Procreation is not Parenting

Send him mail.

“Insight for the Young and Unrestrained” is an original column appearing every Thursday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Gregory V. Diehl. Gregory is a writer, musician, educator, and coach for young people at EnabledYouth.com. Archived columns can be found here. IYU-only RSS feed available here.

It’s been part of my long-term mission in life to spread awareness of the distinction between understanding and implementation, or “education vs. training” as I’ve previously referred to it. People active in the process of “doing” something take pride in the fact that they manage to work hard, regardless of how well their task is actually accomplished. This seems to be a direct correlation to the common practice of equating “hard work” with “a job well done,” the fallacy of which should be obvious to anyone with a mindset oriented toward efficiency.

People who invest their time acquiring a more thorough understanding of something before embarking on a plan of action receive far less social credit for their “theoretical” knowledge of how reality works. This applies, perhaps more than anywhere else, to the practice of raising children. People who have embarked on the path of genetic reproduction will immediately assume an air of accomplishment or expertise. After all, they have kids. How could someone who doesn’t even have kids possibly have acquired more knowledge than they on healthy principles of raising children?

This is, to me, as crude and ignorant as a man who accidently loses himself in the jungle bragging about his clumsiness – and taking personal pride in the dangerous circumstances chance brought into his life. What if he, in scoffing pride and disbelief, asked how someone who isn’t even lost wandering aimlessly through the wilderness could possibly know anything about how to survive in the wild?

It is the difference between the ability to buy a boat and the ability to sail one. How could someone who doesn’t even have enough money to buy a boat know anything about how to sail one? These very people would just as soon claim that they, having purchased a large number of airline tickets in the past, are most qualified to pilot an aircraft. It is easy to see that this type of thinking, when applied to almost any area outside of human child development, quickly dissolves into absurdity.

A wise man will prepare himself for all the foreseeable difficulties and new responsibilities his choices will bring into his life – so that he will accomplish his new tasks as well as humanly possible. He will study the forest and all its dangers before intentionally trekking forth into it. He will study the winds and ocean currents before setting sail. The fool, who lacks meaning in his life, will attempt to inflate his sense of importance by taking on larger and larger amounts of responsibility well before he is ready for them. So long as people equate action or effort with achievement and result, this fallacy will continue to haunt the lives of shortsighted individuals, and hold back the productive progress of mankind.

Parenting is Not Beyond Rational Understanding

Implicit in the concepts of learning or scientific advancement is the premise that reality can be understood by people with powers of observation and rational minds. Nowhere in the fundamentals of the universe is there a hidden clause stating that certain activities or principles of change are exempt from this capacity for understanding. Knowledge and understanding do not come through random and senseless trial and error. If they did, every single action a person ever took would necessarily be viewed as entirely new and distinct from every action prior.

Building an understanding depends upon a working memory of reality and the ability to generalize new experiences with the old, even when they are superficially different. This is why some people can do one thing over and over for their entire lives and never get better at it. For one reason or another, they never integrate every new iteration of the activity into their working model of how that aspect of reality works. Conversely, some people can quickly rise up from novice to expert ranks of performance in a skillset if they are capable of and willing to notice and memorize where the important principles and distinctions lie for that ability.

To say that a person has to be actively involved in doing something in order to understand it is to completely misunderstand understanding. Knowledge of principles serves as a more efficient placeholder for the mere memory of having tried something many, many times. Knowledge of principles is the only thing that allows a person to accurately predict the outcome of any series of actions. There is no exception in the universe to this rule – and claiming that your particular circumstances are unique and outside the scope of the natural flow of the universe is to simultaneously self-aggrandize and mystify reality beyond human cognitive abilities. It is to see yourself as somehow superhuman and supernatural – above humanity and above nature.

