Saturday, September 02, 2017

Vacation (Thinking while Relaxing)

In early August, I spent a week away from work (mostly) – a “staycation,” in town. Grandchildren from east and west coasts traveled here to join their cousins who live in Minnesota. So, I engaged in a week of grandchild-oriented activities and behaved very grand-parentally.

Nevertheless, beachwear, a concert audience of fanatical youngsters, and high noise levels in many venues set me to thinking about social phenomena.

First, some highlights – especially from the grandchildren’s perspective:
  • Saint Paul’s Como Pool, where they spent about 6 hours one day, 4 hours on another. This newly renovated swimming complex has an extremely friendly design for young people ages 1 through 9. They considered it aqua-heaven.
  • Science Museum of Minnesota, including the Omnitheater show, “Journey to the South Pacific.” This venue very well serves a grandparent seeking a source of education and entertainment for young ones with varied interests and at varied developmental stages.
  • An Okee Dokee Brothers concert, free in the Walker Sculpture Garden. This was the second time that I experienced the Brothers (plus a couple of Sisters) live in concert. However, I don’t think that qualifies me as a groupie, since I did not venture into the mosh pit.
  • As a prelude to the concert, I shepherded, by myself, three grandchildren (ages 1, 5, and 9) on a journey on the A Line, the Green Line, and the number 6 bus to reach the Walker. That commute, in and of itself, provided another highlight for the young ones.

Observations made during these experiences led to three tentative propositions which we could subject to further research.

Tattoos manifest themselves more readily at the swimming pool than in the workplace.

The pool users did not represent a random sample of the population, but my observational survey led me to wonder: How many people have tattoos?

One study, more than 10 years old, reported by the American Academy of Dermatology, estimated that about one-fourth of men and women 18 to 50 years old, have tattoos. A Harris poll in 2015 estimated that almost 3 of 10 adults have tattoos. Harris data suggested some generational differences (e.g., 47% of Millennials vs. only 13% of Boomers).

A Pew Research study in 2010 found that about three-fourths of the people with tattoos say that those tattoos are usually hidden from view – evidence that supports my proposition.

I also wondered if people ever regret their permanent bodily inscription(s). Harris discovered that 23 percent of the tattooed have regrets at least sometimes. Among the most common reasons for wishing that they did not have their current tattoo: their personality had changed and/or their partner had changed. (I suppose that an intended pleasant day at the beach with Steve has a different tone when body parts not covered by one’s bathing suit prominently reveal an allegiance to George.)

As an aside, one young woman’s tattoo read: “Je vois la vie en rose.” I told her that those words set Edith Piaf songs going through my head. She said, yes, it does have that effect on some people.

Separating signal from noise becomes more difficult in the presence of 300 or more children under age 12.

The utterance, “Grandpa,” occurred many times per hour at the pool, where moms and grandparents constituted most of the adults in attendance. (What to conclude about the lesser-than-might-be-anticipated number of dads, could serve as another research topic, I suppose.)

More often than not, the adults seemed attuned to their own children. I wondered: Do parents and grandparents recognize their own children’s calls and cries, amidst the calling, crying, and other noisemaking of a large number of other children?

Based on a quick scan of the all-knowing web, it appears that, at least since the 1980s, psychobiological research has demonstrated that parents do recognize their own children’s cries. Decades ago, the data seemed to suggest that mothers, more often than fathers, recognized the sound of their own children – reflecting, in some people’s minds, “maternal instinct.” Recent research, though, indicates that fathers have begun to catch up, perhaps because more fathers now share childrearing duties and more intensively interact with their children, right from infancy. I think that this topic requires more solid research before I would draw any conclusions.

Children, finding themselves in a new space with other children they don’t know, manifest social norms of behavior, without adult intervention.

Whether dancing in the Okee Dokee mosh pit, cavorting in one of the water-fun areas, or exploring an exhibit at the Science Museum, most young children seem to know how to behave. They respected each other’s space, helped and guided one another (especially if older), and acted in a friendly manner. Sure, the occasional young scamp required a warning from a parent or a lifeguard, for example. However, by and large, social processes – and tons of fun – occurred very smoothly.

So, I wondered: Do children have an innate sense of how to behave in social situations? Do they learn rules at home or at school, which they apply to new situations? Do they model parental behavior? Child developmental psychologists might readily know the answers; the questions, though, challenged me.

Four years ago, in a Scientific American article, a Yale University Psychology professor asserted that people do not learn morality; they possess it at birth. The evidence points, he concluded, to the fact that morality has a human genetic component, with the result that infants have empathy, compassion, and a beginning sense of fairness, from day 1.

So, perhaps that innate sense translates into good behavior in social groups? Maybe what happens in families and schools does not so much “teach” norms of social behavior as it does offer tools to children to implement what they already “know”?

In Conclusion

Just a little bit of internet research can take great strides toward responding to substantial questions which, if one does not protect oneself from weighty thoughts, can emerge from observations of adults and children in pools, concerts, museums, public transportation, and other places.