Monday, July 9, 2012

A 21st Century Manifesto for Parenting: by John Breeding, PhD

A 21st Century Manifesto for Parenting:
by John Breeding, PhD

Is Western civilization harming our children?

Let's look at the evidence. If health indicates the quality of an individual's relationship with his environment, then increases in chronic illnesses among children reflect our society's failure. If literacy and psychological well-being indicate the quality of child development, then the growing numbers of illiterate, "learning-disabled" and otherwise psychiatrically afflicted children signal failure, as well. If drug addiction, violence and incarcerations reveal failed character development, then the way we raise young people is a disaster. Parenting is always a difficult challenge, but these days it is especially hard, considering the lack of support in our society and the sense of alienation and separation within our communities. Such is often the effect of a society that values militarism, industrialism and capitalism. It’s not that parents are doing a bad job; most are doing heroically well under the circumstances. Nevertheless, the decline of civilization as we know it may be seen in the tremendous stress and neglect from which so many of our children suffer. Denying this effect only supports its perpetuation, whereas facing it allows for the possibility of real help for our children, in the form of everyday actions by parents. In his latest book, It’s a Meaningful Life, Bo Lozoff, director of the Human Kindness Foundation, makes a statement that puts into perspective the apparent negative orientation of so many religious precepts. Here is what he has to say:

In fact, most of the great spiritual commandments, precepts, and teachings throughout history have been merely guidelines for what we should stop. Most of the ten commandments start with “Thou shalt not”; the Buddhist precepts and Hindu Yamas and Niyamas start with “non-,” as in non-killing, non-stealing, non-lying. Contemporary people have often complained that the ancient teachings are too negative, but the reason they are phrased negatively is that there really isn’t anything to do in order to realize the Divine Presence, the natural Holiness life offers. We merely have to stop thinking and acting in ways that are harmful or selfish or off the mark. The great teachings unanimously emphasize that all the peace, wisdom, and joy in the universe are already within us; we don’t have to gain, develop, or attain them. Like a child standing in a beautiful park with his eyes shut tight, there’s no need to imagine trees, flowers, deer, birds, and sky; we merely need to open our eyes and realize what is already here, who we already are—as soon as we stop pretending we’re small or unholy.

I could characterize nearly any spiritual practice as simply being: identify and stop, identify and stop, identify and stop. Identify the myriad forms of limitation and delusion we place on ourselves, and muster the courage to stop each one. Little by little deep inside us, the diamond shines, the eyes open, the dawn rises, we become what we already are.

In that spirit, I offer the following manifesto. Its intention is to protect our children and uncover the truth that it is good to be alive. It may be seen as a spiritual practice, supporting us to identify and stop that which obscures the glory of our children’s, and our own, true natures. The words are strong, but they’re what I believe.

I recognize that as a parent, it is my responsibility to protect the well-being of my family from the dangerous and detrimental practices of our Western society. Therefore, I have vowed to keep my eyes open, to educate myself and to provide protection for my children to the best of my ability against the most grievous harms, including the following:

Unnecessary prenatal trauma.
We have now verified scientifically what aware mothers have always known—that babies are enormously affected by their prenatal experience. It is the responsibility of parents to see that mothers are wellnourished and protected from stress overload. It is encouraging to remember that some cultures actually use the prenatal time to connect with the baby’s soul, to get a sense of its purpose for this life. Taken literally or metaphorically, this is a wonderful reminder of the perennial spiritual wisdom reflected in the words of Kahlil Gibran, “Your children are not your children.” We parents are the protectors and guardians of an awesome being during its years of physical and psychological development. What a glorious task!

Unnecessary birth trauma.
We also know that the birth experience can be a most powerful determinant of well-being. While much has been done to reclaim this natural process from the mid-20th-century extremes of medical technological control, it remains true that unnecessary drugs, the use of force and other harmful birthing practices unduly hurt many mothers and babies, both as individuals and in their relationship to one another. It is the responsibility of parents to ensure as natural and gentle a birthing experience as possible. This includes protecting against the routine separation immediately afterward, which can disrupt the bonding of mother and infant.

The trauma of circumcision.
This harmful, painful and unnecessary relic, justified by cultural, religious and pseudoscientific superstition, should be avoided.

