Wisdom of Children And How We Can Learn From Them

I love social experiments. Especially when they involve children. Kids are so smart. They’re insightful, philosophical and profound. They see things the way things should be seen. Unadorned. They have no agenda. And they give it to you straight as an arrow.

Some years ago I was doing a corporate video for a client. Part of the brief involved interviewing a bunch of primary school children aged between 5 and 7. One of the questions they were asked was to describe your ideal house. The answers were amazing of course. There were five star tree houses and houses under the sea. They were imaginative and creative and fun. Children also have no sense of value. They have no concept of any number bigger than a thousand. So when they were asked how much their family home was worth, it varied between 500 and a thousand dollars. The answers were hilarious and the video was a great success.

The BBC also conducted its own social experiment with young children. Their intent was way more serious than mine. They wanted to film children aged between 5 and 7 answering the question: What is it that makes you different? The BBC approach was very specific and scientific. They selected a group of children, with different skin color, different ethnic background, able- bodied children and children with a disability. They were divided into groups of two but to ensure that the answers were not random, the featured groups of two were long standing friends. So the children knew each other well enough to answer the question honestly and easily. And consequently they were also less likely to be intimidated by a camera filming their answers.

The first group to feature was two boys dressed in school uniform. Both went to the same school, and were in the same class. One was black the other white. They were both asked the question: What is it that makes you different? They took a long time thinking about the question. But every time they tried to answer, and they tried many times, both of them would stop mid sentence. Try as they might they could not come up with a single difference. In other words, the friendship they enjoyed and the commonality they shared vastly out weighed any difference they might have, perceived or real.

But my favorite pair was Emma and Lucy. Emma, wearing pigtails, and seated on a chair. Lucy seated in a wheelchair. Lucy never said a word. Emma answered for both of them. And like the two boys,  she pondered the question for some time before finally giving her answer. And it was this: “ Lucy loves tomato sauce. I love tomato sauce but not as much as Lucy.”

And that was it. Emma and Lucy. Their only difference?  How much each of them loved tomato sauce, See, I told you, we could learn a great deal from children.

But instead of learning from them, we laugh at their innocence and we laugh at their naïve view of the world. Of course as adults we could not possibly see the world this way because we have age and experience and we know about concepts like hatred and bigotry and discrimination. A child will naturally never contemplate any of those thoughts. And that got me thinking. Why can’t we, as adults, see the world the same way as a child does? What is to stop us? A world where our only difference might be that some of us like white wine and some of us like red. Where what binds us together is much stronger than what pulls us apart. Can we see the world that way? The answer is of course we can. We can see the world this way if we want to.

You see, the only thing that changes as we get older is choice. Experience and knowledge only increase the options of choice. The only obstacle stopping us thinking one way and not the other is, you guessed it, us. A woman, irrespective of age, never stops being a young girl, acting like a young girl, thinking like a young girl, unless she chooses to. And the same applies to a man. We can see the world as a child sees it, if we choose to. And if we do, it will almost certainly make us better people and our world a better place to live. Worth contemplating don’t you think?

What Do Women Want When It Comes To Sperm Donors? Not What You Think

What do women want? Now there’s a question worth answering. Not by me. But if, by some miracle, I was, ever able to accurately answer that question, as opposed to providing what I think might be the right answer, then I would be exceptional indeed.

Now before anyone jumps to conclusions, I don’t even come close to having an answer. I’m not even going to try. But some researchers in Australia have. Especially in relation to what women are looking for in the prospective father of their chid. And what researchers discovered might surprise you. It surprised me.

A study of online sperm markets shows women value more than just money when it comes to choosing a father for their children. Queensland University of Technology behavioural economists, Stephen Whyte and Benno Torgler conducted a survey of 70 women who were shopping for sperm donors via the web, instead of traditional fertility and IVF clinics.

Ok. But let’s just pause the narrative for a moment. Why would women be shopping for sperm donors on the Internet instead of the traditional methods and means? In Australia the answer is because of dwindling anonymity for sperm donors. In fact, around 95 per cent of the sperm donations are sourced from overseas, the vast majority coming from the sperm export powerhouse, the United States. One of the dwindling few Australian men willing to donate said his decision to donate sperm was influenced by the inability to conceive with his wife and the lengthy process of adoption. “I knew the trouble some couples go through to conceive and just how emotionally draining it can be – that feeling of helplessness at times,” he said. “I was happy to help other families overcome these challenges in any way I could.” But he is very much the exception. Unfortunately, most Australian men remain extremely hesitant to donate sperm because they fear they might be identified by their potential offspring at some future time. The shortage of sperm donors is an issue across the entire country. IVF Australia spokesman Professor Michael Chapman said the shortage continues to force many to turn to the United States for a steady supply of sperm. He said imported sperm was being used to alleviate waiting lists and shortages. “In New South Wales the waiting time for donor sperm for married couples is two to three months, while single women often have to wait six months,” he said. The discrepancy is due to some donors specifying that their sperm is only to be used by couples wanting to conceive a child. City Fertility’s chief executive Adnan Catakovic said his national organisation imports between 50 and 200 sperm donations from the US each year. Melbourne Law School Professor Loane Skene said the right of children to identify their genetic parents. once they become adults, has undoubtedly reduced the number of sperm donors in Australia. “Although the child can find out who their parent is once they turn 18, there are no legal rights associated between them – a genetic father can’t be made to financially support the child,” she said. So are donor children interested in meeting their genetic father? The answer probably lies somewhere in between. Donor children are often not interested in meeting their fathers but want to know that their genetic father is a person and not just a number . The law in Australia is very clear about separating parenting rights from donor rights.

