QANDAKIDS QUESTION :
“My quite aggro alpha male four-year-old is obsessed with the Minions, but I worry that they aren’t a good role model for him?
I totally get your concern.
For those who don’t have young children, the photograph above is of a Minion; a popular children’s movie character. Minions are essentially impulsive pranksters. Like over-tired kids at a chaotic birthday party, their behaviour is often aggressive, rowdy, giggly, annoying and – sometimes endearing. So, they’re probably not good role models for young, aggro, alpha male kids.
Here are six points to consider about Minion aggro.
1. Minions demonstrate two out of three types of aggression
Minion characters are scripted for impulsive aggression, not self-regulation. They display two of three types of aggressive behaviour.
a. Non-Minion aggression, or passive aggression, is associated with girls’ behaviour. Rather than openly thump someone, they attack emotions, usually through nasty gossip and exclusion. This behaviour is called relational aggression.
b. Minion-style aggression is usually ‘instrumental aggression’. It’s displayed to achieve a goal – snatch or fight physically for a toy, for example. There is no animosity here; it’s about the shortest route to gratification.
c. Another Minion-style aggression is hostile aggression. It’s designed to hurt someone, perhaps as an act of dominance or revenge. For example, when a child pushes an equal competitor out of the way.
2. Minions have no capacity for self-regulation
Minion aggression is impulsive. Minions act in the moment, sometimes aggressively, and often with dire (but funny) outcomes. Minions almost never think of possible consequences before they act. Self-regulation isn’t scripted into their characters.
By contrast, humans are unique in their ability to curtail their aggressive tendencies through self-regulation. The capacity is first noticed in infancy, when toddlers are seen to obey adults’ orders, as in the prevalent “Don’t bite anyone again!” instruction. For most children, self-regulation naturally improves with the development of the frontal lobes of their brain, and social and emotional development.
3. Self-regulation is developmental and learned
There is a variety of reasons why some children learn to self-regulate their aggression better than others. It has to do with intrinsic factors, like temperament, that is, their biological predisposition. There are also a number of extrinsic factors that influence their ability to self-regulate, such as whether they have sufficient sleep, their peer group influences, parenting styles, parenting models, and what parents actively teach them. And, it’s worth teaching aggro alpha males to self-regulate because it means that they are likely to have better lives in the future.
4. Self-regulation is important for later life
The famous psychologist, Walter Mischel, illustrated how important self-regulation is for later life. In a famous, classic experiment conducted in the early 1960’s, four and five-year-old children were seated at a table, individually or in pairs. The experimenters observed them in the stark, empty room through a one-way screen.
An experimenter placed a marshmallow in front of each child. Before leaving the room, she said something like, “You can either wait, and I’ll give you another one if you wait [until I return], or you can eat it now.” With that, she left.
Some children popped the marshmallow into their mouths and some nibbled at it. But, a few delayed their gratification and waited out the excruciatingly boring twenty minutes for two marshmallows instead of one. Mischel showed that these children had a significantly higher quality of life when they were followed up as teenagers and adults. They were better off academically, socially, financially, and they were much better at coping with their life challenges.
5. The Minions are not good self-regulation teachers
Young children often blur the line between fantasy and reality. Learning self-regulation from others includes fictional characters like Minions. It follows that because Minion behaviour is unregulated, Minions are not good role models for your aggro child. It’s fine if he only watches them now and then because there’s only a little learning going on. But, if he watches daily, the Minions might bring out the worst in him.
6. Five things you can do to reduce your son’s aggro predisposition and let him watch the Minions
The Minions are probably not good role-models for your son, but you can integrate his Minion viewing time with explicit lessons in self-regulation:
a. Reduce the Minion viewing time, so that the aggressive role-modelling isn’t reinforced over and over again.
b. I suggest that you workshop some of the Minion scenes with your son. Discuss why their behaviour is okay in movies, but not in reality. That way, he’s more likely to perceive the Minions as fantasy characters who are funny because they aren’t real.
c. Use child-speak to discuss drawings and story books that illustrate Minion-style aggression and your son’s need to regulate it – whether it’s in the context of sharing a toy, or competing in a race.
d. I recommend that you ask your son questions that guide him to consider the real-life consequences for aggressive behaviour, both the Minion’s and his. Frame the consequences with reference to the physical and emotional effect of the aggression on others and himself, as in, “How do think he might feel when you hit him?”
e. Finally, here’s an issue that I discuss (in child-speak) with my young prankster clients: A joke is only a joke when both the joker and the target of the joke find it funny. If the target person doesn’t laugh, the action is probably aggressive, and in contrast to what the Minions might think, in reality, it’s not funny.
Names, locales, people and incidents have been fictitiously created by the author. Any resemblance to actual people, places or individuals is completely coincidental.