Parenting vs. Being a Parent

The word “parent” has come to have two related, but ultimately different, meanings. You are a parent (noun) if you have produced a genetic offspring. You are participating in the act of parenting (verb) if you fulfill the psychological role in a child’s life required by nature to turn them into self-sufficient adult individuals. You can be a parent and entirely abandon your child immediately after birth (or even before, if you are male). You can spend your entire life never reproducing but still parent several others in need of that crucial influence, regardless of their genetic connection to you. This is why we still refer to adoptive parents as just that: parents. This is proof that raising a child is entirely distinguished from the mere ability to produce one.

Becoming a parent is not difficult. It requires little more than good enough physical health to impregnate someone else or carry a fetus to term within yourself. Even keeping an infant or child alive, though more complicated than the processes of initially producing one, necessitates again only a fundamental conception of what it takes to provide the basic requirements for sustained human biology. Most of this is provided to us by nature in the form of instincts of self – and offspring-preservation, and is supplemented by a rudimentary understanding of modern economics. The ability to “put food on the table” has only ever been relevant to the act of having a child, but not raising it, which is about equivalent to the difference between owning something and knowing how to use it properly.

The skill of raising a child is one of the most natural aspects of being human – though it is heavily complicated by the unnatural world most of us attempt to perform it in. This is what necessitates taking the effort to effectively practice and study what it takes to interact in the most natural and healthy manner possible with children. The key point I am trying to make, if I haven’t yet stressed this enough, is that you don’t have to physically make a new baby in order to practice/learn this. To do so is foolhardy, shortsighted, selfish, and just plain wasteful as a learning method.

Every bit of information a person needs to know to raise a child well in the modern world (that is not already instinctual in healthy adults) is now freely available in books and other media, or through the personal advice of successful parents. There are already well more than enough babies and children with whom anyone desiring to learn the skill of parenting (verb) can interact and observe the patterns of efficient interaction.

Will it be exactly the same as raising your own genetic offspring from scratch? Probably not. There are too many nuances to capture to completely recreate the experience. But there is a reason we practice a skill in a controlled and limited environment before we throw ourselves out to the mercy of the jungle. Bragging rights and pride should stem from how long a wise person consciously chooses to devote their time to studying the discipline of parenting before undergoing the comparatively easy process of making a new human. You’ll earn no respect from me by merely jumping the gun and attempting to climb the mountain without packing the right equipment and doing the necessary research ahead of time.

Parenting is Not Emotionally Exclusive

What I’m really proposing is that we stop giving all parents (noun) the benefit of the doubt, and we all stop suppressing the superior knowledge we may hold that causes us to judge the irrational and misguided actions of others. Is it any of our business what other people do with their lives? Of course not. But when has that ever stopped us from having the audacity to observe, deduce, and make judgments about what is and what is not a good idea? Why does the sacred cow of parenthood exist as a subject thou shalt never discuss nor condemn, akin to politics, abortion, and (gasp) homosexuality?

If you refuse to acknowledge that there is such a thing as “good” and “bad” parenting, you shut off that portion of your mind which learns and gains understanding of what works and what does not. Judgment is what makes learning and improvement possible. When you do this, you implicitly relegate child-rearing into the realm of the metaphysical, magical, and imaginary, which minimizes your chances of ever being a truly great parent to your own offspring. A person who does not believe in right and wrong or correct and incorrect cannot ever consciously make progress toward one and away from the other.

Ultimately, you are not just learning the necessary knowledge for teaching a child to think, live, and prosper. You are developing internal emotional and communication skills. This is the aspect of parenting that people with children are so often certain that anyone who isn’t in their position could not ever possibly understand. You need to spend time around children in order to learn how to react and respond to them in all moments and circumstances. You need to be emotionally prepared to go from laughing, to screaming, to crying, and back again on a moment’s notice without ever losing your presence of mind. This is something a book can only make you aware of, but not develop for you.

