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The philosophic approach to parenting is to be passive about many issues; the parent refrains from expressing his personal opinion. Instead, he passes the choice on to his children, saying to himself: "Let them decide for themselves about moral questions when they grow up."
What happens to the child of such parents? Since he does not receive a well-defined set of values from the parents, he begins to identify with whatever type of people he finds in his immediate environment. Social pressures become the only source of influence building his future character, and may change from day to day. These children are deprived and underprivileged ethically, regardless of their parents financial standing. Since they are denied the opportunity to become aware of their own, individual inner strength of character, they latch on to external sources, much like a parasitic worm that feeds on the lifeblood of its host. So, too, does this child turn to sources outside the home to nourish the soul within him. The difficulties inherent in this situation quickly make themselves apparent. The world is rife with conflicting value systems. Instead of inheriting one, consistent set of values from his parents, this child is exposed to a myriad of "winds" which blow in conflicting directions. The child is attracted this way and that, depending on whom he associates with and whom he tries to imitate at any given moment.
A more subtle sort of affect on the child might be the choice of a hero to admire and aspire to imitate. One afternoon he is exposed to a media show that exalts the successful athlete as a national hero. The child is carried away by admiration and dreams of a golden future on the playing field. The following day, he overhears a conversation berating professional athletes, their deceptive use of drugs, and so on, and the exorbitant salaries they command. His balloon pops then and there, leaving him forlorn with a useless piece of string. What shall he hold on to now? Whom should he look up to? To what should he aspire? He will no doubt soon choose another idol, not by design, but by chance. How long will it last? Only until someone else "pops his balloon" with a chance comment here or there.
This may be an oversimplification, but the point is clear. Every child needs a role model; a child should not be left to his own devices when it comes to choosing who is worthy of serving as his hero. If he is tossed about by the winds of public opinion, he will never gain the self-confidence essential to healthy growth to maturity. He grows up looking for someone to lean on, to imitate, and fails to develop self-assurance and character of his own.
A child who rebels against his parents will also fail to become a healthy, independent adult. Why should this be so? In his book, "Escape from Freedom," author Erich Fromm suggests that freedom is a very rarely found commodity. It is not difficult, he states, to deprive man of his freedom and to compel him to act against his will. Neither is it hard to penetrate to your subconscious and to implant certain desires in your mind. He will then take whatever steps are needed in order to fulfill those desires, even though he may actually be opposed to them and never consciously chose to make them your own. This is the denial of freedom! The author goes on to describe the process by which people slowly but surely become extremely dependent on society. Their social environment, not they themselves, dictate what will be considered "normal" for them, and compels them to slave to the norms and values dictated by the masses.
If society can "hijack" the personality and the aspirations of adults on such an extensive scale, what can it do with a young mind and heart which has clearly defined goals in life? A child is not yet capable of making value judgments based on his own, internal resources. Neither does he have the insight to shape his own character without guidance and help from external sources. For lack of an identity of his own, the child will patch together a personality from bits and pieces picked up from chance encounters with real or fictional characters. He might well be likened to a child who is given a free hand to rummage through a warehouse of costumes. He dons a fisherman's boots, the mantel of a former czar, an astronaut's helmet, and tops it off with a cowboy's ten-gallon hat. Even if he is, strictly speaking, fully clothed, his appearance will be grotesque, to say the least. Likewise, he is not garbed to play the role of any one of the characters from whom he has taken a portion of his outfit. When this happens in true life, to an innocent, uniformed and uneducated child, the result is tragic.
Today's media capture the attention and imagination of the public to an extent which our parents could never dream would be possible. We are drowning in a cacophony of advertisers and authors trying to hijack our minds, kidnap our hearts for their own purposes, and to dip a greedy hand into our pockets, as well. If we, as adults, feel ourselves so violently assaulted by what we read, watch, and listen to, what of the inexperienced, unprotected, innocent and trusting child? Advertisers spend billions of dollars to whet our appetites for their products, whether we truly have need of them or not. (Only too often, we also suffer a loss of physical, emotional or mental health by using them. Take cigarettes as just one example.) If we do not provide our children with the anchor of an explicit value system, suited to their age and understanding, we are depriving them of their independence and self-confidence.
If these principles were true in the past, how much more so in our times, when the computer and Internet have torn down any protective walls which might have buffered the child's environment from invasive forces in the past. The role of the school in molding children's character has also been dwarfed, and continues to diminish each year. On the other hand, the negative influences on our children are growing at an accelerated pace. Today's society imposes all its values, opinions, lifestyle and pattern of thought on every topic under the sun. So many of our decisions are no longer our own that there remains hardly any area in which man may exercise his free will and right to independence.
In addition, the information explosion has expanded society's influence to global proportions. No matter where I am, today, I can find out the latest news events only minutes after they happen. Whereas friends and relatives living in different towns, or even different neighborhoods of large cities, communicated only occasionally, today there is no distance between any two points on the globe. Even the hermit in an isolated village can easily become today a full-fledged member of society if he chooses to do so. He can experience life in the midst of a throbbing metropolis without getting up from his chair. All four corners of the earth are within his grasp, socially and culturally, and their influence can be felt everywhere. If we add to this picture the ingenious ways in which large public relations agencies operate in order to manipulate public opinion in favor of whoever pays them the highest fee, we realize how much more we are limited in our freedom to form our own opinions.
A moment's reflection on today's world will give us an insight as to the penetrating influence of society on everything we do. Let us do all in our power to ensure that these influences be positive and constructive.