Anyway, lets get back on to the topic we began discussing at the very start. And that is the research that suggests women value more than just money when it comes to choosing a prospective father for their children. One of the behavioural economists, Stephen Whyte, responsible for conducting the survey of 70 women shopping for sperm donors online said the results were totally unexpected. “We’re interested in cognitive, psychological or emotional factors that are involved when people make decisions,” Whyte said. “Probably the biggest economic decision you’ll make in your life is your choice of partner, and having any subsequent offspring.” But the women surveyed were motivated not by money or career when considering a prospective father. He said women using online sperm markets provided a unique opportunity for a study of this type, because it took the issue of “parental investment” – the amount of time a potential partner would invest in the child’s growth and welfare – out of the equation. “This is an opportunity for women to go out and choose a donor that fits their aesthetic, the purely physical characteristics that they’re after,” he said. “But the study actually shows the most important things to women when they choose a donor in this online market are behavioural traits, like kindness, openness and reliability.” Whyte said those were traits taught by parents, arguably making them unimportant when it came to choosing a donor, but women still rated them as most important. He said the study also showed women didn’t value men with a high-profile or high-earning careers as much as popular wisdom might suggest. “They’re putting behavioural traits at the top, physical aspects like eye colour and hair colour next, then, at the bottom, the least important things are income and occupation,” Whyte said. “It’s a step away from the evolutionary psychology argument that women favour resources or indication of resources in a partner, to help them bear the heavy burden in having kids.” The world-first research will be published in the Journal of Bioeconomics, but Whyte said it wasn’t the end of the story. “These sorts of sperm sharing websites have only been around for about five years, and what’s going to be interesting is will that change, and will more women seek to use these services?,” he said. “It will be interesting to do a larger study into the why – are they going to those services to get better contact than at current fertility or IVF clinics?”

He also said work would be done in examining the male side of the equation. “When we did the survey we collected both women participating, and men donating, but we’re still in the process of finishing the paper on the men,” he said. In fact the findings in relation to men could be just as crucial as women. Men forgo any right to anonymity when the donate sperm online. And that is what interests scientists like Stephen Whyte.  “But it’s the same thing… why are men happy to participate in this online sperm marketplace, when a regular donation at a clinic is completely anonymous? “ It’s a change in the way the human race is mating.”

You could say that again.

The Cougar Phenomenon: Science Is On Your Side Older Ladies (Apparently)

I came across something the other day called The Cougar Phenomenon. It was basically answering the question why older women should choose young lovers? It was written in such an important and breathless fashion it would have to be the question on everyone’s lips. Well it is, isn’t it?

It was quoting research, which is always a good sign if you are looking to go up a notch in the credibility stakes. Women in their 40s, should look for younger partners to boost their chances of becoming pregnant, according to a group of academics at Gill University in Canada. I guess it’s yet another example of Canadian researchers, coming up with creative ways to spend their research grants or have a lot of time on their hands or both.

Anyway, I’ll park the cynicism for the time being and get to the point.

Would be mothers in their 40s, will struggle to have children with male partners the same age. There might be no such thing as male menopause but that doesn’t mean the biological clock isn’t ticking for blokes. Gill University researchers say the fertility clock stops for men at the age of 43. According to their study, a man’s age is maybe just as important as it is for a woman when they both reach their 40s and want to conceive.

It upends previous thinking on this because it was said that men could go on fathering children indefinitely because they are continuously producing new sperm in contrast to women who have the same eggs from birth. But scientists are starting to believe and see evidence of mutations creeping into sperm over time, which affects male fertility. As if men didn’t have enough to worry about.

One of main Gill University researchers told a fertility conference in Hawaii that the findings were “astounding.” There’s no such thing as understatement at Gill University.

He said it was previously thought that young women could always “fix” any defects in genetic material in sperm but once she hit the naughty forties forget it. The lead researcher went on to say that this gives a biological argument to the cougar phenomenon of an older woman selecting a younger male partner. This was the first study of its type to look at this in a scientific way.

The researchers studied women aged between 40 and 46 who undertook 904 IVF cycles between 2010 and 2012. In couples where the male was 43 or older, no children were born. But older women with younger partners went on to conceive babies.

The news just keeps on getting worse for older would be fathers. Previous studies have shown the children fathered by men over 55, are at greater risk of autism, bipolar disorder, low IQ and schizophrenia.

But the new research suggests that even in their early forties, men are already beginning to lose their fertility.

According to the Gill University researchers for a 37 or 36-year-old woman, the man’s age is not such a factor. But once she hits 40, a woman’s reproduction undergoes changes and when those changes occur the age of her male partner becomes a factor.

