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A Spiritual Approach to
Secrets of Raising the 21st Century Child
by Marilyn C. Barrick, Ph.D.
The more intensively the family has stamped
upon the child, the more it will tend to feel and see its earlier miniature world again in the bigger world of adult life.
—Carl Gustav Jung, The Theory of Psychoanalysis
In early twentieth-century America a child was nurtured in the protective and comforting cocoon of family and community during his growing-up years. Perhaps he lived in a little village in central New York, went to school there, played with the neighborhood kids and knew his parents' friends. He was friends with the grocer, the doctor, the paperboy and all the people who made up the community.
If he got an A on a test, the extended family rejoiced. If he skinned his knee in a scuffle, someone he knew quickly took care of it. On the weekend he and his family went to the movie on the corner of Main Street. As they took their seats they said hello to people sitting around them. People chatted about their kids, the weather and breaking news such as Charles Lindbergh's and Amelia Earhart's flights over the Atlantic.
To a large extent the innocence of the soul was protected in the bosom of family, church and community. Children played in the security of a neighborhood they knew and families who knew them. When they came home from school, mom was there and they likely had chores to do. Dad came home a little later and the family had dinner together. On Sunday most families went to church to worship and have fellowship with one another.
Of course there was usually a neighborhood bad boy, but he was the exception, not the rule. Families lived by the values of their parents and grandparents, and these were days of love of God, family and country. To most children and youth the future was full of hope and promise.
Little boys dreamed of becoming inventors like Thomas Edison, ballplayers like Babe Ruth, aviators like Charles Lindbergh or explorers like Lewis and Clark. Little girls dreamed of being a teacher like Laura Ingalls Wilder (author of Little House on the Prairie), a social reformer like Carry Nation, a battlefield nurse like Clara Barton, or marrying their true love and living happily ever after.
Family Life: Yesterday and Today
In the United States and all over the world, family life has changed radically from the way it was when many of us grew up. Modern technology has advanced to the point where we are instantaneously aware of world events courtesy of the news networks. And these events are often unsettling, particularly to families.
Many of the changes have been exciting, mind expanding and culturally broadening. Yet we retain fond memories of our childhood in a time and place that was less complex and closer to nature. We were raised in an environment that was considerably safer and fostered our imagination.
In the 1930s and 1940s families relied on the radio for news and drama, which was great for imagining. I remember how I would see the action in my mind's eye as I listened to the Lone Ranger galloping along on his horse shouting "Hi-Yo, Silver!" with faithful Tonto at his side. I didn't wonder about the reality of what I was envisioning, and my creativity blossomed.
After school, children played alone or together with neighbors, and when it got dark they disappeared into their own houses. In the summer we kids would sleep on the roof of our hacienda-style house, and my father would point out the constellations. I remember wishing I could touch the stars that were so clear and bright in the Arizona sky.
Children in the country took a bus that slowly made its way to school or they walked or rode their bikes those several miles. I usually had my nose in a book if I rode the bus—and sometimes even when I was walking. Absorbing information from books was exciting to me and most of us learned about people in other parts of the world through literature. We daydreamed and sometimes playacted the characters and scenes in the books. And, as you might guess, all of this was foundational to my work as a writer today.
My father and mother loved books and passed that quality on to me. I remember when I was five my mother thought I had learned to read even though I hadn't yet gone to school. She was very excited about it. Then one day she found me reading out loud with the book upside down. Oops! I had memorized the book from listening to my dad read the stories out loud. After that, Mother taught me how to sound out and read the words from the book. That was much more satisfactory to all concerned, and a whole world opened up—the world of literature.
Play was very important when we were growing up, and naps became the bane of our childhood existence. I have a clear memory from kindergarten of lying on my mat for nap time, willing it to be over so we could play. I'd shut my eyes when the teacher came around, but I don't remember ever napping.
I have an amusing memory of my mother trying to get my sister and me to take a nap at home. As usual we were playing instead of napping, but when we heard Mother coming we pretended to be asleep. She figured it out and tickled our feet with a feather. Of course we giggled and then she reminded us we needed to take a nap. And I wondered, why?
Everyone in my generation remembers the "ice man" who would drive up in his wagon and put a large chunk of ice in the icebox, the refrigerator of the day. And the farmer would come by with fresh vegetables—they tasted really good, especially the corn on the cob. And best of all, the ice-cream man would make his way through the neighborhood with children excitedly chasing after him once they had talked their parents into a nickel for ice cream.
