual child may be a better approach than marshmallows.

Democracy and Free Play

With the onset of the school year, the good news for children is the renewed interest in, and awareness of, the importance of play. A major contribution is the report issued by The American Academy of Pediatrics on “The Power of Play”, suggesting a pediatric role in enhancing development in young children. The report describes the way in which play helps children meet their developmental milestones in various areas.

Taking the advocacy of play even further is a new book by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, “THE CODDLING OF THE AMERICAN MIND: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.” The focus for these authors is on “free play,” defined as activity that is directed by the participants, freely chosen, undertaken for its own sake, and not pursued to achieve ends distinct from the activity itself. Team sports under a coach is not free play unlike kids joining with friends to start a game on their own, which is.

The authors point to the decline in any kind of play in the last few decades as play has shifted indoors and often involves the computer and no other children. At the same time recess and free play in schools were reduced to make room for more standardized testing and academic work. Even the youngest schoolchildren have homework and after-school playtime has turned into structured activities overseen by adults. At the same time, children have become ever more supervised as a fear of “stranger danger” means parents who allow unsupervised outdoor play are criticized as bad parents.

These authors, while making the connection between free play and the important skills developed in childhood, also reach for the larger goal of connecting such play to a well-functioning democracy. They quote Alexis de Tocqueville who touring America concluded that one secret of our success was our ability to solve problems collectively and cooperatively, calling it the “art of association”, crucial he believed for a self-governing people.

It is particularly in this regard that the importance of childhood free play is noted. When children play together on their own, the absence of adults forces them to practice their social skills. The children on their own must enforce the rules or vary them and resolve disputes that arise. The absence of an adult also leaves room for children to take some risks rather than assuming an adult will always be there to set safety limits.

The authors speculate about the effects on children deprived of opportunities for free play, risk-taking and self-governance. They suggest that as adults such children are likely to be less resilient, making a comparison to the immune system, which requires repeated exposure to dirt and germs in order to develop its protective abilities. They also suggest that if we protect kids from the small risks and harms of play, we stunt their ability to handle challenges and recover from failures.

Another consequence of play deprivation the authors predict is a reduction in conflict management and negotiation skills. If there is always an adult who takes over, instead of learning to resolve conflicts quickly and privately, kids who learn to tell the adult are rewarded for reporting to adults that they have been mistreated.

The point these authors make is that the very skills that are needed for self-governance in a democracy are those that are developed in childhood through free play. A familiarity with early childhood programs makes clear that it is just those opportunities for experience in conflict management and negotiation that is absent in structured groups led by adults.

These authors make a persuasive case for the importance of free play. It is now left to us as parents and educators to determine how to provide it for our children.

Learning Through Play

Intense concern in recent years with academic achievement has focused attention on what children are experiencing before they enter kindergarten. The fact is that many children are now starting “school” at ever earlier ages. Many nursery schools now have groups for two-year-old’s and those even younger.

At the same time earlier thinking about the purpose and value of pre-school may be getting lost. Somehow, once children are in “school”, no matter what their age or developmental readiness, the idea has taken hold that they should be “learning”. And learning has come to mean the three Rs, plus mastery of other material once only expected of children in grade school. The pressure for academic success increasingly pervades all of childhood.

A consequence of this shift is that the importance and value of play is no longer fully appreciated. It is as if learning and play are not only different, but opposed: if children are playing, they are not learning. You can often hear criticism voiced about pre-school groups as, “Oh, they just play there.” It is only when children are being taught letters, numbers or other academic material that they are seen as learning.

Play has been called children’s work, and children are working at mastering many things through play. A colleague once said that you can’t learn the letter A without first experiencing an apple. What she meant was that letters are symbols and that a child needs to experience real things before confronting the symbols. It is that kind of experience that helps prepare children to learn to read and write. It is that kind of experience that children often are having when they play.

Just as important, if not more, is the kind of emotional learning that grows out of play. Children learn through experience the realities of social engagement that we sometimes try to teach them abstractly as rules or manners. They learn that if they insist on it always being their turn, no one will want to play with them. If they keep taking things another child is playing with, they may find themselves being avoided.

