This month we’re digging into some of the challenges of deschooling. We’ve looked at how our fears can stifle our children’s learning if we indiscriminately use our fear to control our children’s exploration. And now I’d like to dig into the downside of being quick to judgment, especially when it comes to our children.
Of course, most often we aren’t giving our opinion maliciously—we want to share our knowledge and experience, helping our children (or friend, or spouse etc) learn to avoid what we see as mistakes or bad choices. Yet we do typically expect our children to listen to us and heed our judgment. And when they don’t, we express our disappointment with any eye to provoking feelings of guilt and shame. So they learn for next time. This cycle of expectation—disappointment—shame is a conventional tool used regularly by teachers and parents in an attempt to control children’s choices and behaviour.
But does it stop there?
I don’t think so. I see fear and shame having consequences for children that reach beyond just controlling their choices to align with what we think they should do. To investigate, let’s look at this from our children’s perspective. What other messages might they receive when we pass judgment on the people and things happening around us?
I think the most obvious message is that a good portion of their world is black and white. We give them the impression that there are two ways to do things: our way and the wrong way. We also aren’t likely to be open to changing our opinion—if we were, we probably wouldn’t have been so judgmental in the first place. And that just reinforces the message.
Our children look up to us for guidance, so if we are routinely judging this and that and the other thing, our children begin to see the world through that distinctive filter as well, and soon develop a fear of being wrong in our eyes, because they know they may be next. So not surprisingly, they internalize that message and often react by actively avoiding doing things they fear will get them in trouble.
That may sound like a good thing on the surface, but it means that their choices and actions become all about us, not about them. Meaning, they are learning very little about themselves, and tons about us.
Think about that for a moment.
Through our judgment of their wishes, they learn more about us than they do about themselves, or the choice in question.
If they want to stay up later and we say, “no, it’s bedtime now,” they learn what we believe about sleep, not more about how sleep actually works for them.
If they ask for another cookie (or toy, or story at bedtime) and we say, “no, that’s enough,” they learn what “enough” means to us, not what it means to them.
If they want to go to a movie with a friend and we say, “you’re too young,” they learn our interpretation of the situation, rather than exploring the ins and outs of situation from their perspective.
In this world of black and white, our children learn to fear colouring outside the lines. And the odd time they do try it, they are shamed. Eventually many are too afraid to do anything until they are clear where those lines lie. And any exploration they do stays firmly inside. Which in turn discourages them from trying new things. And their creativity fades away.
It is specifically through our conventional parenting and teaching tools that our children are learning that thinking creatively and trying new things is scary. And then we wonder why so many young adults are not creative, even after leaving the confines of the school system.
Wild, isn’t it? And it’s why making the paradigm shift to treating our children in ways that cultivate their self-expression and creativity is an important step on the deschooling journey.
And here’s that reminder again: although with unschooling we are careful not to jump to judgment, that doesn’t mean we leave our children alone to figure life out. We want—and need—to be actively involved and engaged in their lives. Sharing our experiences with our children can definitely be helpful—once they trust that we are sharing with no strings attached. That we don’t think our perspective is the only “right” one.
They come to realize that we aren’t sharing our thoughts in the hopes of changing their mind. That it’s not meant as a subtle, yet manipulative, judgment of their choices. We share so they have more useful information to consider. Full stop.
Because really, nobody likes to feel judged, do they? At any age. But we do like to gather information, make connections and choices, and see how they play out.