Teach Your Children Well

Teach Your Children Well
Their Father’s Hell will Slowly go By….

~ Crosby Stills and Nash

By: Barbara Kaufmann

Childhood is supposed to herald the formative years—the time when minds are growing and values are taking root through exploring, learning and observation. The exploring is instinctive, the learning intuitive and disciplined but observation is assimilated from the ecosystem that surrounds a child. A human ecosystem is all components of a person’s life—their family dynamics, culture, neighborhood, the beliefs that adults impart to them, how they are treated by people in their orbit of influence, what media is watched in the home, how animals are treated by their relatives, their socioeconomic status, the community, and sense of safety—everything surrounding their daily life. A child’s values rise from their ecosystem. That ecosystem can be nourishing or toxic or a combination. The responsibility is not so much in the eyes of the beholder (the innocent curiosity of a child) but from the eyes of the guides that build the village it takes to raise a child. Meanwhile, the child is not just observing that village, but absorbing it.

And those villages differ. Some cultures are cooperative while others are competitive. Some believe that civilizations evolve through conquest and military or violent means and some make peace their overarching value. Some revere their land and some are indifferent. Some defer their desires and sacrifice for the sake of their children and some pretend to. Some believe in dominance while others build community. The Western World, no longer preoccupied with survival has learned how to “entertain” itself. Some native cultures view life and the natural world as sacred.

Children learn what they feel about humanity from what they observe about humanity. A world tempered by a perpetual fear underlying reality that makes the world a scary and dark place takes away any sense safety and renders a child ungrounded in an ecosystem that is supposed to nourish and support his or her growth.

My growing up years incorporated the constant fear of an imminent nuclear annihilation set on auto pilot. Preoccupying my mind were thoughts like:

“When the bomb comes, will being vaporized hurt a lot?”

“Will my dog, Jody, when she is vaporized too, come to heaven with me?”

“Why do Mr. Khrushchev and the Russian people hate me so much; they don’t even know me?”

What kind of a world does that to a youngster? A toxic one. If that’s not child abuse, I don’t know what is. It also fits the definition of global “bullying.” The world bullied a whole generation of children and they later fought back by demanding some kind of sanity in culture and social order. That same irony is encountered when adults ask:

“Why are kids committing suicide?”

“Why are these kids bullying each other?”
“

Where do they get these ideas?”

Where? Look around you.

Every time you take your child to the supermarket, you expose him to a gauntlet of bullying—a display placed perfectly at child’s eyelevel that showcases and demonstrates effectively how to bully people by publicly, and with enthusiasm and glee, making fun of their vulnerabilities and imperfections. You demonstrate to her that the world demands impossible standards and perfection while at the same time ridiculing those who don’t measure up. You sanction capitalizing on morbid curiosity, envy, and feeding the shadow side of human nature—all with your silence. Silence in the face of bullying in words and images, and particularly publishing it in the public domain, and promoting it to a wide audience is… well… permission.  

Can you count how many times have you escorted your child through this gauntlet that hardens the heart, bypasses values and distorts any humanity or compassion in the mind of its observers? If you shop for groceries once a week, by the time your child is ten, he will have negotiated this passageway of bullying more than 500 times. How many trips through this tunnel of human of horror do you think it takes to condition a young mind to verbal and literary violence? Your silence sanctions bullying and instills values that find bulling is permissible and even acceptable. And profitable because it’s OK to gain from or make money off the missteps or misfortune of others”—some of those ‘others’ include the world’s most prolific artists.

Yet we wonder how young people can be so cruel as to bully other students by posting publicly humiliating materials on Facebook and Twitter? We condemn and penalize them for uploading YouTube videos that humiliate their peers? We condone it so why shouldn’t they? Often that is what Facebook becomes—a platform for cruelty. That is what Twitter can do in real time.  And cutting and heartless comments can be found on articles, websites and YouTube.

Take a close look at the adult world. What bullying do you see adults engaging in? What do you see them role-modeling to youth who are watching and assimilating this whole ecosystem? The toxic list is long: the abysmal lack of environmental stewardship; exploitation of the Indigenous; mismanagement of land, oceans, water, air; the greedy hoarding of earth's resources that principally belong to all by those who wish to exploit them as commodities and commerce; the skewed, manipulated and exploited economy; climate change; artificial agriculture and food production; political indifference; the abuse of power and influence; the mistreatment of animals—domestic and agricultural; land grabs and mismanagement; the collective psychic disconnection and denial of responsibility; the moral vacuum in business and commerce; racism; double standards; the widening spiritual vacuum; the abuse from authority figures and law enforcement; the trampling of human and civil rights; slavery; conflict; gentrification; genocide; war...

Look at the most popular Western Culture television shows. Prime Time TV is filled with reality shows that promote separation and survival accompanied by some kind of verbal or physical violence that exploits people for “entertainment” value. Even the popular shows that are supposed to be about law and justice, reciprocity and teach responsibility for one’s actions, feature judges who ridicule and bully the litigants in their filmed courtroom dramas. Consider the “tribal” shows that foster divisiveness and applaud conspiracy and cunning in the marginalization and banishment of someone from the “tribe.”

The real tribal elders encouraged community and cooperation and used banishment only as a last resort because it was a sure death sentence to expel someone from the tribe. It’s become a post-modern epidemic and is now standard fare. 

Children perceive that adults are “in charge of the world” and those adults are their role models. They look to adults to learn from. Children don’t emulate what you say; they mirror what you do.  

‘The tribe has spoken’ and the children are watching.