You do not have to be a parent for this post to be relevent. Just be a member of the human race necessarily means you as an adult contribute to what children learn. Parents, of course, are who a child models himself after. But children see everything around them and notice a lot more than many people give them credit for. One way a child learns is through imitation. They also form the value system through things they see, things they hear, and what any group of people they come in contact with are doing.
I wrote earlier about how we are failing our children in education. What I did not include in that article is the education a child receives outside school. Every human on earth learns from his environment, his experiences. A simple example of this is how we refer to people having “street smarts.” Anyone who grows up in an urban environment is intimate with that education while someone who grows up in rural America does not have it. This may seem like simply a matter of where you grow up, which it is of course, but it is a great example of exactly how we learn.
In probably every country on Earth people discuss their future when they are looking towards their children. But most of such discussions revolve almost exclusively around two things, formal education, and religious education. I will not comment of religious education but I believe formal education to be an extremely large portion of any person’s ability to succeed in the world. For argument’s sake I will put that portion at 51%. But leaves another 49% to be accounted for.
From my experience in the primary education classroom, I can tell you there are informal activities that hugely affect every person’s life experience. First among these is socialization. In any group of kids you will find the full spectrum from the social butterfly to the wall flower. But be warned, the social butterfly may not be any more self-confident than the wall flower. Sometimes children act in one particular way as a means to cover up their fears. The wall flower is afraid of rejection but it is possible the social butterfly acts as such because she fears not having friends. One thing I know for certain, children always give clues as to why they are acting as such. As much as we need to reassure the wall flower we need to ensure that the social butterfly is simply having fun and not play acting to cover up a fear.
When I was a boy my mother caught me reading a girly magazine of some sort. For an instant I thought I was in serious trouble. My mother was a true disciplinarian. But to my great surprise, and of course her credit, she told me the pictures of naked women were not in themselves bad things. It was my reaction to those pictures, or as I think she put it, what I did with those pictures that made the difference. The message for me was, enjoy the beauty of the naked body but always respect women in person and in my actions. I bring this up because as a society we have this predilection of hiding nudity from our children. But most parent do nothing to hide all sorts of violence from children. Children are bombarded with images of wonton killing but protected from nudity. I find that absurd. Worse, children take violence as the norm and nudity as “bad.” A teacher who happened to show young children a picture of Michelangelo’s “David” would chance firing but that same teacher showing a picture of one person engaged in killing another would probably not even be spoken to. This shows a basic lack of good definition of right and wrong in our society.
What children need the most of are models and depictions of caring and love, of friendship, of good citizenship, of heroes. These things are woefully lacking, in my opinion, in the lives of too many children.
In school yards today the rule is a child cannot in any respect put his hands on another child. Boys rough-housing, wrestling, and other such activities are often outright banned. Someone seems to have forgotten that this is exactly what boys do and it is usually very healthy. When I oversee children at play I allow for a certain amount of rough-housing. Even more, when a child comes to me crying about having fallen and hurt themselves I comfort them a little but I do not allow them to go running to the nurse. I reassure them by noting that they are not bleeding but they are feeling the pain of having bumped themselves. I send them off by promising them that if they are still hurting a lot after 5 minutes I will allow them to see the nurse. Not a single child has ever gone to the nurse after that. What I am teaching them is that you are going to fall, you are going to hurt, but you will be all right if you give things just a little time. I always allow them their pain but always have them take some time with it just so they can see they will be all right.
What I have seen is too many parents at one end of the spectrum or the other. There are, unfortunately, parents who protect their children from little or nothing. These children become adults with bad attitudes, who are very defensive and worse who strike out at others, who are maladjusted and headed for a life of frustration and failure. At the other end are the overprotective parent. They will have a boy who wants to play football but the parent will not allow it because they think football too violent. They are the parents who attempt to control who their children play with. They are the parents who fawn over their child when the child is hurt and goes out of their way to end the hurt as quickly as possible. They seem to have forgotten that living through hurtful things is a good thing when the child involved fully appreciates how they will be all right afterward. They will not have such an experience if the parent takes it from them.
Some of the things no child needs to see are his parents have long verb altercations, or any physical altercations. They need to see their parents hugging one another, and kissing. They need to be disciplined. There has never been a child who does not try to find and push boundaries. It is a normal learning activity. But when such boundaries do not exist, what do they learn? They need to hear their parents apologise to them. They need to know that telling the truth when they have been wrong is not a bad thing. That is, they have to experience reward through truthfulness. Parents should never, ever, lie to their children. When the child walks in on the parents having sex, definitely do not chase the child out but tell him mommy and daddy were loving each other. Then tell them it is private time and ask the child to leave. Children need a healthy response to their missteps. Most mistakes children make are innocent but they learn better when they are given gentle but firm correction and not being yelled at or worse.
The bottom line is, if we want our children to act responsibly we have to act responsibly. We must acknowledge our mistakes in full view of our children. We must never make hollow threats. We must gently guide. We cannot condemn failure as failure is a part of life. We have to remind our children that frequently great success comes after a long series of failures. We have to make it all right to be less than perfect. We cannot afford to allow our children to be enamoured with physical beauty over inner beauty. It is our duty to give good example as that gives our children the greatest chance of success.