Playing in groups, children develop strategies for mastering feelings of anger or frustration. At the doll house, play kitchen or block corner, they work out solutions to conflict situations, sometimes with adult help, many times on their own. Playing successfully with others requires mastering self-control. This, too, is a learning process for which there are many opportunities in pre-school settings.

It is this kind of mastery that becomes so important later on when children are required to sit at desks, listen to the teacher, and focus their attention on academic tasks. Too often now, children are expected to have already mastered these skills during those earliest pre-school years which once were understood to provide the opportunity to develop them.

The good news is that the American Academy of Pediatrics, concerned about the move away from play, has released a policy statement about the power of play. Doctors are being encouraged to give parents a prescription for play during well-child visits in the first two years of life. Although describing play as resulting in “joyful discovery,” the statement reports the developmental and neurological research on play showing the connection developmentally between repetitive games such as peek-a-boo and Simon Says to such things as building impulse control and executive function.

Educators have long understood the value of play in developing the skills needed for later academic success. But it will be unfortunate if the newly discovered benefits of that connection turns play into a prescription instead of “joyful discovery.”

Compassionate Conflict

My 20 something grandson, a recent college graduate working toward a career in the theatre world, talked enthusiastically about his work on the production of a play by a new, young playwright. Dealing with the theme of racial conflict the story involved an interracial marriage and the conflict between the mother and one of the daughters. My grandson expressed criticism of most issue plays saying they lecture the audience and induce guilt in the viewer whereas this play strives toward an understanding of both points of view.

Specifically, in the play a white mother is in conflict with her black daughter about the girl’s hair style. My young theatre critic related that the playwright has focused on the people rather than the issue so that instead of feeling angry at the mother you understand that she really is trying to be supportive of her daughter. It is her own different life experience that makes her unable to understand how to be successful.

In our conversation about this I suggested that this dilemma might even apply more generally to parent-child relationships even without the added racial issue. My grandson reacted with interest to this idea and then said he thought I would really like this play – seeming to suggest he liked my broader interpretation. As a young person not that far removed – if at all – from similar parent/child conflicts this reading of the play seemed to ring a bell.

It was interesting to hear a young person reacting positively to a more compassionate understanding of a parent’s own limitations in trying to be helpful to a child. It brought to mind the report of my granddaughter’s CIT experience in which she was impressed by her exposure to the adult (authority) side of things. Moving from a child’s to an adult’s point of view is a major transition in the maturational process. Understanding that a different – and longer – life experience is part of a parent’s point of view is still another step in that process.

A wise teacher once said that our children were entitled to make their own mistakes, just as we did. This is difficult advice to follow as a parent. We would like our children to learn from our mistakes and so avoid whatever pain or difficulty we encountered in making them. This turns out to be unrealistic for several reasons. Part of growing up entails pushing back against your parents’ ideas both as a way of becoming a separate individual and of developing confidence in your own ideas.

Also, our children always grow up in a world different in ways from our own, leading to the accusation that we don’t understand them. And often, we don’t, coming from a different point in life and failing to identify the developmental and life factors from which our children are operating. Yet as parents, we have the responsibility of keeping them safe and identifying behavior that may need some limitations.

It was interesting to hear a young person’s resentment about being made to feel guilty in the service of advancing a point of view. As parents, we are often made to feel guilty about the way we handle our children and are blamed for our children’s behavior. Children, at a certain point in development, do feel guilty when told they have done a bad thing. But more often their reaction is to parental criticism and the loss of parental approval.

The opposing needs or points of view that create conflict are usually fraught with emotion making hearing the other side difficult. Hopefully having greater maturity, it falls to us as parents to hear our children’s point of view. As they develop, they may be able to hear ours.

