Today, I’m going to wander away from pediatric medicine for one pedcast and wander into an important subject– how we teach our kids to be tolerant and accepting of others. In my mind, nothing could need more urgent attention than improvement in human relations. The world is in a mess. There seems to be so much hate. Many Arabs hate Israelis and vice versa,; many Christians hate Muslims and vice versa; many Cubans hate the Americans and vice versa, many Saudi’s hate Iranians and vice versa; many Indians hate Pakistani’s and vice versa, and on and on it goes. But Why. Where does all this hatred come from. We are born without preconceptions about others, without hate for one another, so the hatred has to be learned, either from direct experience with the group that is hated or vicariously from our parents and elders. Since many, or I dare say, most of the people consumed with hate have never met or had any direct life experiences as a young child with the people they hate, I contend that most of the hatred is passed down from our parents, teachers, and adults in our lives and it is exactly that “passing down” that is the subject of today’s pedcast.
If children learn their attitudes about people who are different from them from their older generation, at what age does this process happen and why does it happen so easily? I suspect I know why. Here is my thinking. All, young children are born to imitate. Imitation is the main way children learn about their world. Toddlers learn language by repeating everything their parents say. School age kids learn how to “do” things by imitating their parents, and older children learn every new skill by practicing what they are shown, whether it be math problems, playing the piano, or making a jump shot. Imitation is the principle way children learn everything. Add to that, the urge for all children to seek physical and emotional security and you have a recipe, from a very young age, for children to quickly adopt their parent’s attitudes about the world. Children unconsciously seek their parent’s acceptance by imitating their attitudes and fears. And that is exactly what we see happen. We have all seen images of four year old children throwing rocks in the middle east or brandishing assault weapons like seasoned soldiers. Certainly these children cannot understand the nuanced history of whatever conflict or the justification for this kind of extreme hatred but they are quick to take on the cause. Why, because they are looking for the security of belonging to their own tribe and accepting their parent’s attitudes is essential to receive that communal security. Humans are still very much tribal creatures in my mind, just like we have been for thousands of years. There is safety in belonging to the tribe, there is safety in numbers and kids get that, even when they are very young. You know that Doc Smo pearl, “Modern humans are simply cavemen that don’t smell and wear weird clothes.”
Ok, so if children are quick to adopt their parent’s attitudes about things, then we, as parents better be pretty careful about the attitudes we demonstrate for our children and how we treat people who are different from ourselves… people from other tribes so to speak. Our attitudes are being passed onto our children even before our children have had any experience of their own with people they haven’t even met. If a parent’s attitude is negative or defensive about a person with a different background, their kids are going to pick up on that and probably adopt similar attitudes. And so the cycle of hate and mistrust goes on and on.
How can we break the cycle of generational hate and mistrust? I think the only answer to this question is that it is hard to hate people you know. Getting out of our comfort zone, meeting and talking to people of very different backgrounds is our only hope. When I have done so in my own life, not only have many of my preconceptions been changed, but I have created enduring new relationships.
I made this podcast to make my listeners sensitive to this phenomena of passing negative attitudes to children and hopefully, turn down some of the mistrust and fear we have of one another, especially those of different backgrounds. So, here are some of the things you can do with your kids of all ages to improve their future.
-Be very careful about not to say negative things about other people in front of your children, even when your children are very young. They may very well internalize these negative attitudes.
-Whenever possible, try and understand the motivations and feelings of people you don’t like or that you mistrust. Try very hard to take a few steps in another man’s shoes and understand why they act the way they do and have the attitudes that they have.
-Make a conscious effort to socialize with people of different backgrounds than your own. Not only will this be a growing experience for you, but also you are modeling great behavior for your children.
-And don’t forget the Golden Rule, “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” Absolutely make it a priority to teach this rule to your children. If we all lived by this rule, the world’s problems might quickly fade away.
As always, thanks for joining me today. If you enjoy learning about pediatrics on docsmo.com, take a minute to write review on iTunes and subscribe to my blog at www.docsmo.com. Portable practical pediatrics is my promise to you with each and every pedcast. This is Dr. Paul Smolen, hoping you are in the mood to give your children a positive attitude. Until next time.