Bad Parenting: How we damage our children through guidance

Upset problem child sitting on staircase

“Little children, from the moment they are weaned, are making their way toward independence.” ― Maria Montessori

Study after study has shown that the most well-adjusted, healthy, and successful children come from stable homes, from the kind of environments where children know they have the love and support of their parents regardless of what actions they take in the course of discovering themselves.

This messy method of trial-and-error experimentation the kids are undertaking is the process of individualization: taking all the experiences and information they’re exposed to, comparing it with what they already know, then deciding what is worth storing into their memory as part of their personality and what should be discarded as illogical or irrelevant to their personal growth.

Now the most natural way for this to happen is for parents and educators to give the child the building blocks and then get out of the way. This simply means supplying the child with the fundamental tools of critical thought (language, math, and science) that will empower them to figure things out for themselves, then ensuring there are no barriers preventing them from exploring whatever whims they find themselves attracted to.

The reason this approach works the best is because this is the natural way we evolved.

Our minds, over time, were crafted into unbelievably powerful pattern-recognition machines, incredible at filtering reality down to the most meaningful components necessary for our survival. To empower this ability to its fullest potential, we evolved the most potent aspect of our consciousness: our imaginations. This inner-eye canvas on which we could mix images and thoughts became our logic-lab, the place where could take the patterns and concepts we’ve seen throughout of lives and manipulate them through a serious of hypothesis and predictions. This mental ability to “try out” ideas to see their logical conclusion is how we decided what actions to take, thus becoming our evolutionary edge–those of us who performed this task the best were the ones who survived to pass this skill along to their children.

This is how we managed to survive the treacherous jungle despite the abundance of animals that were much stronger and faster than we were. Eventually, our cultivation of this unique skill enabled us to thrive to the top of the food chain, creating tools to fend off the animals who were better predators than we were, ultimately overcoming them and building our way out of the jungle entirely, creating a society that resulted in flying vehicles(airplanes) and an instantaneous video communication system(internet) that connects opposite ends of the planet by condensing reality into 1s and 0s–into electronic bits.

The point is: we became the best versions of ourselves because our early minds hardwired every individual of our species with the gift of personal reasoning. Because that’s the whole point, right? To have a child become an adult who is capable of independence, able to move through nature and society in a well-adapted way, able to make the most logical predictions in order to be able to prepare and execute with the greatest possible chance for success.

And this–this why our minds demand we make sense of the world around us. Because we inherently know we are the only ones whom we can rely upon; no one else will be there all the time to guide us.

“The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.”
― Maria Montessori

Hence where our method of parenting becomes so crucial: we reinforce the neural pathways that create our children’s system of imagination and logic.

Unfortunately, a great swathe of our society has failed tremendously at performing the above function for their child.

Because of our own insecurities and fears, we let our ego raise our children. This ego demands validation for our way of life; in our fear that we may have built a system of beliefs that could be wrong, we demand others agree with us and share our perspective so that we feel less alone.

And so rather than support our children’s own individual journey–their own reasoning and growing understanding of reality and the things the make sense to them and that bring them joy–we give them our journey, actually going so far as to force them to agree with us. (Which naturally they will because they’re too young to have experienced alternative ideas.)

See, the healthiest children are given the universe and are allowed to find their own way through it: they form their own beliefs, discover their own joys and talents, their own fears and dreams and goals. And in this way they blossom; enriched and motivated by passion and happiness, they cultivate for themselves a life that brings out the best in them, a life of harmony: where the life they ideally imagine for themselves (the life that makes the most sense to them) is actually the one they are living.

But when we force our story onto our children, when we put limitations on them, they start to develop a cognitive dissonance, a form of mental stress and/or discomfort that often leads to neuroses and other psychological issues. This happens because the things that make the most sense to the child is now something they’re forced to turn against. The brain, in its ultimate wisdom, is continually broken in subtle ways by this contradictory upbringing.

Imagine a child’s life as a series of rooms connected by infinite doorways and infinite paths, each door representing a possible choice the child could make. Now psychology tells us that the healthiest way to grow is to keep ourselves moving from room to room, learning what each has to offer and then taking that new experience/information and using it to inform which door we’ll choose next.