I remember pictures of my dad's shiny black Model T from the '20s, which would be left in a cloud of dust on the roads today. I was reminded of it recently when I found a picture of Henry Ford driving his Model T with Thomas Edison in the passenger seat.1 My dad kept up with the times and regularly traded in his car for whatever new model was popular. From the point of view of us kids, the biggest adventure with the car was driving into Phoenix to see the bright lights of the city. And those lights seemed magical!
Do you remember how Ringling Brothers' circus used to come to town? I remember watching the long train of railroad cars and being amazed at how the elephants and their trainers unloaded everything. The circus was an adventure for children and parents alike, especially watching the trapeze artists, who leapt from trapeze to trapeze high up in the tent above us as we sat mesmerized.
I used to like going for walks with Uncle Henry, who wasn't really an uncle but the man who did our yard work, and feeding apples to horses in neighboring fields. And I remember riding with my friend on her pony out into the desert and riding my bike for miles and miles along the canals and orange groves. I can remember the sun glinting off the water and the fragrance of the orange blossoms. When I think about the life we lived, it was much simpler than life is today. And there was plenty of time for daydreaming and imagination.
Yet we had our early twentieth-century traumas. I remember my dad talking about the Great Depression and how banks and businesses failed and people were out of work. It was horrifying to learn that some people got so scared they jumped off buildings and killed themselves. I wondered what happened to their families.
I remember when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. Everyone stayed glued to the radio for news. We kids collected newspapers for the paper drive and practiced ducking under our desks in case a bomb dropped. It was a time of national mobilization and family tension. All of us were excited as we joined in the victory celebrations when the war was over. We thought that would be the last war ever.
But that was short-lived. There was Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War. And since the turn of the century we have had the terrorist attacks of September 11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the railroad bombing in Spain and suicide bombers in Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Indonesia and other countries. Today's youth and children see war and terrorism as a part of life, and that breeds an underlying sense of fear and uncertainty.
Creating Security in an Insecure World
Families today experience a certain sense of insecurity, and not just because of what is happening on the other side of the world. Many neighborhoods are not necessarily safe places for children to play and explore. Schools are not so safe either. High school staffers are using metal detectors to screen for kids carrying guns or knives. And children can be exposed to violence on the playground or to gangs waiting around the corner.
Many parents drive their kids to and from school or escort them to the school bus for safety reasons. They set up after-school activities to limit neighborhood problems or their children roaming the streets. A number of parents limit their kids to TV channels that are wholesome for children, such as Disney, Travel, History or National Geographic, particularly when the parents aren't home.
We all realize it isn't practical to cushion young people to the point where they are not prepared to deal with what is happening in the world. Family and school discussions can help young people put into perspective what they see on TV and the Web or read about in newspapers and magazines. Whether it's war, crime, abduction, drugs, alcohol or date rape, we have a responsibility to teach our youth about the down side of life so they are not taken in by it.
We can also focus our attention on the up side of life. We can teach our children to choose friends and activities that are healthy and upbeat. And the family can make it a point to watch inspiring or amusing movies that remind us that good things happen too.
Families ask me questions such as: "How can we preserve our children's faith and values in a world where moral imperatives are often replaced with expediency? How do we keep ourselves informed without our children being shocked by horrific happenings? How can we help children and youth feel secure in the middle of an insecure world?"
These are meaningful questions to which there are positive answers. Children follow the example of people they respect, particularly mom and dad. They notice what we do and how we do it; they model themselves after us. This is how they learn to be a good friend or neighbor. When we visit a friend who is sick, help a neighbor with shopping, take our turn in the car pool, sponsor a worthy cause, umpire a kids' softball game, we feel good about ourselves. And our children and youth notice and learn.
Young people are growing up quickly in terms of access to information that in the past was reserved for adults, and they need to learn how to assimilate and find a constructive purpose for what they learn. Otherwise, they can feel overwhelmed by shocking events and complicated information. And that's where parents and teachers can give a helping hand.
Throughout this book we will examine family issues, psychologically and spiritually, including the impact of the information explosion and how parents and teachers can help young people be true to higher aspirations in the face of changing cultural norms.
Life in the Global Village
Children and youth today live in a global village. They are aware of major events as they happen everywhere in the world. Many young people live in urban neighborhoods and come home from school ahead of working parents. They have instructions to get started on homework but are tempted to turn on the TV instead.
