I was reminded last night of a time when I was still living at home with my mom when I had been a very selfish boy. My sister Lisa was pregnant with her first child Lauren and I had selfishly eaten an entire box of Coco Puffs for lunch that she had apparently purchased for herself while suffering from some pretty powerful food cravings. The chocolate-flavored Deity of American cereals we both loved so much was just too powerful a draw. I mean really, who on this planet with 30 available minutes, a clean spoon, and a gallon of cold milk could ignore such a beacon of nutrition and chocolatey goodness? Not me, I’m sorry to admit.
Lisa, I know it’s been 33 years but I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself and I didn’t mean to make you cry on the kitchen floor. I hope to make it up to you one day but I’ve never actually heard of buying make-up Coco Puffs yet, maybe soon they’ll start selling them at grocery stores for people like me who didn’t appreciate an awesome sister when they were young. I do hope you understand. Lauren, if you’re now suffering from any medical ailments or allergies related to or associated with Coco Puff deficiency as an adult, it is all my fault.
Why are we so selfish when we’re young? I’ve thought a lot about that lately because it’s true. I was very selfish back then and from my own personal observations and experiences most young people are too. If you’re young and you don’t think this applies to you then you’re probably so damn selfish that you can’t recognize it because you lack the empathy to understand just how much you’re disappointing the old folks around you who are busily working to please, feed, clothe, encourage, comfort and bathe you. So pull that free car over to the side of the road and call your mom on your free cell phone and thank her right now – for exactly what you can figure out when you’re 40.
We old folks, and now I’m officially one too, like to sit around and gripe about how disrespectful our young folks are today and how our parents would have whipped us with Hot-Wheel race track sections if we’d acted up like that but the reality is that we were doing similar things ourselves. We just didn’t get caught. It’s not that we were more respectful, it’s just that we were more creative. This is because we didn’t have video games and the Internet, we had to learn creativity by turning tiny green plastic army men into a scene of the Trojan War AND Cowboys & Indians AND our first idea of what courtship was…all with the same toy. Don’t ask me to reenact any scenes, just go with it please.
On a serious note, I think that selfishness is perhaps a perfectly normal human survival mechanism. We’re all born with it because human children are born and live several years without the ability to do anything for themselves. We are completely dependent on our parents or our parental figures for our very survival so we’ve been blessed by God with a few personality characteristics which make it completely impossible to be ignored when we need or want something. Since it’s my 50th birthday this week, imagine how difficult it is for Em to ignore me right now.
When scientists compare the brains of children and adults, the brain scans show that a region called dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, located in the left side of the brain, toward the front, was more developed in adults. The area is considered to be involved with impulse control and empath. Researchers report that younger children are more willing to accept unfair treatment than older children.
Science suggests that selfish behavior in children may not be due to their inability to know “fair” from “unfair,” but rather an immature part of the brain that doesn’t support selfless behavior when tempted to act selfishly. This area of the brain matures as we get older thus the majority of us do eventually develop a capacity for empathy…notice I said “majority of us”. We all know a few adults who could use a steroid shot or two in their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex but that’s another blog.
So, when you look at it that way, how can you really stay mad at your daughter when she tells you she really needs the expensive Matilda Jane outfits after you’ve just been laid-off from your job? Go ahead and just buy the latest video game system for Junior because you already know he lacks the creativity to survive “old school” without it and if he doesn’t get to play, he’ll have absolutely nothing to talk about with his friends or anything to do during family dinners.
So parents out there should rest at ease and think of two things. First, reminisce a few minutes on the things you’d still be embarrassed about if your mom found out to this very day…and second, know that the guilt of childhood selfishness is what fuels the benevolence of our adulthood. The worse your kids are today, the sweeter they will be to you when you’re old.