We come into this world as a blank slate. We look to the world to help us figure out what goes on that slate. We are extremely open to being molded by those around us. Conformity with social norms is important for us to function to a very large extent; I do not deny this. My concern is that at a young age we slowly begin to be taught that thinking differently makes us different – and being different is bad. Social rejection can be devastating, especially to a child. So it’s easier to follow.
“By third grade you start to feel like something’s horribly wrong with you. You know you’re all different, but you’re taught to fit in. So you try to talk, breathe, dress, act and think like the others. I will do anything if you will let me be one of you” – Cloud Cult, Becoming One of You
What are the key messages that parents, grandparents and extended family, teachers deliver to children in an effort to help shape them? What messages do children get from media? What messages do they get from friends?
How we interact with our kids is, I think, where we start to potentially cause problems. Study after study shows that we tend to praise children incorrectly – we praise them for who we perceive them to be, rather than for the actions they take. It’s the difference between “You’re very smart” and “You worked really hard on that and got an A”. The first implies that they didn’t work to get the grade, the second encourages working hard in the future. The former type of praise tends to lead children into one way of learning and behaving – specifically thinking that they can do what they can do, and nothing more. The latter type encourages them to think and work hard, realizing that anything is possible.
We are likely also affecting the way our kids think about what they would like to do when they get older – and not always in a good way. The LinkedIn study that I referred to recently shows the top childhood “dream jobs” for males and females. There is no overlap. So one is forced to conclude that either there really is something to gender roles, or we are continuing to nurture boys and girls differently. I tend to think it’s the latter.
These influences, intentional or not, have two results. First, society starts to mold us into what it expects us to be. Second, they cause us to create limiting beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. It’s one of the earliest ways that we bury our good.