Don't teach your children to fear the world
By Arthur C.Brooks/ If you are a parent, your biggest fear in life is probably that something will happen to one of your children. According to a 2018 survey by OnePoll, parents in the US spend an average of 37 hours a week worrying about their children. And the main concern is about their safety during the return to school.
This concern is logical, if you believe that security is a foundation that must be laid before dealing with other problems. The effects of this anxiety on modern parenting behavior can be seen quite clearly. According to a 2015 report from the Pew Research Center, parents say children should be at least 10 years old to play unsupervised in the backyard, 12 years old to stay home alone for 1 hour, and 14 years old to play unsupervised in a public park.
This is also reflected in what parents teach their children about the world. During a study published in the "Journal of Positive Psychology" in 2021, psychologists Jeremy Clifton and Peter Meindëll, found that 53 percent of respondents preferred to warn their children about the causes of the "dangerous world" that awaits them outside .
There is no doubt that these beliefs stem from the parents' best intentions. If you want your children to be safe (and therefore happy), then you need to teach them that the world is dangerous. In this way, they will be more alert and careful.
In fact, telling them this is detrimental to their health, happiness and success. The view that the world is largely uncertain or dangerous is what some psychologists call a "primary belief about the world." Clifton and Meindell say that if a child is led to believe that the world is dangerous, it will greatly affect the way he sees other parts of life, relationships and work.
So he will be more suspicious of other people's motives. For example, he will be less likely to do things that he thinks might put him at risk, such as going out with friends. Although most hope that warning about the dangers of the world will help children, the evidence shows that this approach causes just the opposite.
In the same study, Clifton and Meindell show that people who hold negative primary beliefs about the world are less healthy than their peers, are more often sad, more likely to become depressed, and are less satisfied. with their lives.
They may also dislike the jobs they do, and have a poorer performance than their colleagues who have a more positive view of the world. One explanation for this is that people in bad circumstances (poverty, disease, etc.) have both bad results and more reason to fear.
But as Clifton and Mindell argue, primary beliefs about the world can also interact with the outcomes one achieves in life. A man is likely to suffer much more when he is always alert to danger and trying to avoid it.
Teaching children that the world is dangerous can make them less tolerant of others. To break this pattern, parents – and anyone who interacts with children – must work to cultivate a sense of security in them. And here 3 tips can help you.
1. Heal yourself
Parents can feed their children negative views of the world, since they themselves have such views. And this can easily happen in a world where we are bombarded daily with news and information that studies have linked to worry, anxiety and depression.
And research shows that many parents pass their anxiety on to their children. One of the ways to allay our fears is simply to look at the facts. As journalist Christopher Ingraham puts it, being a child in America has never been safer than it is today.
Since 1935, the number of child deaths between the ages of 1–4 has fallen from 450 to 30 per 100,000 today. It has halved since 1990, and the declines in other age groups are just as impressive. Use this knowledge to counter the media's relentless focus on fear and risk.
2. Be specific and proportionate
Adults want to teach young people how to be safe in the face of threats. But studies show that a fearful approach to the world can make them less able to do so. If you want to warn the child to better prepare him for life, focus on a specific danger he may face, and how to deal with it.
Instead of saying, "Be careful, people will try to take advantage of you when you're in high school," tell them, "If someone tries to entice you to drink too much alcohol, then avoid that person."
When you have to talk to your child about a threat, be sure to keep it proportionate.
For example, I don't want someone to misbehave with my children any more than another parent. They know that. But it doesn't help me to say that hostile words make them insecure. Social conflict is inevitable. So to scare children with it as an existential threat is to give them a negative primal belief, making them less resistant to challenges.
3. Counteract outwardly against dark worldviews
Almost every day that my daughter was in middle school, teachers taught her that the world is dangerous. So they talked about bad people, dangerous forces in nature, and a bleak future that awaited the US. She told us all these things every evening at dinner, and I noted with concern her growing pessimism.
So together with the woman, we set out to deliberately oppose the scary narrative. We did not reject the threats. But we tried to be more specific about the good behaviors we saw and the ways the world is safer and more prosperous today than it used to be.
Working hard to avoid inducing fear in children is a positive thing. But we should all be able to do better than that, and try to cultivate a positive primary belief that can really improve their lives.
This is why I often turn to the words of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. "Through love, one does not fear the world" - he wrote in Tao Te Ching. So instead of teaching our children such fears, let's teach them love, which neutralizes fear and creates something good in its place. So tell them that humans are made for love, that we all long for it, and that we can find something to love in almost everyone we meet.