When the news comes on they see a confusing and often scary side of life, with commentators analyzing the dramas: international unrest, scenes of war or terrorist strikes, criminal trials, families who have lost loved ones, corporate corruption, serious accidents or international health scares. And sometimes, as with the World Trade Center disaster, they see disturbing images over and over again. When they turn to sports or educational channels, they get a more upbeat perspective on the world. And that is a welcome relief to the soul.
Parents can mitigate problematic TV, magazine or newspaper images by reminding children that these events are happening in another city or country and that doctors and nurses are there to help people who get hurt. Parents can ask their children if they have questions and answer those questions simply and reassuringly. When the family discusses whatever they are concerned about, young people feel reassured and supported.
We can help younger children understand that when bad things happen they aren't happening to everybody all the time. We can explain that images on the TV screen are often blown out of proportion. Although it looks like terrible events are happening over and over again, many times it's one event being shown and analyzed over and over again by different newscasters.
We can answer the questions they have, discuss potential solutions, and reassure young people that the world is not falling apart. It just seems that way from the constant media bombardment. Although the world is in a state of chaos, out of chaos comes order. And order can herald a rebirth of civility.
Another essential task for parents today is to help young people pinpoint what they need to learn out of the ever-growing stacks of information. Not only is there a wealth of knowledge but also multiple avenues of discovery: traditional schooling, homeschooling, schoolbooks, libraries, encyclopedias, and worldwide communication via travel, cell phones, the Web, chat rooms and e-mail.
In fact, there are so many ways to expand knowledge that the learning process itself can be overwhelming. Then it's time to take a quick breather: go for a walk, a run with the dog or whatever is the young person's favorite physical activity.
As young people explore, discover and become knowledgeable about the world's cultures and literature, historical events, scientific advances and modern technology, they ready themselves to make their contribution to the world. And as they interact electronically with young people from different countries, the world becomes their neighborhood.
Generations on the Move
Today's young adults and youth, known respectively as Generations X and Y, are involved in diverse creative projects, scientific pursuits and humanitarian endeavors. [Generation X refers to those born between approximately 1961 and 1982. Generation Y, the Millennial generation, are those born from approximately 1982 to the present time.] And what they all share is an excitement about exploring the universe.
Is there anyone who isn't fascinated by space exploration or pictures of an eclipse of the moon? Youth are typically glued to the screen watching space shuttle takeoffs. Many of them imagine themselves in space, and some will actually go through the rigors of becoming astronauts.
These young people's goals and vision of the future have been shaped by recent cultural, scientific and technological changes. Consider the world as they see it:
o A woman has always served on the U.S. Supreme Court.
o Computer games have always been a leisure activity.
o ATMs have always been a money source.
o Home movies don't require slide projectors and screens.
o Post-it Notes and Velcro are staples of life.
o Millennials look at the '60s historically—not nostalgically.
o Tattoos aren't gender based and there's more to pierce than
o Remote controls make it unlikely that they'll ever manually
change a TV channel.
Exchange students, sports enthusiasts, business people, tourists and families make regular treks to other countries. And many young people travel via television, movies and the Web. The world neighborhood seems somehow closer and more familiar. And the benefits of worldwide personal and cultural exchange are evident in the lives of young people today.
In my own family my son, his wife and children have had the opportunity to travel all over the world because of my son's business and his wife's church choir tours. The fruits of travel have been rich, including a deep friendship with a man in Poland and extensive first-hand knowledge of European culture.
Their daughter, fascinated by Japanese culture, qualified for a graduate-school program of technical communication in Japanese and a six-month internship in Japan. And their son, who experimented with his own business for a time, is now pursuing a college degree to top off his computer and business skills. Their choices illustrate a breadth of interest and pursuit of knowledge that is typical of today's young adults, whether we identify them as X or Y.
Education through travel and life experience is not restricted to the youth of America. Many European young people, known as Generation E (for Europe), are multilingual and travel extensively. They are just as apt to take a quick trip from Sweden to Spain as New England students are to take a spring break in Florida. Young people everywhere are crossing borders to study and work, multiply their language skills and chip away at national stereotypes.
What does the future hold for these leaders of tomorrow? Will they create peace on Earth and goodwill toward men? I believe that much depends on the family because the family is the cradle of civilization.
Although today we live in a world of unrest, I see the future as bright with promise. Our youth and children are on the move. They view life as a challenge and the future as an unfolding drama in which they plan to play a major role. We as parents and mentors are learning how to champion their journey with love, support and guidance. And that is what this book is all about.
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