Stop teaching your kids to speak up

July 17, 2017

If you grew up a generation or two before mine —or within particular cultures (Caribbean or African for example), you know that when you were a kid, no one really cared about what you had to say. There was such a thing as a “grown ups table” and a “kid’s table” at large family gatherings. You knew that you ought to speak when you’re called upon, and not any sooner. You knew that if your parents were retelling a story incorrectly and you happened to know the real story —it’s best to keep your mouth shut. Repressive, no?

But something much worse has happened in the generations that came after, kids are not only be allowed to speak in adult conversations, they are encouraged. I remember a shuyukh once recalling an incident where two children were in his midst, he remarked to his teacher at how smart the talkative one must be but the teacher disagreed, it was the quieter one who probably possessed superior intelligence.

Smart people know when to be quiet. If I’m in a room full of chemists talking about chemistry I’d be best to listen and hold my thoughts or pose them as questions so I could learn if I’m in a room of psychologists or students of psychology, I should feel comfortable speaking up as appropriately as my knowledge allows. Children don’t have anything to offer an adult conversation but they aren’t yet smart enough to realize that, they have to be taught. The old system where you kept quiet if adults were talking wasn’t repressive as much as it was an initiation process into adulthood. Slowly, as you learn more, as you know more, and as you grow older, you begin to join the conversation while still holding your elders in esteem. But entering the conversation arbitrarily —talking just to talk or to make our kids feel important, does nothing but inflate their ego and give them and an unhealthy sense of self. It is why students in college stand up in lecture halls to give their opinion and debate known experts, they’ve been taught from an early age that their opinions —no matter how ill informed, matter.

At some point we became obsessed with children having good self-esteem, so we began to do everything we could to heap on the praise, ensure they know they’re loved no matter what and to always listen to them. But what is the use of an inflated ego based on nothing but external gratification for which you’ve done nothing to deserve? As my dear father explained to us recently, when you overpraise a child you lead them to believe that they are important in and of themselves, leading to a self-absorption that says, “I’m great because I’m great,” yet how can one not also develop a fragile ego under the veneer of greatness when they are fully aware they’ve done nothing to deserve praise? Yes, you love your child no matter what, but giving them a reality check to let them know that actually they don’t have anything worthwhile to contribute to a conversation with adults whose life experience —if nothing else, informs their opinion and that the moments when the child is called to speak amongst them is a privilege. This creates a healthy respect for knowledge. People, who know something —whether through book knowledge or experience and people who don’t, are not the same, can we please stop teaching the younger generation that they are?


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Learn about how the concept of childhood has changed over time and varies between the West and traditional Islamic teachings, sign up for my upcoming course: nooralshadhili.com/childhoodandsociety

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