Monday, 25 January 2010

Rules Are Meant to be Broken

Dylan’s grandparents came and went already, but it is clear Dylan has had a great time with them around. Not only was he getting double the attention, he probably never experienced getting so many new toys during such a short period of time as that week (minus) our guests were around. As for us, the undeniable law of nature has been reconfirmed: when Dylan is happy, we are happy. The opposite applies just the same if not more.
One of the new games Dylan learned from his grandmother is to do with traffic lights. He learned that green means go (I keep on adding that it means go carefully) and that red means stop. I keep on adding that orange means try to sneak in carefully if you can.
Interestingly, Dylan has taken the game to heart. We now have ourselves a traffic law enforcement unit inside the car that alerts us when lights change. Additional alerts are provided when I start driving while someone is unbuckled (I only allow that practice in a driveway or when reversing) and even when I start the car and someone is unbuckled. It actually brings back memories: I used to be like that, albeit at a much later age than Dylan’s two and a half years (I don’t have significant memories prior to being three years old).
I can see why Dylan would like this traffic enforcement game. As the book The Philosophical Baby explains much better than I can, children at Dylan’s age like to have a set of rules to follow because it makes the world easier for them to comprehend. And indeed, at Dylan’s age, his main occupation in life is learning how to make sense of the world so that later, as an adult, he can go forth and do whatever it takes without being helped along the way he is now.
As cute as they may be, there are potential problems with kids’ affection to rules and their blind unquestionable/dogmatic following. What if, say, Dylan was to learn a rule saying that certain fast food chains are good for him? Or that this product is better than the other? Or that certain problems are best solved using violence? Or even that we all owe our existence to some fictitious all powerful being (what most people refer to as “god”)?
The lessons are simple. One has to be very careful with what they teach their kids even at a very young age when teaching them simple rules can make parents’ life that much more tolerable. One also needs to make sure that unwanted external interferences, like TV ads, don't get in the way. And, more importantly, one has to provide their kids with the tools to make up their own minds as soon as possible to avoid their minds being contaminated by unfounded rules.
The trick is in the implementation: parenting is quite hard so cutting corners through such rules is quite tempting. On the other hand, I’m not sure my two and a half year old is ready for lessons in critical thinking; I’m actually pretty sure he isn’t. Guess I’ll just need to keep on trying from time to time, but I wouldn’t complain if I was to receive suggestions as to how to go about teaching a young child to think for himself.

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