Generally, the parents who insist you cannot understand what it’s like to raise a kid until you have your own are the ones who fail miserably in this regard. Because they never developed healthy emotional coping and teaching skills before having their own children, they assume it to be a physical impossibility that anyone else might do so. This is as absurd as assuming that no one can learn algebra without attending a “real” schooling institution. Close-minded people will always be blind to how the world could ever operate beyond the particular set of experiences they were arbitrarily subjected to, and parenting is perhaps the topic most abused by this fallacy.

Procreation is not parenting, and anyone who gets offended and defensive at the idea that someone could ever rationally and emotionally understand what they might be going through and have something of value to add to their perspective was never ready to be a parent in the first place. Don’t be that way if proper parenting is important to you. Begin your training ahead of time, and make it a part of your daily growth as a developing adult human. There is no magic one-step process that transforms a man into a proper father or a woman into the best mother her kids will need. It’s just one more aspect of the ever-changing and numerous principles of your identity.

Continue Reading

Why Every Man Should Work with Children

Send him mail.

“Insight for the Young and Unrestrained” is an original column appearing every Thursday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Gregory V. Diehl. Gregory is a writer, musician, educator, and coach for young people at EnabledYouth.com. Archived columns can be found here. IYU-only RSS feed available here.

By now, most thinking people know how important the influence of a caring male figure (preferably the biological father) is over the healthy physical and emotional development of children. It’s an inescapable part of the way we been shaped to develop, by mimicking the influences of the older authorities in our lives. What’s more rarely discussed is how, when done right, this relationship is reciprocal, and the grown men can be benefited even more than the children involved.

Unlocking the Mentoring and Fatherly Potential Present in All Men

While avoiding absolute generalizations, men are undoubtedly the more stoic sex. Many of us grow far removed from other people unless we have something to tether us to the rest of the world. These ties usually exist as any experience which catalyzes a peak emotional response within us. It can be the thrill and excitement of an action-packed movie or a sports game- or it can be the soothing influence of a women’s touch. These kinds of activities unlock parts of our natural emotional capacity that we tend to have difficulty reaching on our own.

There is a unique part of the emotional range of every man that I believe can only become accessible in the presence of children. Inside every one of us is an instinct for parental support, though many people unconsciously avoid it when they have not yet learned to take care of even their own problems yet. When adult males accept the presence of young growing humans into their emotional awareness, it alters how they speak, act, and even carry themselves. In time, we grow to become more protective, watchful, and driven by a desire to teach and lead those who haven’t yet learned the lessons experience has granted us.

Kids Empower Men by Making Them Vulnerable

I’ve interacted with a great number of men who seem almost terrified of being around children – and not just because they can be loud, messy, and generally unpredictable. These men (and some women) will automatically rigidify emotionally around kids. If they simply aren’t ready to feel the new states of mind that protective influence over the young requires, they are prone to distancing themselves entirely.

In some ways, young children, especially young girls, are the polar opposites on the emotional spectrum of adult males. That can be a terrifying experience for us to encounter. There’s a reason that even many of the fathers who don’t physically abandon their burgeoning families still fail to interact with any degree of emotional openness. When we are around that much emotional overflow, we can’t help but be affected by it.

If we aren’t ready to let their unstoppable energy pervade us – breaking that defensive shell we’ve worked so hard to build – we will treat their unhampered approach to life as a full-frontal attack on our senses and the parts of ourselves we work so hard to keep hidden from the rest of the world. The saddest examples of this are when parents will spend the whole of their offspring’s childhood and teenage years strictly as sustenance provider and disciplinarians, instead of ever becoming genuinely connected and emotionally interactive.

And it’s important that we do let them break us. Buried deep within men is a special kind of emotional strength, and it’s as if children, sensing this hidden power, go out of their way to shatter the shell housing it. Deep within the eyes of millions of little girls is an inherent pleading for men to show them that the world is a safe place – even if only when they are around to protect them. Just as it is our nature to embody this role for them, it is theirs to demand it of us.

