As we approach a quieter, simpler holiday season amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Lord is giving us an opportunity to focus on what is essential: our faith and our family. Along with the hardships and the fears, the pandemic has given many busy families the chance to step back from overbooked schedules, spend more time together, and strengthen the crucial parent-child relationship. Not only is this relationship of supreme importance to the health and well-being of children—and, so, to everyone; it’s also a rich field of discovery for understanding our culture and our relationship with God.
Have you ever walked past a group of teenagers and noticed that every one of them studiously avoided making eye contact with you? Have you ever tried teaching a group of children who show absolutely no interest in what you have to say? Has your own child changed from an affectionate, cooperative child into a hostile one obsessed with spending time with friends? All of these situations from normal, pre-pandemic life are manifestations of peer orientation.
“Peer orientation” (as opposed to “parent orientation”) is the term coined by Canadian psychologist Gordon Neufeld to describe the psychological phenomenon of children turning away from their parents and other trustworthy adults and looking instead to each other as guides along the path of life. Neufeld posits that peer orientation emerged in the wake of World War II as the traditional context that supported parenting eroded. Culture, he points out, has always served as a means of transmitting the wisdom and experience of the older generation to the younger generation. After World War II, however, there began to exist a “youth culture”: music, language, hairstyles, and so forth, generated by and transmitted directly to other young people. Today the concept of a youth culture is so commonplace that we may not realize what it signifies about the health of our society, but Neufeld warns us that it is a sign that something has gone deeply awry.