Communal Apartments and Childhood Fears (or lack thereof)

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Aspie1
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28 Nov 2009, 5:23 pm

First of all, here some background. Communal apartments were a widespread phenomenon in most of the former USSR from 1920's to 1950's. Go here http://kommunalka.colgate.edu/cfm/about.cfm to read about what those were like. The history behind them is as follows. Shortly after the Russian Revolution in 1917, Lenin and later, Stalin were looking for ways to solve the housing shortage and give poor landless people a place to live (the ones who the new Communist Party ideology was supposed to serve). So, housing agencies moved multiple unrelated families into luxury apartments seized from wealthy owners by the government. One family, couple, or person (based on their last name) was given a single room inside a communal apartment. Kitchens, bathrooms, and halls were shared among all residents. The conditions weren't pleasant, and were oftentimes more cramped than college dorms, as twenty or so people lived in a space that once housed a single family.

As people were being assigned rooms in communal apartments, the government agencies made no accommodations for people's lifestyles, occupations, or personal interests. Families were placed on a largely arbitrary basis. As a result, numerous drama and conflicts ensued over typical roommate issues, enough to make Real World look like Brady Bunch. On top of that, there was little or no chance of being placed into a different apartment, so people learned to cope and adapt.

Now, I've been able to self-teach Russian over the past year or so well enough to be able to read storefront signs and simple texts. I read on one website that children who lived in communal apartments had much fewer fears and phobias than children who lived in individual apartments later on in history. Numerous apartment buildings were put up under Khrushchev's mass construction program, enabling the country to place each family into its own apartment. (That program has plenty of its own problems, albeit different, but they're beyond the scope of this thread.) Then again, it's quite possible that in the hassles of communal living, individual child's fears were simply never found out; but keep reading.

I'd say this makes a lot of sense. It seems like that if a child is aware that there are always a lot people nearby no matter what, it will have a moderating effect on any anxiety that he may be suffering from. There are numerous opportunities to interact with an another person, adult or child, even if it's a simple "good morning". The same website suggests a theory that the vast majority of children's fears and phobias stem from loneliness. In a communal apartment, even an only child has numerous opportunities to talk to adults and play with children living there. In a individual apartment (let alone a McMansion-type house) with just the nuclear family, this is obviously not the case. So, when a child spends a lot of time alone, his mind fills in the quietness and the emptiness with fantasies from the mind. Hence, the fears.

So, what's your take on that? Would you say that the simple presence of many people in a living space can reduce the number of childhood fears? With just me, my parents, and my much older sister living in a large condo, I was lonely for a vast majority of the time, and had many fears of objects in my own home. But maybe it's different for other kids. Either way, post your thoughts. (I guess this might be easier if you have some Russian background.)



Last edited by Aspie1 on 28 Nov 2009, 5:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Callista
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28 Nov 2009, 5:32 pm

I'd want a decent study on it. Like you said, only children should be more fearful than firstborns of large families (their birth-order characteristics are similar otherwise) if living with a lot of other people mitigates childhood fears.


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Aspie1
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29 Nov 2009, 2:39 am

The website I looked at wasn't a study: it was a semi-casual site in Russian about parenting (not the same one as the link in the first post). But here's a personal anecdote that might sway the argument. In the condo where I lived as a kid, there was a chandelier in the hall that I was terrified of. It came with the condo, located inside an old building, and was designed in a style that's not commonly made anymore. But when I saw the same chandelier in a busy home improvement store, I felt no fear whatsoever, which surprised my parents. It was only inside my home where it scared me. My theory is that I associated my home with constant loneliness, while the store was busy and full of people.

Whether the site was professional or not, I couldn't agree more with the theory that the vast majority children's fears and phobias stem from loneliness. When a child has little social contact, he/she feels a sense of emptiness, of something lacking. The subconscious mind, in turn, tries to fill in that emptiness with fantasy elements, including things picked up from the media. More often than not, those elements are fear-inducing, thus making children anxious. That probably also explains why aspies are more likely to be suffer from anxiety; they have trouble forming social contacts, resulting in what I just described.