Men Who Hate Children

This explains why so many modern men (unfortunately, many of them fathers or teachers) seem to absolutely abhor the existence of children. Young children are neither physically independent (in the sense that they depend on adults to keep them alive) nor emotionally independent (in the sense that their emotional capacities are still developing, and they require healthy older figures to show them how to do this). Just being near them carries an implicit request for grown men to become emotional role models.

Every man who finds himself regularly in the company of children must come to answer this request one way or another. He can follow the path of least resistance and remain emotionally apart from them. He will see them as broken creatures that need forceful molding and restructuring to learn to control their feelings as he has. Or he can change himself to meet their needs, and in doing so reach new levels of self-knowledge that would be impossible without their natural demand that he attain it. To put it simply: the natural demands of children, when willingly embraced, are capable of turning ordinary men into superheroes.

The Forgotten Masculinity

All the things which our culture considers “manly” are those which emphasize a certain aspect of the natural advantages of masculinity. Focus, intellect, endurance, speed, strength, and emotional stability are among these. We worship these traits in the form of athletes, scientists, and business men. Usually absent from this list is the ability to watch over and mentor young people with the kind of love and support that only an emotionally developed man is capable of. Yet, it is more powerful and more needed than any other masculine strength. Like the others, it can only be developed through practice and use.

Being around children, and really allowing yourself to be with them fully will make you grow more than any other manly activity you could perform. It unlocks the most natural parts of what we are capable of if we are brave enough to make it through the transitional stages between emotional withholding and controlled outpouring. If we allow it, it does as much good for us as it does for them by forcing us to acknowledge the most sentimental and vulnerable parts of ourselves many of us have long since forgotten.

You may be man enough to wrestle a grizzly, or rescue a fair maiden from a mugger, but do you have what it takes to look a lost and lonely little girl in the eyes and communicate without words exactly what she needs to know to feel that the world is a safe place for her to live in? Can you challenge a young boy to explore his curiosity and potential, even when it gets difficult? This is the masculinity that most of the human race has forgotten, and that even the most conventionally manly men are secretly terrified of. It is also the task that we must choose to rise to for the good of men and children everywhere.

All men concerned with self-improvement and true primal masculinity should work with or spend time around children. It is a skill set whose time has come, and the long-term benefits it holds for you, them, and the rest of the world are unparalleled. Take the challenge – if you are man enough.

Continue Reading

Bringing Back the Family Unit

Send him mail.

“Insight for the Young and Unrestrained” is an original column appearing every Thursday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Gregory V. Diehl. Gregory is a writer, musician, educator, and coach for young people at EnabledYouth.com. Archived columns can be found here. IYU-only RSS feed available here.

Throughout human history, the family has been the basic unit of society. It is my firm belief that altering the way families interact, and the way that children are raised and educated will create long-term ripple effects which may ultimately change the fabric of societies and nations as we have always known them.

You don’t have to be a parent or an expert on the biological aspects of human development to know that there is a human nature inherent to us all. We all have certain needs that must be fulfilled during our childhood and teenage years – needs that if left neglected can cause irreparable harm for the remainder of our adult lives. The introduction of positive parenting techniques to places where they are unfamiliar is the surest path to improving the whole of society.

Parenting styles popular in different parts of the world have very clear correlations to the personality traits the adults in the area eventually come to embody. Cultures which encourage parents not to physically interact with their children and to treat them as pieces of property are made up of adults who are emotionally disconnected from each other and have no real sense of self-worth. Countries which emphasize the swearing of allegiance to something large, external, and incomprehensible to the mind of a child are inhabited by adults with no real sense of direction – and no personal ambition to act upon.

Children who are forced to learn what other people consider important develop into adults who abhor education and following their own values. Girls who are abandoned or mistreated by their fathers either seek meaningless sex and abuse from men to fill the void or may remain estranged from men altogether. All of these personal problems can be avoided and healthy balanced adulthood achieved if only we, the adults currently inhabiting the world, have the courage and perspective to recognize how our own flaws prevent us from being the best possible mentors and raising healthy children.