The Conflicts in Compromise

The mother of a three-year-old and 6-month-old infant, was just completing her many years of medical training, including a residency and specialty fellowship. Her husband, who had worked in an allied profession, changed career goals and had just completed medical school. His residency match required a move to another city. The mother was experiencing the stress of finishing her work, finding living arrangements, school and child care in a new area, and leaving behind her professional contacts and opportunities for a post training career.

In talking about this, she expressed the emotional struggle she was experiencing, relating that without her husband’s support she would not have been able to complete her own training as well as having two children along the way. She knew if the positions were reversed he would be doing the same for her but . . . She struggled to say what she was feeling and so I finished her sentence saying, “It doesn’t feel fair.” In great relief she sighed and said, “Yes, it doesn’t feel fair.”

I have thought about this exchange having just written about the art of compromise. The art of compromise means experiencing the pain of compromise because sometimes what we have to give up begins to feel too hard – even when justified in some measure. In this instance it seemed that several different conflicts were involved.

This was a person who could not have achieved her goals without a strong conviction about equality between men and women, yet was someone who felt strongly about family and the care of children. On the one hand there was a conflict between a belief in equal opportunities for both and that of sacrificing her own opportunities for her husband. On the other hand, there was also the conflict between feminism and the feeling of following the traditional path of priority to her husband’s career. But in a basic sense, the conflict was between self-interest and family interests. It is a self-other conflict that characterizes many areas in life that require compromise.

Carol Gilligan, writing In A Different Voice, asserts that the conflict between self and other constitutes the central moral problem of women, complicated by the fact that “conventions of femininity” have equated goodness with self-sacrifice. She writes that women attempt to solve the moral problem in such a way that no one is hurt, and their task is to be able to include themselves as deserving of consideration.

Self-sacrifice indeed was considered part of the traditional role for women, especially in regard to motherhood. As wives, women were expected to defer to men, whose role as breadwinners was given greater value and higher priority than that of housewife/mother. The renewal of feminism and the women’s movement has brought about not only greater opportunities for women in the marketplace, but has sought to erase the concept of self-sacrifice from the role of wife and mother.

In the still changing nature of family life, the sacrifice required of men has moved in the opposite direction, namely that of relinquishing the more favored position and sharing the role and responsibilities that were traditionally those of women. Gilligan makes the point that women have tended to equate goodness, or self-worth with self-sacrifice and need to be able to separate the two. Men, on the other hand have equated their superior role with masculinity and also are faced with separating the two.

The point is that in many of the compromises required in family relationships the difficulty lies in the seeming challenge to self-worth. In correcting old ways, one often swings in the opposite direction. Finding balance in meeting the needs of another as well as one’s own remains a work in progress.


Two mothers expressed different concerns about their children’s aggression. One mother was worried about her son being aggressive toward other children. The other mother was concerned about her daughter not being aggressive enough. Aggression seems to be something we feel two ways about – we admire it in some situations and don’t like it in others.

Aggression sometimes implies hostile behavior, while at other times it means being self-assertive. We want children to be able to assert themselves, to use initiative and imagination. What we don’t want is for them to assert themselves through behavior we don’t like. But we also seem to be concerned if they are not self-assertive enough. Parents may find themselves giving two messages: don’t hit or attack others, but “stand up” to others who take your toys away, and fight back if you are hit.

Part of the strong reaction to aggressive behavior in young children comes from seeing it through an adult lens, the fear that a child who is striking out at others may become a bully. Hitting or pushing another child is transformed into adult behavior and then seems to call for a harsh adult response.

But aggressive behavior can have somewhat different meanings at different stages of development. Toddlers who are not yet speaking often try to make social approaches by grabbing another child’s hair, or face. Young children are not at all clear about “yours” and “mine”. If a toy is lying nearby, you take it to play with. Children who are not yet adept at social approaches sometimes try to join the play of other children in ways that seem aggressive, like knocking down another child’s building, or take a piece of a game someone is playing.

If we understand the meaning of this behavior, it gives us a way to teach children better ways to achieve their goals. Children are often not clear themselves about what went wrong in interactions with others. We can help a child who is being disruptive to the play of others by clarifying for him and even for the others, that he really would like to join them, and then if possible, help accomplish that outcome.

