One of my favorite mental pastimes is reducing complex concepts into algorithms or metrics. One recent item I’ve been thinking about is how to measure maturity – specifically as related to the concept of child rearing & personal development.
The topic is simple – there is a clear difference between a mature adult and a child. There is also a notable difference between adults; one that ‘really has it together’ and another that is ‘immature for their age’. The complex part is defining and measuring that in a consistent way. How would you quantify mature? How would you program a computer to recognize it?
What is most interesting to me is to find a way measure maturity development and then use that measurement to set goals for how I raise my children. Benchmarks to help me see if I’m doing a good job introducing them to new challenges. Tools to facilitate conversations I have with my wife about how we can better serve our children.
The Metric Prototype
The concept I’ve come to is a simple three number measurement showing: independence interdependence and dependents.
Lets look at each.
The concept of being able to live your life without external input; financially, physically, emotionally, etc.
I would measure this on a scale of zero to one. 1.0 meaning an individual could operate completely independently and 0.0 meaning they could not do anything for themselves.
For example, my two week old baby girl has no independence. She can not do a single thing without help from (mostly) mama: nourishing her body, cleaning herself, protecting herself from the elements, even going to sleep often requires a lot of help. To give her independence a number, it would be near-zero.
In contrast, my two year old is becoming somewhat independent. He is potty trained, except for wiping after #2. He can climb into his high chair and feed himself, given someone provides and prepares the food for him. He can take off his shoes and is learning to get undressed by himself. If I were to give him a number for his independence, on a scale of zero to one, it would perhaps be in the 0.15-0.25 range.
A well adjusted adult could, in theory, eventually hit 1.0 when they were living in a house paid for by income they generated, able to take care of themselves through a basic day, able to react appropriately to environmental and social inputs and manage their emotional health, etc.
I will note that I use the would ‘could’ which might be different that what is actually observed, this is due to the next item.
One item of quick note is that I assume a 1.0 of independence to be an adult taking care of themselves, but there is clearly a difference between scraping by and thriving. There is also the interesting case of hedonistic adaptation where an individual that was once independent might increase what they depend on, thus eventually falling below their own 1.0.
The concept of living with shared dependencies.
I didn’t originally think about this concept, but as a started to test various straw men against the other two factors, I realized that it is in an important piece of context. Many individuals chose never to strive for full independence for very good reasons. The positive aspects of this type of joint relationship are what I would measure as interdependence.
I am not yet able to make a value claim about this aspect, how much is ideal and/or which pole is better. For today I simply want to find a way to quantify its existence.
I would measure this on a scale of zero to one. 1.0 meaning an individual was completely dependent on one or more people, but was equally contributing to those people. 0.0 meaning the individual operated with no interdependence. Note that interdependence and independence are orthogonal. A person operating with zero interdependence could be completely independent, completely dependent, or anything in between.
As an example of interdependence, my wife and I have chosen to divide tasks in our lives, creating a division of labor within our family unit. This allows us each to focus on certain things we are best at. It also, by definition, creates interdependencies. Specifically, I work for a salary that provides our house with the majority of our financial income. My wife is dependent on me for that currently, though she can and has done so independently in the past. She, (among many other things), manages much of our social lives, corresponding, coordinating, hosting and remembering to send birthday wishes. I am dependent on her for that, though at one point I was able to do so myself. At this point in our lives I might measure our interdependence somewhere around 0.2.
In contrast to that, I know some married couples that essentially continue to operate completely independently on many levels. They each maintain their own professions, finances, schedules, social relationships, etc. They might measure much closer 0.0.
At the other extreme are cultures that live in a community of high interdependence. The example that comes to mind for me is a commune where everyone has a task, but no one exchanges money – some farm, some clean, some cook, some entertain, etc. Individuals in those communities might have a very high level of interdependence, perhaps 0.5 or higher.
I can not think of a true example of anything near a 1.0, though I would be delightedly surprised to find one.
I would like to note that a close relative to interdependence is ‘codependence’, which is often used as a term to describe unhealthy relationships. From what I’ve read, the key difference between the healthy state of interdependence and the unhealthy state of codependence is that the individual retains the ability to be independent. It sounds like this is an issue of debate in the profession of physiology and I suspect biologists would weigh in as well.
The number of other people sustained by your input.
I would measure this on a scale of zero upwards, with the maximum being somewhere around the population of the earth, plus or minus.
The common example is having children. A naive approach to measuring dependents would be to assign each child one point and divide it across those that take care of them. That might be 0.5 to each of two parents, it might be a full point to a single parent, or there might be some smaller fraction taken on by grandparents, other family members, the state, etc.
My naive approach above assumes a binary which is in fact not true. There is such a thing as being a bad parent and similarly there is such a thing as being a mediocre parent or only partially caring for dependents. Acknowledging that, it wouldn’t affect the metric’s template, only an individual metric – so this is something I will defer to a later time to think more about.
Of note, we are talking about measuring maturity and the issue of children presents an interesting case. There is no maturity requirement involved in the act of creating children (despite that depictions of it are described as ‘mature’) and certainly for some, the way they ended up with a child is a sign of the opposite. Raising children always requires maturity though. For some the child is a forcing function, their maturity rapidly increases to meet the bar. For others their lack of maturity is evident and someone else must raise the child.
It is really important to me to stress that having children is not the only form of dependents and is in fact not be the best for everyone. The world has been blessed in many ways by those that have not had children and as such were able to invest more energy in other efforts.
For some this might come in the form of taking care of elderly parents or other family members. Another example that comes to mind for me is volunteers who tutor, mentor or help those not related to them. A few people in my circle right now are investing a lot of time helping a family of refugees transition to life in America. This is certainly a situation that creates a partial dependent.
Someone that always has energy to help those around them might in fact have a larger impact than those having children. Ra
As I described above, I would display this as a simple three number measurement showing: independence interdependence and dependents. To be displayed in the following manner: 0.7 : 0.3 : 0.2
What this gives us is a quick glance to see development or arrested development.
My newborn for example would measure at: 0.0: 0.0 : 0.0
A young child would develop to something around: 0.3 : 0.0-0.2 : 0.0
At some point in adolescence we would expect: 0.8 : 0.0-.03 : 0.0
Until the child became an independent adult: 1.0 : 0.0-0.5 : 0.0
And ultimately when they began caring for others: 1.0 : 0.0-0.5 : 1.0-5.0
As I’ve stated, my intention is to create a tool to allow me to better think about child development. The above is my current prototype, something I intend to explore further. I will certainly need to refine the concept and to date the measurements are inexact, meaning a rubric is needed. Creating that will require a much broader exploration of the topic.
What I love about this project is that even if the metric is useless as a tool, the research I do to come up with it will require me to learn a lot more about child development, which will certainly benefit the initial goal.