Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Do We Raise Children to Fit In or to Change the World?

M others (and probably fathers, as well) want their children to be the unique individuals they are.  And yet, most of us have felt the sadness of seeing our child go through a phase where their uniqueness put them at odds with others, made them an outcast with friends for a period of time, or put them at odds with authority figures.  In those moments (and especially if the period is prolonged) we may, as parents, wish we could help our child fit in better, be more like everyone else, and obey all of the rules (so he or she doesn't get into trouble.) 

The questions to consider are: Are we as parents nurturing an individual or raising someone who will fit in?  Do we raise children in such a way that they are prepared for the pressures to conform and resist them (and thus potentially find themselves at odds with others) or do we raise them to obey and fit in?  And are these mutually exclusive?

So much of education is designed to fit multi-sided children into a round hole designed by a society which wants compliant, easy to manage people who will do what they are told. But any small child who plays with a shape sorter toy knows trying to put the blue square-sided shape into the green round hole won't work.  Adults may be able to find a way to saw off the sides to make it fit, but then it is no longer a square-sided shape.

Certainly teachers trying to instruct a group of students, parents who want their children to obey for safety reasons, and a society which needs to have some order to function, would argue we need to have children who listen and do as they are told.  Yet, children who grow up bending their will to the desires of others will not change the world unless they break out of those restrictions.  This is not an argument for letting children do as they please.  It is an argument for picking your battles as parents and realizing that raising a child who will be an independent thinker and who is not a follower of crowd mentality takes letting the child think independently even whilst teaching them rules that will allow them to present new ideas and move among others.

It is those who break those restricting bands that change the world.  For the world's future, we should be grateful for the children who refuse to bend their wills to fit societal rules, who go their own way, listening to their inner voice.  Indeed it is those people who have made the breakthroughs in science (from Einstein to Alfred Wegener to every scientist who broke new ground and faced derision from those who "knew"), in government (the U.S.A.founding fathers, Martin Luther King jr., Ghandi), in explorers, adventurers, in music, in technology (all inventors), and those who quietly live lives that set examples of how to forgive, how to live a life of meaning, how to walk their own path in spite of what others tell them they "must" do.

Children need to know which rules should be obeyed for the betterment of themselves and society and which can and should be broken. We need to guard and  guide them, but ultimately we need to teach them to think for themselves and to break free of what the media and education would tell them to believe. If we want children who can change the world, we have to raise them not to conform to it, to follow their own drummer even when it makes them unpopular. And even when it makes us as parents uncomfortable.

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