The trauma of in-arms deprivation.
In-arms deprivation is a term coined by Jean Liedloff to characterize the effects of a very specific unmet need—the need to be carried in arms, and to be held virtually all the time in the first six months of life. Many older children and adults are believed to suffer from anxiety and irrational dependency because of this unmet need from infancy. Additionally, many are somewhat detached and shut down, and don’t even think they need physical touch and affection. What a gift for parents and children to delight in close touch and affection all the years of their lives!

The trauma of vaccinations.
Vaccine manufacturers are making new vaccines every year, and today’s children receive dozens more than any generation in history. Regardless of vaccine efficacy, which in itself is worth examining, this can create a heavy toxic overload with effects that can linger through a lifetime. The fact that our children are sicker than ever before should cause us to deeply investigate all chemicals, drugs and medical intervention to which our children are routinely exposed. While governments push for more coercion in this area, it is we who remain responsible for our children’s health. Much is known about the dangers of various vaccines, and because children aren’t in a position to offer their informed consent on what is injected into their healthy bodies, parents should be fully educated on this subject before taking any kind of action.

The trauma of toxic and unhealthy foods.
America’s food industry is a callous and mercenary exploiter of children; the horrible effects of massive intake of processed foods, sugar and toxic substances on our children are enormous. Parents must resist this damaging influence and do everything they can to see that our children are well-nourished. At the least, this means restriction of sugar (in all its disguises), chemical additives and preservatives, fast foods and processed foods. For many this also means restriction of dairy and, for some, of other common allergy foods such as wheat and corn. Plenty of pure, adequately filtered water is essential, and should be available in homes and schools.

The trauma of separation from nature.
What a great tragedy it is to deprive a child the experience of hours in the natural world of earth and sky, grasses, flowers, bushes, trees, water, bugs, birds and animals of all kinds. It is so much more important that children play with dirt than with video games. More free-play time should be reinstated at schools, instead of limited.

The trauma of TV and video.
The average American child is engaged in hours of electronic media every day. The deleterious effects of such practices are enormous, particularly on central nervous system function and programming of consciousness— not to mention the foregone time when children could have been engaged in more wholesome activities.

The trauma of a sedentary lifestyle.
Movement, activity, physical play and exercise—these are essential to the healthy development of a child’s body, mind and spirit.

The trauma of compulsive busyness.
Fast and furious may be the trend of modern civilization, but it is not healthy. Our children need lots of relaxed down time to be with themselves and with friends and family—not to be constantly entertained and stimulated, but to discover themselves and the world, and to create and produce their own initiatives. My own observation is that 90 percent of punishment incidents take place because of time pressure. Do yourselves and your children a favor by arranging life at a slower pace.

The trauma of sleep deprivation.
A large percentage of Americans, including our children, are sleep deprived. Parents must protect children from being forced to accommodate adult needs and schedules. Rhythm, routine and regularity are keys for a well-ordered life, and especially for a safe, relaxed, healthy environment in which a child can develop.

The trauma of adultism.
Adultism refers to the systematic mistreatment of and lack of respect toward young people simply because they are young. One of the best ways for adults to assess whether they are perpetrating adultism is to ask themselves whether they would say the same thing, in the same tone of voice, to another adult. It is crucially important for parents to challenge adultism because this oppression (causing hurt, fear, shame and disrespect) paves the way for other forms of oppression (for example, racism, sexism and homophobia) in society. Without being systematically hurt and psychologically conditioned to be treated with disrespect, adults would not stand for the mistreatment of themselves or others.

The trauma of emotional suppression.
Humans are incredibly intelligent and relational by nature, but when physically or emotionally hurt, the resultant distress causes us to be less so. As parents, we must not interfere with the natural healing mechanism of emotional expression. Our children recover from hurt and loss by crying, frustration and insult by throwing tantrums, and frightful experiences by shaking and withdrawing. The job of parents is to stay close and help children with these normal but negative, fear-based emotions. An added value is the blessed realization that they do not have to go through the hard stuff alone.

The trauma of chronic hopelessness.
A huge pattern of many adults in our society is chronic hopelessness or apathy. This is a persistent feeling that things are hopeless, that one cannot make a difference, and that it is useless to try. Excitement and enthusiasm, like passionate outrage, are seen as the stuff of naïve childhood, or perhaps as possibilities for remarkable others, but not oneself. The feeling of chronic hopelessness is a mental distress recording from early experiences of being suppressed, disempowered and hurt without help or healing. It is vital that parents overcome this state of mind within themselves in order to convey a more realistic and healthy attitude to their children of successfully living and coping in an imperfect world.