Children striking out at others in anger may need a different kind of learning. Parents often say, “I know he understands, why does he keep doing that?” Controlling the impulse to strike out when one is angry or frustrated is an ongoing struggle in development that continues well beyond acquiring words and understanding the words of others. Sometimes it is a struggle even for adults – think “road rage”.

It is because loss of control seems dangerous that parents have anxiety about children’s aggressive behavior. When children express their anger in primitive ways, it can make us feel angry in turn. Our own anger feels scary because an adult’s loss of control might have serious consequences. But our children are not us. Most of us have developed the ability to control our impulses, and we can help our children while they are developing those controls. That may mean providing the control they lack, being proactive, being alert to situations that we know will cause difficulty for a child. It also may mean removing a child from a situation that is too hard for him to remain in.

In responding to aggressive behavior, it helps to remember that both anger and aggression play an important part in developing independence, in growing up and eventually separating from parents. The challenge for us as parents is to support our children’s developing capacity for self-assertion, while teaching acceptable ways of expressing it.

The Art of Compromise

A new book about Henry Kissinger points to the idea that the successful practice of diplomacy requires compromise since no nation is powerful enough to get whatever it wants unilaterally. This would seem to apply not only to international diplomacy but to human relationships generally as part of everyday living. Yet reaching compromise as a solution to conflicts between people is often challenging.

One of the interesting things about looking at relationships with children is that as parents we are confronted with many of the questions we have to deal with in our adult relationships as well. Because children are not on our level developmentally we are forced to think through many issues that we might just react to with another adult. But that very difference in development can lead parents to feel they should be powerful enough to get whatever they want unilaterally, which is the road to conflict.

Too often, “compromise” becomes doing what the child wants or asking the child to do what the parent wants. The issue becomes winning or losing, especially if a conflict has begun to escalate. Parents feel defeated if they see themselves as having capitulated to a child’s demands or protests. They also don’t like the feeling of using power – punishments or the like – in order to impose their own way.

Another familiar approach is “reasoning” with a child. Here the developmental difference between parent and child also comes into play. Parents and children differ on what they consider reasonable. Many requests parents make – such as bedtime, leaving play to get dressed – seem unreasonable to a child. Reasoning rarely involves a compromise but instead an attempt to get a child to see how reasonable the parent is being.

Given how far apart parents and children are in what they want at various times, how can one compromise with a child? In part this relates to the age of the child but there are some general ideas that apply. Do begin with, are we really hearing what it is a child wants? Sometimes we are misled by the drama of children’s responses. Their protests at our requests can range from loud, tearful “no’s!” to not hearing us at all.

In reality, the translation of the behavior might be, “I want to finish my game”, or “I don’t want to leave yet”, or “I don’t like that lunch.” Children tend to experience things as extremes, black or white, all or nothing, yes or no. Sometimes as parents we tend to fall into the same trap, thinking that compliance or defiance are the only alternatives.

Often it is possible to find a compromise by going part of the way a child wants, agreeing to stay in the park another fifteen minutes, or giving time to finish the game before leaving. It helps to acknowledge with a child that you understand his wishes and want to meet him part way. Children see their parents as all powerful, which in fact they are in many ways compared to the child. A parent’s sympathetic verbal acceptance of a child’s wishes is an emotional gift that can compensate for not getting what was wanted.

Compromise means not getting everything you want. It means giving something up in order to accomplish something else you want. It’s the giving something up that often stands in the way of a compromise. Children don’t see why they should have to give anything up. Parents vary about what they are willing to give up. The fact is, no one really likes giving anything up.

Being sympathetic to children about what they have to give up helps them learn how to compromise.

The New Park Bench

In years past, new mothers found solace, companionship and even advice while walking or sitting in the park while babies slept in their carriages. These days that park bench has been replaced by social media where a multitude of voices now take the place of the two or three friends of old. And the backdrop to the mothers’ voices are the latest reports on “scientific” findings about child development and child rearing.

