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As incoming President Barack Obama ponders economic-bailout plans in the Oval Office, some pretty heavy action will be taking place in the private quarters of the White House, too.
Malia and Sasha Obama, ages 10 and 7, respectively, are the youngest children to inhabit the White House in decades. And they will be facing some seismic challenges of their own, in child-development terms. The Obama girls will pass from childhood into the upheaval of the pre-teen and early teenage years in a venue that past presidential kid Luci Johnson termed a “museum, a public fishbowl and a prison.”
The loss of privacy, continuity and constancy imposed by their move to the White House — coupled with the monumental new opportunities it offers — will have a huge impact on the Obama children’s sense of identity and competence at a critical stage, child-development experts say. While the glare of the spotlight has burned some presidential kids, others have emerged unscathed and strong. A look at the risks and rewards, based on research and past examples, holds lessons for any parent raising children under unusual stress.
Malia and Sasha are facing some core “developmental tasks,” in child-development parlance: the need to build their own sense of personal identity, or their concept of who they are in relation to others and the world at large, and their belief in their competence as individuals. These growth stages must be accomplished in an ever-widening context of friendships, school, the neighborhood and the world at large.
The Obamas, child-development experts say, seem to be a picture of health, based on the deep affection and easy communication family members displayed last July in their only video interview together. Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, have vowed to hold life as steady as possible for the girls, and are taking grandmother Marian Robinson to Washington to help.