The reality is that most men are probably with women of a similar age, so as the woman gets older, so does her partner. But when they both reach 40, the scientific evidence suggests the biological clock in the man contributes to his ability, make that inability, to produce children.

Over the past 40 years the average age for bearing children in the UK, and pretty much everywhere else in the world, has been steadily increasing for men and women. According to the UK Office for National Statistics, the average woman gives birth just a week short of her 30th birthday while first time mothers are also older, at just over 28. The average age of a father is now 32 years and six months.

Women are born with all their eggs, but male sperm is constantly replicating. Each time, a single sperm replicates, there is a chance for mutation in the DNA to occur. As men age, they are also exposed to numerous environmental toxins over time which have been shown to cause DNA mutations in sperm. Molecular genetic studies have shown that the sperm of older men have far more mutations than those of younger men.

Professor Dagan Wells, a leading fertility expert at Oxford University backed the Canadian findings saying that older women may find it easier to get pregnant with a younger man.

“We know that the DNA in the sperm of older men suffers a loss of integrity. The DNA should be a nice long uninterrupted molecule but in older men it breaks up into little bits. The egg is rich in enzymes which repairs DNA damage but it could be that (as women age) that the egg is getting more challenged. There might be a tipping point,” he said.

What about older men who manage to have children with much younger partners? Surely that is a sign they still have what it takes? Not according to these scientists. Men who become fathers in their 50s or 60s are not more virile, they are just more likely to have a younger partner whose egg has repaired their mutated sperm.

And just to complete the humiliation for older guys, Professor Charles Kingsland, consultant gynecologist at Liverpool Womens’ NHS Foundation Trust, added: “There are biological reasons why an older woman would benefit from a younger man. Not only are male sperm likely to be healthier but women live a lot longer.”

Ouch.

How Do We Make The World A Less Scary Place For Young Children?

The world is a scary place. If you listen to news reports, it’s positively terrifying.

So imagine the effect it’s having on a group of people, unable to analyze and process information properly? I’m talking about very young children. For them it’s worse than a horror movie. And in the pervasive, digital world we all live in, bad news is impossible to avoid.

The Sandy Creek School massacre in the United States, is a perfect example of what I am talking about. There was no escape. It was on television, radio and in newspapers and magazines. Young children couldn’t help but catch snippets. Either something they heard or just by eavesdropping on adult conversation.

Here’s another. An eight-year-old girl was in the habit of writing notes to her mother while they were cooking dinner with the television news blaring away in the background. One evening, the mother found a note at the bottom of a pile, after her daughter had gone to bed. It read: I’m scared they are going to bomb our place.

Next morning, the mother very gently asked her daughter about the note she had written. The little girl said from what she had seen on the TV news, she thought someone was going to come and bomb the family home. The mother told her daughter these were rare events and a long way away so it was very unlikely they would happen in the neighbourhood where the family lived. But it just goes to show how young children absorb information they hear.They lack the sophistication to distinguish between geographic distances so to them it must be happening in their own backyard.

Two scenarios that clearly invite two questions: How much should kids know about what’s going on in the world? And how much should adults tell them?

Not much according to the Australian Council of Children and Media. They say if a child, even as old as 12, doesn’t know about some horrific event, don’t tell them. They don’t need to know and in any case it will be of no benefit to them.

A Council spokesperson says hearing about a catastrophic event only makes young children feel anxious and unsafe. Children process information in terms of it being either black or white. They can’t understand, appreciate, or see the subtle differences. They don’t see a shooting or a murder or even a natural disaster as a random or rare event even if it happens thousands of kilometers away, on the other side of the world.

That observation has been borne out in work done by Diane Levin, an American Professor of Education. She says children think about news very differently from adults. Instead of it being an abstract event or disaster, children define it to include their own lives. And as a consequence, they interpret what they hear, see or read, in a very personal way. They worry about their own safety. They don’t understand or appreciate the difference between what might be an immediate threat and one that is very remote. Levin recommends that parents step in and make their children feel safe but they must always be careful about how they achieve that objective.

A child will always look to their parents for reassurance. The experts say children are also astute and very good at picking up on parental anxiety. And of course if they see that adults are scared, combined with these events being replayed over and over again on the television news, then it’s hardly a surprise that a child will become fearful.

So how should parents go about giving their children the reassurance they need?

Well, the experts have come up with a plan that goes something like this:

Turn the TV off especially around news time so they aren’t exposed to what is being reported in the media.

Validate and listen to their feelings calmly and give them time to talk without pressuring them.

If the event happened in a country a long way away, then tell them this,while at the same time reassuring them that they are safe.

Try to help them overcome their fears by talking it through with them, based on their age and understanding.

Tell them that scary things happen but there are also lots of people helping to put things right and doing their best to stop disasters from happening again.

It might not solve the problem completely for children but it seems like a good step in the right direction.

I guess what it boils down to is our response as adults. When catastrophes happen they touch our own sense of insecurity and mortality. The best thing to do might be to hold on to the sane and down to earth aspects of daily life because that will ultimately make the world seem like a safer place to children.