PARENTING IN THE 21ST CENTURY
How Aware Are We?
by Greg Wendt
Sometimes I wonder how I knew anything about life before I had children. They teach me everything that is important. Buckminster Fuller was right when he said we underestimate children. Perhaps hundreds of years from now, in some future society, adults will look to the innocence and truthfulness of children as a model to live by.
Young children do a number of things very well, and far better than do adults. For instance, children make friends very easily. They approach life with openness and trust; that is, until the harsh realities of the world adults created shatter their feeling of safety. Their hearts are open to new experiences and people. Seeing someone their own age fills them with excitement and anticipation. An unlimited potential for joy and fun awaits them through every new encounter. Sure, there can be shyness, reservation and fear, but these barriers usually fall away quickly and children find a way to bond almost instantly.
For adults, this is not so easy. We have been taught to mistrust, to be guarded, to be afraid of strangers, to be wary of people we don't know-especially if they are different. Children do not perceive these barriers. They crave relationship, just as we do. But they don't hide this desire with layers of impenetrable psychological armor. At least not until they are taught to do so. Sadly, not-so-young children are learning to hide behind internet connections, seeking so-called friends on MySpace and the like. Innocence doesn't need MySpace. Innocence is a magnet for true relationship.
Another thing children do far better than adults is generate their own fun and entertainment. With their vivid imaginations and an inner drive to explore, experience and create, children turn virtually any environment into their unique play-world.
Sand is transformed into castles, puddles become oceans, blank sheets of paper are filled with color. They don't need much, because they have a rich fountain of creativity at their disposal. That is, unless we adults expose them to that which clogs up the fountain.
As 21st century parents, we grew up experiencing the beginnings of the modern, ultra-commercial-ized society in which advertising began to explode, including commercials aimed directly at children. If we watched much television, and most of us did, we were taught early on that happiness comes from acquiring lots of cool things and going to lots of fun places. In other words, we were pulled out of our limitless imagination and placed in a box where only the right toy, candy, movie, or theme park could make us happy. We became shackled by these illusions and unhappy when we couldn't fulfill them; and we were too young to understand what was happening to us.
Now, in the blink of an eye, we are adults with children of our own. Consciously and unconsciously we are passing our beliefs, ideologies and habits onto them. Have we examined the forces that shaped our outlook on life? Do our decisions reflect what is healthy for our children, or have we unconsciously bought into the status quo of mass entertainment, sugar-laced foods, and over-stimulation of the senses?
These questions are worth examining. Children have one short opportunity to be children. Every day is precious and important to their healthy development. We must be conscious and vigilant about what and how we expose the world to them. There are many seemingly benign forces in the every-day world that are not at all friendly to children. Likewise there are hidden opportunities for positive growth that we may not be aware of. It is up to us to be awake and to know the difference.