That’s all to the good when women find the support they need in the challenging job of raising children. But one can wonder at times what that support consists of. I came across a reference to a mother participating in an online group saying that with the encouragement of her social media friends she had taken a series of small, reasonable seeming steps but now felt not only supported in her parenting decisions but rather entrenched in a camp.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency for points of view and supposed scientific facts to quickly become polarized and even politicized to a degree leading to anything but reasonable discussion or self-expression. At times commercial or financial forces are involved in supporting a particular position for reasons of self-interest.

A good example is the recent and ongoing controversy about breast-feeding. It’s hard to remember that we lived through a period when formula and bottle feeding were considered far superior to, and healthier than nursing. Now women are often shamed into nursing by the idea that they are harming their babies in some way if they use formula.

There may be good – even scientifically based evidence – for the benefits of nursing. However, there are also good reasons that women may decide to use formula. This speaks to a deeper question about the conflict that exists at times between the needs of the mother and that of the child. Women may tie themselves into knots pumping milk while at work or become stressed in other ways to continue breast feeding in the belief that to do otherwise would be to the child’s detriment. Unfortunately, some hospitals have been pressured into refusing to give formula to mothers upon discharge.

A more significant issue about peer advice or advice generally is that the answer to most questions that arise for parents requires both knowing their own child and more specifically, understanding the behavior or situation they are questioning. A common example is a question a parent raised about a child lying, saying she was reading on her iPad when mom knew she was watching something. She had used up her allowed screen time and her mother became focused on getting the child to acknowledge her lie rather than on her protest about the rule itself.

This is a familiar situation in which children try to argue their way into getting what they want – or what they don’t want to do. “I did my homework on the bus.” “I only ate one piece of candy.” Children turn into lawyers arguing their case while parents get involved in determining the facts of the situation. In this situation it seemed the mother needed to prove to the child that she had lied in order to justify maintaining her rule.

But the issue was really the child wanting to watch something on her iPad at that time. The mother could make a decision about that without getting into the question of lying or breaking the rule. Parents are afraid that if they go along with the child they give up their authority for the future. But authority as a parent means deciding what is best for your child.

There is no rule or advice that applies to every situation. That’s the hard part of being a parent.

The Power of Anger

The documentary film, “RBG,” about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, has an interesting audio exchange from the time she was a lawyer pleading a case before the court. She had the goal of educating the male members about the need to establish equality for women in the pursuit of justice. A justice asks her if putting Susan B. Anthony on the dollar wouldn’t do it for her. The interviewer in the film asks how she was able to hear that without exploding in anger and Ginsberg replies, “Anger would not have helped me achieve my goal.”

I thought of that exchange when coming across an upcoming book, “RAGE BECOMES HER – The Power of Women’s Anger,” by Soraya Chemaly, a writer and director of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project. Chemaly writes that women and girls are cut off from the expression of anger as a function of being feminine, and wonders what the world would look like if they were allowed to express the full range of their emotions without penalty.

Anger is unquestionably a powerful emotion. Although Chamaly believes that men are given permission culturally to express anger in various ways, many people have difficulty managing that emotion. Its power lies in its intensity and the impulse to strike out physically evoked by the feeling. The saying, “I could kill you for that,” expresses the fear of action generated by the emotion.

Young children struggle with feelings of anger which often are expressed directly by striking out at another. Parents, in turn, struggle with the challenge of acknowledging children’s feelings while helping them learn how to control the behavior. Controls often have to be made on their behalf while they are learning. It is a measure of how threatening their acting out behavior seems that parents often feel compelled to use forceful measure in response to such behavior on the part of their children.

Chamaly has a chapter on Mother Rage, which expresses the rage Chamaly feels on behalf of mothers. The chapter revisits many of the thoughts and feelings expressed during the height of the reemergence of contemporary feminism, in particular the idealization of motherhood and denigration of those choosing to not have children. In this connection she describes the struggle that continues over abortion and the many attempts to interfere with women’s power over their own bodies.