If we lack this introspection, it is inevitable that we will go on to repeat the mistakes that were done to us when we were younger. We are doomed to stay stuck in this endless loop until either enough adults take it upon themselves to change the way they rear their children or our species forever destroys itself. Better parenting is the seed which eventually stems into every aspect of a better world.

Everywhere I go, I find individuals who stick out above and beyond what their cultures demand of them. Many of the most important thinkers throughout history have been the weirdos and outcasts. It is my long-term mission in life to ensure that there are always avenues available to the gifted and unusual young people growing up in this ever-changing world. I want to help the world move into a more prosperous direction.

This includes healthier alternative education options that most mainstream public and private schools cannot apply. It includes reintroducing a deep and permeating emotional connection between parents and children that is lacking in the world. It includes helping hardened adults reach the level of personal vulnerability necessary to bridge the gaps that exist between them and their kids. It includes incorporating peaceful forms of positive child discipline that do not require physical violence or demeaning behavior towards children.

Though every culture in the world embraces different styles of parenting, raising healthy children is entirely a natural process. Some of my most cherished memories and experiences are the younger children and teens I’ve garnered friendships and mentoring relationships with – and nothing brings me greater joy than helping these kinds of people blossom into their highest potential.

There was a time when I thought it would be enough to fix the human race if we could just create enough positive role models and educations centers for children around the world. But the solution has to go so much deeper than that. The only sustainable solution to the majority of humanity’s problems is to implement a new family model which enables children to become the best possible versions of themselves by catering to their most fundamental biological and psychological needs.

Society cannot provide this for your children. Friends and mentors can only do so much. It’s primarily up to parents to create this new kind of culture at home, and I hope to do everything I can in my time to spread this message and emotional awareness to those who are ready to take the next step toward peaceful and progressive parenting.

After witnessing how so many children are damaged in their upbringing around the world, I learned to overcome the damage done to me in my own youth. I also came to realize that there was nothing I cared more about than fixing the way the world raises its children, which in turn determines the adults they inevitably grow into. So I resolved to become the kind of man who could interact naturally and fluidly with children, and return back to the natural and intuitive child-rearing tactics hardwired into all of us.

It is my hope to continue to hone my skills, knowledge, and abilities as someone capable of recognizing the recurring problems in the lives of the people I encounter and providing the intellectual and emotional inputs necessary to instigate and encourage healthy parental support. I don’t claim to be a parenting expert (such a thing is, frankly, impossible in my opinion) but I know I hold the capacity for observation, empathy, and communication with the adults, teenagers, and children I encounter, and that I can use these as a force for progress in the world.

Continue Reading

Minds Against Progress

Send him mail.

“Insight for the Young and Unrestrained” is an original column appearing every Thursday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Gregory V. Diehl. Gregory is a writer, musician, educator, and coach for young people at EnabledYouth.com. Archived columns can be found here. IYU-only RSS feed available here.

It’s important to always defend ourselves and those we love from potentially dangerous foreign concepts and people. But it’s also crucial for our own growth and the betterment of those around us that we never lose hope in the goodness contained in people, ideas, and practices outside our current understanding. The loss of this hope is what eventually leads to the withering of anything which can be referred to as a human spirit.

We must guard ourselves carefully against listening to that little voice which is, by default, frightful of circumstances it does not understand, or new experiences contrary to previous experience. It is implicitly believed that if our previous experience is always a reliable indicator for future events that we see ourselves as having already experienced everything reality has to offer.

This is arrogance in the highest regard. There will always be infinitely greater things that could happen in the future than have happened in the past. Perhaps, for this reason, it is people with the greatest amount of future remaining ahead of them and eagerness to explore this future that should be given credence and authority in a world of constantly shifting conditions.

The Immeasurable Value of Social Entrepreneurs

This is why we all owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to the innovators and entrepreneurs of the past and present. An entrepreneur is anyone who innovates a new way of doing things, or who builds bridges and structures for new cultural habits to emerge. This can mean improving upon an old system, constructing a new one entirely, or something in between.