Now imagine that a child approaches their selected door–the door that their brain has decided is the best one for them personally, the one that makes them the happiest and that makes the most sense based on what they’ve learned so far–but right as they’re about to step through it, their parent steps in the way and locks that door. Instantly, all future paths that were based on that choice are now shut down.

But that doesn’t stop it from being the choice the child WANTS to make. The urge to step through that door doesn’t subside. Instead, it’s locked away into their mind as psychological damage, most often called “repression”. This makes the child feel bad about being themselves, about wanting to be who they are, makes them think that their choices aren’t acceptable, and thus we deliver our children into a lifetime of insecurities that will be compensated for with alcoholism, drug abuse, neuroses of all kinds, and likely a deep arrogance rooted in ego.

An ego that will then be passed on to their children, in the same way that their parents passed it on to them, ensuring that generation after generation suffers from feeling disconnected from who they really are and thus feels the need to force their beliefs onto their children, each generation trying to find comfort with their indoctrinated belief system even though it doesn’t make sense to them, each generation hoping to rid themselves of this subconscious torment by procreating more humans that are forced to agree and add validity to that system of beliefs that they inherently know is illogical.

So what are some examples of this “locking of doors”?

It can be anything really, but the most obvious ones are religion and political ideology. Many children are forced to believe their parent’s religion and political ideas, rather than supported to form their own opinions. This steals away the child’s ability to think critically because they’ve discovered that their own personal logic will be rejected by the norms of society. This teaches them to suppress the logic of their own experiences when it doesn’t match up with the system of beliefs that allows them to be accepted by their family and community, thus making children who lack the confidence to go after what they want to instead live a depressing lie for the sake of acceptance.

And I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong religion or belief system here–I don’t care what you or your child believes; all I care about is that it’s actually their belief, an idea they formed themselves and not one that was forced onto them. We hurt ourselves and our society by blinding accepting whatever box is projected upon us. We are too dynamic with far too many different experiences for this to ever work in a healthy way. We are not cogs in a machine that are all shaped in the exact same way and who run with the same parts; we are emotional and logical creatures all building on a different series of memories and experiences, different truths and perspectives, different joys and pains.

And while religion and politics are the biggest ways we damage children in this way, it’s important to note that there are infinite ways in which we do this, other ones of particular interest being things like hobbies and passions. Many parents will lock the doors of music and art in favor of the doors of math and science, but how many groups like the Beatles and performers like Aretha Franklin would we have lost if their parents had locked those doors on them? What if Da Vinci and Isaac Newton had been told to put away their silly experiments to become soldiers in the military instead?

The point is: the members of our society that inspire us most and contribute to our society in the most meaningful ways are the ones who are most honestly themselves, unbound by locked doors, instead inspired by passion and truth that they can then share with the rest of us.

And this, my friends, is why it’s so important we don’t limit our children, that we don’t lock doors and hide them from exposure to things that we feel uncomfortable with–because it actually may be the thing that makes them the most comfortable.

Do not try to hide your children from other religions or ideologies, from music or different sexualities or profanity, etc. Our kids need to see reality in its fullness in order to make the most honest choice for themselves on how they want their lives to unfold. If we think that transgendered people in bathrooms are confusing and dangerous to our children, then that’s because WE as the parents are confused and afraid–but our child would be just fine because they would simply see that as another aspect of the reality they’ve been born into. And it’s the same with any form of xenophobia. All we do by teaching our children biases against people different from them is limit the number of options our children have for fulfilling relationships, simultaneously increasing the chance they’ll suffer from war and hate crimes.

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” –Nelson Mandela

We do our children no justice by hiding them from the realities of the world and locking the doors of growth upon them. All we do is risk locking the wrong door, barring them from becoming their true self, the self that makes the most sense to them and that makes them the happiest. To place barriers upon our children’s growth is to force cognitive dissonance upon them, thus damaging them and setting them up for a lifetime of pain.