She documents many of the indignities visited upon women during pregnancy and childbirth at the hands of the medical profession and others. A stream of negative examples leaves the reader with the impression that having children is a source of torment inducing women’s rage, which they are unable to express.

The degree to which motherhood, and the treatment of mothers reduces her value as a person, is an ongoing issue and continuing source of conflict for women. Helene Deutsch in “The Psychology of Women,” wrote that the conflict motherhood presents to women is “the inevitable conflict between the interests of the individual and those of the species.” This also refers to a conflict within women themselves.

The psychiatrist Daniel Stern, described the Motherhood Constellation, a particular mind-set that emerges during pregnancy and may last for months or years. This mind-set, influenced also by culture and individual personality, is one in which a mother’s primary preoccupation is with her baby’s well-being and her own connection to the baby.

In writing about the tasks of new motherhood, Stern describes the mother’s need to show first and foremost her ability to protect her child and to keep him alive. The stress involved in the baby’s dependence and her feeling of responsibility requires an environment in which she feels validated, encouraged and supported.

Unhappily, in today’s world, these are needs too often unmet. And it is the frustration about these unmet needs that Chemaly would like expressed in women’s rage.

Identity Discovery

A report just in from the fifteen-year-old counselor-in-training I last wrote about. She writes, “I’ve just been recuperating from an amazing (but tiring) week at camp. It was such a great experience and I learned so much. I’m in what we like to call a ‘post camp depression’ wishing to go back.” Campers apparently sign up for one or two week stays and the training for future counselors is organized accordingly.

I learned further that she had 9 and 10-year-old girls in her bunk and for many of them it was their first year at camp. She had to deal with some homesickness and dehydration, explaining that with younger kids you can’t get them to drink water and the heat made them tired. The solution was to have more water breaks during activities.

She found that if one girl was homesick it led to others becoming homesick. However, once they were involved in activities they got over it and the girls all had a great week. The goal for her group was that when they left they should feel that they wanted to come back.

She herself learned more about how things work at camp and was surprised by how involved the CITs actually were. Although the counselors had more responsibilities they were more willing than she expected to let a CIT handle a situation – like a girl’s homesickness. At times the line between the counselor and CIT was blurred.

The difference from having been a camper herself was not only in the responsibility but also in having more freedom, such as at night when campers have a curfew. “You learn what it is like to be on the opposite side of how things go that you experienced as a camper.”

Listening to these observations from a fifteen-year-old brought to mind the developmental theories of famed psychologist Erik Erikson who defined the significant developmental stages of life. Specifically, his stage 5, called “Identity vs Role Confusion”, refers to the adolescent years 13-21. According to Erikson, development from previous stages depends on what is done to an individual, whereas from this stage forward development depends on what the individual herself, does.

In his view this stage marks the shift from childhood to adulthood and is the turning point of human development, the time when the person develops the ability to search for his own meanings and directions, as well as others. Adolescents contemplate on the role they want to play in the adult world and learn to develop a solid relationship and commitment to their principles, ideals and friends.

Erikson writes of possible confusion about what role they want to embody as they get to experience mixed feelings and ideas about how they will fit into society. The resolution of this “identity confusion” is characterized by developing self-esteem and self-confidence, personal identity and pride, dignity and standards, and appreciating useful personal roles and reasons for being successful.

It is interesting to contemplate how any individual situation fits Erikson’s developmental description. In this instance what strikes me is this 15-year-old taking from her experience, “You learn what it is like to be on the opposite side of how things go that you experienced as a camper.” Having recently been a camper she now has been exposed to the perspective of one in an authority role.

This sounds like an important step on the road from childhood to adulthood. Young people tend to see the rules and regulations of parents and teachers as serving no purpose other than frustrating the youngsters’ own wishes.

My granddaughter sent me this quote as her final thought: “I have a conviction that a few weeks spent in a well organized summer camp may be of more value educationally than a whole year of formal school work.” Charles William Eliot