Children’s understanding of their social surroundings matures at an astounding rate. From the very first days of life when they grow 700 neural connections per second while passively receiving information through eye gazes into late childhood when their neural connections are in “use it or lose it mode” as they actively work to define themselves within peer groups. The blog posts on this page share my experiences with my Gen Alphas as they mature and I learn.
It’s been about a month since most of the United States quickly ground to a halt. As many have said, as a country entered a self-induced coma. Each day is unlike any that has ever been experienced. All the while, like all other parents of young children we have been forced to take on challenges that exceed our expertise, resources, and patience.
Over the weeks I’ve been processing how families, friends and other people in my life have been internalizing their experiences and listening to various “experts” on how to address the issues we face this instant and the issues we should begin to anticipate by the time COVID-19 has passed as a societal concern. And then there are the children. There are so many questions about the children and what this means. What are the academic repercussions? What are the implications for peer relationships? How will the stress and insecurity their families are experiences imprint themselves into their value systems?
Two hours of each of the first four weeks of my daughter’s second week of 3rd grade school year was spent taking national standardized tests. This was her first experiences with these tests and based on her self-report they were all but enjoyable. Each day I asked her about the test that was taken that day. Each conversation followed a format similar to the following:
According to cognitive linguist Steven Pinker, in his book The Stuff of Thought, cussing—or at least loud vocal outbursts when feeling escalated emotions—is innate. The actual sounds blended together by a person to express their emotions is learned and culturally specific.
I acquired this knowledge after years of telling my wife to be mindful of our children’s ears when choosing to use the sounds of F-CK, SH-T, and B-TCH combined, and shortly after my daughter came home telling us her friend gets to say F-CK at home.
Since she was able to have a conversation, my oldest daughter has been a very creative story teller. When she was 2 1/2 we were introduced to Peter, her pet cat. He later transformed into her little brother Peter. She’d go to the park or the pool; 30 children around her age, but she didn’t want to interact with them. She wanted to play with Peter. We often struggled to get out of the house because she wanted Peter to come with her, but he caused more trouble than good. Overall, he sounded like a wonderful younger brother. Then one day, he was hit by a car and died. It occurred right around the time her sister was born.
In preschool her teacher had to talk to her daily about real stories and “once upon a time stories.” She go to school and tell the other children all about her brothers and sisters. She told children her family was from places we’ve never visited, and we had lots of pets. None of this was true. Her teacher would ask her, “Is that a real story or a once upon a time?”
It was a Wednesday. The afternoon was moving along as it typically does. My daughters and I sat down to eat a snack. I asked both of them, “Who did you each lunch with today, sweetie?” My older daughter looked at me and began to cry. Tears and a hug later were followed up by a question I had asked myself growing up. But the context was different and I had no one to answer. I asked the question because I was pushed and tripped. Hers was because she was told nobody likes her.
Last school year my youngest daughter befriended a young boy, Jonathan in her class with Down Syndrome. A few months into the school year she and my older daughter were having regular conversation about playing with Jonathan. Throughout that stretch of time I was met by periodic questions and comments about why Jonathan. Why doesn’t Jonathan say words? Why does Jonathan have different rules than other children? Why does Jonathan have his own teacher? Many times the questions came across as rhetorical. It sounded like the came out of a conversation that the teachers had with the students. The questions were more about receiving confirmation from me, a former early childhood special educator and researcher of high-quality inclusive education. But I wasn’t confirming what other adults were telling them. Most often, I was clarifying misconceptions.
I am nine years into fathering and there is one social norm expected of me that has been more striking than any other; the clothing my children are dressed in—the colors, cuts, images, material, brand, and origins. All of these attributes contribute to much more than their essential purpose of protecting the body from external elements.
Until my oldest daughter was three, I was regularly reminded of the social messages her clothing communicated—many things that words did not. Explaining our choices of garments was a waste of breath. The clothes my daughter wore were a medium for expressing hers and our beliefs and values around gender identity to adults and children.
Since developing this website and speaking on behalf of it, I periodically hear variations of: “This is not as simple as you make it sound. Make me a believer and I will be totally on board.” I get it, and all the more reason for the slogan of this website: “Listen, Speak Up, Engage and Unite.” I can’t promise this blog post will make you a believer, but it should give you a better idea of how we have been working to raise socially conscious children.
Until today, my posts have been about experiences with my older daughter. This is the first post specifically about my younger daughter. For years she has been by our side while I talk with my older daughter, but this is the first time the conversation was just the two of us. It may have helped that her older sister was gone for the morning.
My younger daughter celebrated her fifth birthday last weekend. One of her gifts was a small white plaster fairy. The gift came with paints and a paintbrush with instructions for personalizing the fairy. The illustration on the box was a fairy with fair skin, very similar to her skin tone. After setting up the fairy and paint on top of a paper bag with a cup of water I walked to the sink to wash dishes.
After five minutes I returned to her side to observe the progress of her masterpiece. I immediately noticed that the porcelain white arms of the fairy’s arms, legs and face had been painted black, the dress was blue and the mushrooms surrounding the fairy were a variety of colors with spots. Continue reading →
Prejudice and discrimination have been a topic of conversation for my older daughter and me for about two years. It started with the advent of wall building, carrying on through all types of topics that almost always include the words prejudice and discrimination. I’m happy to say that there is clear evidence that she has learned to incorporate these abstract concepts into her everyday routine. However, of late she has taken it a little too far for her mother to tolerate. Continue reading →