Conduct Disorder and the Automobile
I remember Edith Sherman, silver haired, proud member of the ACLU, and my sociology teacher at Denver University in 1960, blaming the automobile for emerging patterns of social distress. I didn't understand at the time.
Frans De Waal (1996, Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press) is convincing that apes (and monkeys to a lesser degree) monitor deceit, form alliances, punish selfishness, and have different rules for juveniles of different ages. They do it effectively and without language.
Monitoring is sometimes mentioned as a solution for our disruptive teens. Monitoring implies making the kid have a plan that he shares in advance, then the parents actually go to the activity to confirm his attendance and behavior. It also allows the teen to carry a beeper, his parents to page him, get the phone number from which he calls, and call him back to verify location.
There are monitoring failures because:
a) You may not be able to find the kid to check on her or she may put out massive retaliatory conduct if you insist on a plan. There will be "coalition" arguments that "none of my friends have to do this." Thus, a free ranging troop of juveniles comes to be. They attempt to maintain their power (money, toys, social influence, and movement) against boundaries from isolated adults. Adults also form coalitions but with peers at work or in the volunteer group. Coalitions with the parents of your child's friends are more difficult to contrive. You have to find out the identity of her friends, lift the phone numbers, and then meet the parents who may be separated (51% of the time) or working on a different shift. Thus, it's far easier to curb your dog than to curb your kid.
b) Parents rarely have to face the victim. There is no allegiance to the injured party who may live miles distant. There is no preexisting sense of obligation to that specific person. The parents, don't know the police officer and don't believe him about their child; neither do they believe the victim. On the other hand, parents do have to live with the spiteful child, with whom they usually share some genetic self-interest.(1) The parental impulse is to protect their child from evil Justice. Or some momentary alliance forms between parent and child as they face outsiders. The parent may bargain with the child, "never again." Or the parent may have some belief that this same child who has stolen from their wallets will never do so again if rescued. Or, "I can beat my kid, he deserves it but nobody else is going to do it."
c) Two working parents are common, beepers, cellphones, and job travel support a nest of dispersed occupants. Thus, excesses of dominance seem more robust; they are also harder to inhibit because of a passing effect from Ben Spock who told us to discuss with our children - using a tool that chimps don't require - rather than establishing effective, humane consequences.
Some of these issues are perhaps intrinsic to a highly dispersed culture. Chimps bite fingers for social infractions when the child moves close to adolescence. The bite is a consequence that is immediate, personal, and relevant. Chimps also grade consequences approximating the developmental age of the child. Repeat infractions seem rare. However, chimps move in small groups and have their own sanctions to protect the children against parents. They have hierarchies and there are established alliances between the adults to manage the children.
Chimps beat, bite, feed & hug their kids; some of us give ours medication, send them to boarding school, or hospitalize them; we give them electric toys instead of our hugs. Our diagnostics manual may be our formalized attempt to achieve chimpanzee results but for a larger group, outside a family structure, and through more dispersed authorities such as doctors, policemen, and judges. We have lists for Oppositional, Conduct, and Antisocial Personality Disorders and varied treatments with uniform failure. We appear to have less success than the nonverbal chimpanzee.
1) At least mothers usually have a 50% genetic overlap with their children. Things are a bit less certain with dads.