The trauma of competition.
This is another key attribute of Western civilization. The truth, substantiated by considerable research, is that we do better on all levels (including learning, performance and productivity) with a spirit and practice of cooperation. We need to model for our children a genuine delight in and celebration of others’ successes, just as we need to accept and understand the value of making mistakes.

The trauma of militarism.
Our society invests a predominant amount of its resources in war-making endeavors, sacrificing the real human needs of its people even in times of apparent peace. The propaganda and practices emphasizing violence as the solution to life’s challenges and conflicts can be overwhelming and in great contradiction to the values pertaining to conflict resolution that we are teaching at home. Conscious parenting requires providing young people with the information and attitude necessary to contribute toward a peaceful world.

The trauma of unnecessary medical interventions.
Iatrogenic (medically induced) illness is sadly becoming more and more common. Examples include problems caused by medicalized birth, unnecessary antibiotic use, unnecessary suppression of fever, and vaccine reactions. These interventions are failures of the medical status quo, when the simple truth is that lifestyle changes would eliminate the need for most of them.

The trauma of psychiatric drugs.
It is a national shame and disgrace that an estimated 8 million school-age children in the United States are on toxic psychiatric drugs—all for alleged illnesses that are scientifically unproven. This is a social and medical scandal that should disabuse all conscious parents of any remaining illusion that it is safe to blindly trust in medical or educational authorities.

The trauma of compulsory factory schooling.
I have two pieces of advice. First, stay close to your children, be their vigorous ally, and let them know that you and they together will figure things out and have great success. Second, protect your children from shame when the imposed schedule and structure of school inevitably and routinely violates their self-directed learning tendencies and styles. When this happens, let them know it is a result of the system they’re in, not their own inadequacy.

The trauma of labels, such as learning disabled (LD) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is regrettable that the schools are looking for excuses rather than focusing on creative ways to succeed at the job they are given. Even more regrettable is that they blame the children, label them as defective, segregate them from their peers and give them brainaltering drugs that can form lifetime dependencies. None of this could take place without parents going along with it.

The trauma of parents unwilling to face their own traumas.
Perhaps the most essential law of parenting is that we are forced to face our own problems and shortcomings as we attempt to remain thoughtful and loving toward our children. We parents have to choose, again and again, between suppressing our children and the work of personal transformation. The only reason we punish or reject our children is that pain associated with our own past traumas is upon us and we are unable or unwilling to face ourselves and take personal responsibility for our state of mind. There are no bad, disgusting or hopeless children— only children who are having a hard time and need loving attention and support. Providing this requires facing our own issues (seeking help when necessary), in order to come back into a thoughtful place about our children.

The trauma of a flawed view of human nature.
The harmful practices of our civilization delineated in this manifesto are rooted in a grievous misunderstanding of human nature. The schools are designed on the assumption that there are dumb children, and that children are like empty machines needing to be programmed and filled. Punitive, shame-based or controlling child-rearing practices are legacies of old-fashioned fundamentalist views of fallen, sinful human nature. Our greedy, profit-driven, militarist, consumerist culture is based on a view of human nature without soul or spirit. Psychiatry is based on a worldview that reduces human beings and human experience to biology and chemistry. All of these are motivated by the fear that the flaws of human nature will win out, or that we will be eaten before we can eat. I believe the truth is that human nature, at its deepest, is benign and wonderful, and that we are inherently intelligent, resourceful, zestful, affectionate and relational. By protecting our children from harm and cynicism, by giving them accurate information at the level they can comprehend, and by allowing and encouraging them to express the pain associated with the harms they do suffer, this true nature will blossom. Perhaps the greatest gift we can give our children is to see them through the eyes of delight, and to be with them in an attitude of relaxed confidence that they, with our abiding love and support, are turning out very well.

You might want to make a commitment to the attitudes embodied in this manifesto. It could read something like this:
“I recognize that our society is has serious disturbances and is potentially dangerous to the well-being of my children and my family in many ways. I also recognize, however, the glorious true natures of myself and my children. Therefore, I have complete confidence that my children will turn out well. I will not blame my children for how I feel. I will take full responsibility for my actions and state of mind, and am willing to change and continue growing. I promise to remain close and affectionate with my children all the days of our lives.”

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