Five Lies We Teach Children
Most of us, as children, heard adults say things that simply did not make sense. We also find ourselves repeating these same things to children once we grow older. Some things we say are taken for truths eternal, while some things are said in an effort to efficiently raise a child. Most of us mean no harm. The love we have for those younger than ourselves is what guides us.
Sometimes it is important to step back and take a look at what is said and how it is heard. Especially when we speak to children. With love as the motive, and growth as the purpose, below are five lies we tell children, even if without ill intent. Consider them if you will, or do not consider them at all. These are simply observations.
#5 This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You
Usually this is said when some type of punishment is about to be dispensed. Whether it is corporal or otherwise, we ask for empathy from the child who is about to receive our version of justice. I often wondered how a switch to a bare leg could have hurt me less than it hurt the one wielding the instrument. How does the one holding the belt hurt more than the one about to receive the lash? Does a child not receiving a meal or a privilege, or being “grounded” truly affect the parent?
The answers to these questions may seem obvious. No, it does not hurt as much to receive a punishment than it does to give a punishment. The problem with the statement, “this hurts me more than it hurts you”, is not the validity of what is said. We attach guilt to the punishment as well. When we say a thing like this, we create the illusion for the child that we are so weak that our well being is affected by their actions. So a child gets a good dose of pain and also the guilt of causing the parent pain.
Often it creates shame rather than a desire to “do better” at a thing. It also gives a child the sense that they have control over our emotions. This is negative because they might continue negative behavior just to manipulate the parent. What is worse than this, is that now, in the eyes of the child, every emotion the parent displays is somehow the result of the child’s action. Good or bad.
#4 Respect Your Elders
There are so many things to respect in life simply because they exist. Electricity, nature, kindness, others, deep running water, and even a hot stove are some. In some way, telling a child to respect their elders is the same as telling a child to respect everyone. Everyone is our elder when we are first born. Does this make them worthy of our respect? Not necessarily.
The fact that others are humans doing the struggle of life makes them worthy of respect. We might do better to admonish children to respect everyone. Two things will be accomplished by this. As we grow older we will not believe we do not need to respect those who are younger than ourselves, and it might teach children about real respect.
Real respect is mentioned because of how the phrase “respect your elders” is most often used. It usually means, “agree with me or keep quiet.” The phrase is most often used by people who do not want to be held accountable for their thoughts or actions. It might also be used by people who are acting in love and kindness, but have little energy for explaining themselves to inquiring minds.
#3 It Is a Sin To Waste Food
Most everyone in the West has heard about starving children in other countries. Usually this information comes as a reaction to our not wanting to finish a plate of food when we were children. Some were bold enough to offer to send their unfinished portions to those children, but usually we submitted to the will of those who fed us, and finished our portion. Whether we were full or whether we were not.
It might be a sin to throw food on the ground if standing if front of the hungry, and it might even be a sin to eat to excess in the face of the glaring fact that there are those in the world with a need. Certainly not eating a few green beans after eating other parts of a meal is not an offense. There are issues that come from forcing children to continue to eat when they are no longer hungry.
Somewhere along the way, we came to believe that we have to teach children, how much, and what, to eat. As if it were not ingrained in our DNA that we should eat when we are hungry. We generally over consume and are worried if our children do not do the same. Though we are not experts in nutrition, we are compelled to dictate what and how much, those in our charge, should consume.
#2 Because I Said So
This has become a tired and worn out phrase. It is used by people in authority and power all the time to justify their directives. When it is used as a response to a child’s question it only perpetuates the problem. With this simple phrase, we teach children that some things do not need to be understood and only obeyed.
If obedience is the only thing sought, then this is the perfect phrase for saving time and effort. On the other hand, if obedience is the only thing you are sought, pets might be a better option than children.
Compliance is necessary at times and should be able to be performed by children. In immediate situations, there may be a need for a child to do what they are told without questioning, but the response to a later question should be include more than, “because I said so.” And this brings us to the number one lie we tell children.
# 1 You Ask Too Many Questions
When we, as adults, start a new job, get a new phone, begin a new relationship, or discover a new way of thinking, we are filled with questions. This comes from being excited about a new thing. Children are coming into the world and are excited about what they have found. They are filled with questions as well.
Perhaps we are afraid to say things like, “I do not know.”
Maybe we cannot admit that we are not all-knowing. Maybe we are scared to admit all that we do know. Regardless of the reason, there is a limit to the number of questions we are prepared to answer when posed from children. There are never too many questions and we should be concerned only with too few questions. Perhaps the questions children ask are a way of communicating, and when met with other questions, can reveal everything you would like to know about a child.
This is only a small list of the lies we tell children. We also tell ourselves lies. It is easy to believe we have it all figured out, while also believing those that do not agree with us are somehow missing the mark. The fact that a soul came to this earth 20 years later than our arrival does not mean they are not wiser, more generous and kind, or less able to cope than we.
One consideration might be this. Perhaps children were not placed in our charge for us to teach. Might it be that we were place in their charge to learn?