I picked up a book in the library the other day. It is a book about computer science, something that I no longer read nowadays. But that day I somehow walked along the shelves of the computer section and a tittle just happen to catch my eye. I am glad I picked it up because in one of the pages I saw the word — “anti-patterns“.


Pattern (Photo credit: Natesh Ramasamy)

I knew this word all along. Legend tells of four awesome software developers, famously called “Gang of Four“, with their extensive experience in the industry, has found that the problems and their solutions in developing software are all different and unique, but nonetheless form patterns that can be distinguished and analysed. They document it and popularised the idea of “design patterns“, so that other software developers can freely benefit from their analysis of good solutions.

The idea of “anti-patterns” came later to analyse and document bad solutions that are commonly used. I quote from Wikipedia, anti-patterns are:

Some repeated pattern of action, process or structure that initially appears to be beneficial, but ultimately produces more bad consequences than beneficial results.

I must have been very impressed by the brilliant ideas in computer science and unconsciously thought along the same line when starting this project. (Other than this, the name “Divide and Conquer” is actually inspired by a type of algorithm in computer science.) I am delighted because I have been looking for an appropriate word to describe what I am analysing and documenting here, and that word is “anti-patterns”.

Like I said,  I knew this word all along but I don’t remember it consciously until I saw it again. That’s why I am so glad I picked up that unlikely book that day.

The reasons to describe the anti-patterns of persuading children are the same as why folks in the software industry want to document the anti-patterns of software development. They know well that some solutions can work in the short term, but will break in the long run. Since the bad consequences only rears its ugly head much later, people who initially employed the solution may have already left the company and the product over time becomes too complicated and expensive for anyone to fix.

In the same spirit, the side effects of the unethical ways to persuade children can also appear much later. Adults can feel like the way they persuade the children is working well and continue using it. But I want to tell people that some of these ways actually have some side effects that they may not wish on the children. The analysis is not so much about saying “you must not do this”, because it really depends on the situation, and it is an analysis not a list of commandments; but more about saying “you probably don’t realise that you are actually doing this, but there may be side effects like …, the reason being …”

The Wikipedia also listed another key element to an anti-pattern:

An alternative solution exists that is clearly documented, proven in actual practice and repeatable.

In this project, I do have a section dedicated to the alternative ways to persuade children. (It is under the menu “Alternatives”) However I do not aspire to be the one who knows all the alternatives. Neither do I believe that the lack of alternatives that work will make the analysis less plausible. In fact, the good thing about anti-patterns is precisely because the analysis is only about solutions to be avoided. That is good because it will free up our creativity to explore and experiment. When we are clear of the anti-patterns and convinced of the analysis, we know what to avoid doing, and because of that will have the freedom to create our own alternatives. We can do whatever we want to persuade children as long as we are aware of the side effects. This freedom and creativity is what makes dealing with children fun and enjoyable.

English: Painting depicting a lecture in a kni...

English: Painting depicting a lecture in a knight academy, painted by Pieter Isaacsz or Reinhold Timm for Rosenborg Castle as part of a series of seven paintings depicting the seven independent arts. This painting illustrates Rhetorics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some professions like teachers, motivational speakers or life coaches deal a lot with children (the “children” that is not necessarily defined by age, please read the Introduction). Furthermore some of these professionals may believe that their success is determined by how well they can persuade their audience. It is therefore my hope that this documentation of the anti-patterns to persuade children can give them some food for thought, and that more of them will openly debate the ethics in using them.

It is my hope to raise the awareness that there exists anti-patterns of persuading children. I believe when this becomes popular, there will be a collective awareness that will protect all our children.