Now that my child is old enough to start questioning the world around her, it makes for some very interesting conversations. A commercial on TV, a glimpse of the news when she is flipping channels, an overheard conversation, a glance at a tabloid while standing in line at the grocery store, these can all make for some serious questions about the world around her.
It’s hard for kids to not take everything in, without them fully understanding it. As adults we have learned not to believe everything we read, but children are still learning this concept. If the media was in charge, my daughter would be certain we live in a war zone, where everyone hates everyone else just because they are different. She would be certain that whatever type of food she is eating is the wrong kind, and that the only way to be popular or famous is to become a circus-like spectacle that doesn’t respect herself.
I don’t have the answers to any of the problems that go on in the world, but a concept time and time again comes to mind when my daughter asks me about these headlines. This concept is acceptance. “Why are people fighting?” She might ask. “Why does anyone care if he wants to be a man or a woman?” She has said to me. “Why is that magazine making fun of how she looks in a bathing suit?” These are the type of questions that I get and it makes me sad to think that our children are being conditioned to fight with each other, to point out differences in a negative way, and to objectify each other. The concept that comes to mind when she riddles me with these inquisitions is acceptance, acceptance of all people, celebrating our differences and showing love and kindness to our fellow man.
It’s very easy for people to remove themselves from the reality that we all are the same. We all feel love, fear, and we want to be accepted. The media especially, likes to point out divisions, focus on bad news, and use fear mongering to spike their ratings. Of course the child does not know this and they think we live in a world where everyone hates everyone and that’s normal. It isn’t normal at all. It’s hard enough for them to navigate who they are without having outside pressures constantly judging them and pointing the finger at everything they do. This is teaching them fear to be themselves.
I have always thought that the personal is political whether you want it to be or not. Starting at home, it’s so important to teach your child to accept others just as they would want acceptance themselves. Though I feel like there are universal laws and morals, many of the things we nitpick really are inconsequential in the scheme of things. I recently told my daughter that I would love and accept her even if she wanted to grow up to be a “peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” An odd metaphor, I know, but more than imposing my own personal judgements about who and what she should be, I think the idea of accepting others as long as they aren’t hurting anyone and they are happy is so much more vital. Sure I want the best for her, but my idea of what is best puts her happiness first.
When we as a society, dehumanize, and remove ourselves from our true nature, we are able to do some of the most terrible things. The tabloids that dissect, and point the fingers at those who live a different lifestyle than us do so much more harm than just to the celebrity they are trying to tear down. They condition our children to be scared to be themselves. When the media focuses on the small pieces of negative amidst a sea of positivity, they start to brainwash the public into thinking the oppressed are the oppressors. When the media uses a person’s past to justify their current situations, they are conditioning people to try and rationalize a universal wrong in such a sick, sad, and judgmental way.
How is this something we can explain to our children? We first have to break this cycle, and that starts at home. Despite the televisions blaring, and the media hitting us from all sides, we are still our child greatest example. We have to teach our children to love and accept one another in hopes that future generations won’t be filled with the evil and hate that I see in mine. Our standard has to be set at home and we have to be willing to wage war with those outside influences and let our children know that love is the answer, and you cannot fight hate with more hate anymore than you can fight fire with a can of gasoline.