Though the term is usually applied to the world of business, it’s just as appropriate elsewhere. A lifestyle entrepreneur, for example, is someone who succeeds in creating a lifestyle totally different than the people around him, or what he had been exposed to previously. A parenting entrepreneur is someone who figures out a progressive new way to interact with their children, in spite of local conventional behavior. An educational entrepreneur changes the way he teaches to fit the results he receives, ignoring standard methodology and curriculum.

These literal and figurative bridge builders are almost always met with the greatest of resistance when initially attempting to redirect the flow of humanity’s river. We have to learn to recognize the value of their different takes on life, even when they show up in unconventional and seemingly weird ways. Everything that is common practice now was once weird in its inception. Everything that is safe and established was once dangerous and new. There are no exceptions to progress.

Overcoming Fear of the Unusual

So the next time a stranger, a friend, a child, or a famous person tries a totally new approach to an old situation, be honest with yourself before you judge. Is what they are doing really objectively insane or irrational? Or is that just your mind’s automated sense of disruption that arises when you look at the world a little differently? And if it is, are you holding back what could be a major amount of potential progress for both the individuals carrying it out and the rest of us who might one day be influenced to take similar action? One of the worst things you can do is become an obstacle in the path of humanity’s forerunners.

Is your fear of new and unusual approaches based on your own previous and subjective experience? Is it only a comparison to the general paradigm of the people around you? Even worse, have you fallen into the great intellectual trap of thinking that because you have lived a certain number of years that you are qualified to judge the actions of others in fields totally unrelated to whatever expertise you may have gathered in this time? To be able to honestly answer this question, you’ll have to humble yourself down a few pegs on the totem pole of self-inflation.

The Destruction of Young People

Young adults and teenagers are always the biggest object of attack from the anti-progress mentality. Children get off easy with the acknowledgment of their natural naiveté and inexperience in “the real world.” The same courtesy is often not extended once they reach an age where they are capable of actually acting upon their unconventional ambitions and ideas.

As inherently foolhardy many of them may be, it is the discouragement of these strange passions in youth by embittered older people that ultimately kills originality for life. Human society suffers as a whole without the valuable input of these creative thinkers and anomalous actors. The adults who so abrasively dissuade them think they might be doing them a favor, and though saving them from some painful falls and failures they may be, the overall impact is a strengthening of established practice and the death of new things.

Think About It…

It is our nature to want to help and grant advice where it is needed. But if we don’t fully understand where the limits of the advice we have to offer lie, we achieve the exact opposite of what is intended by offering our overly helpful hands. And ultimately, if a person can learn the balance of exactly how much to give and when to recede, he will earn far more respect from those who may have something valuable to learn from him. He can still contribute what his experience has granted him to those who lack it, without also building artificial barriers to whatever else might be achieved by those with differing ambitions.

Don’t be the overbearing asshole who insists on instilling his worldview onto anyone less enlightened who has the misfortunate of falling into your aim. Be the man worth coming to, and the man whose contributed value speaks for itself. It is only when your positive reputation fails to precede you that you have to try to force fit your words and ideas where they were never welcome to begin with. If what you have to offer is worth anything at all, you shouldn’t have to work so hard to find an accepting audience anyway.

Continue Reading

The Many Ways You Program Your Children

Send him mail.

“Insight for the Young and Unrestrained” is an original column appearing every Thursday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Gregory V. Diehl. Gregory is a writer, musician, educator, and coach for young people at EnabledYouth.com. Archived columns can be found here. IYU-only RSS feed available here.

Nobody needs to be told that raising a child from birth is going to be a helluva job. For starters, you’ve got to keep them alive, which is not always as easy as it sounds. Then, you’ve got to teach them the information relevant to keeping themselves alive (or risk perpetual dependence on you or someone else). But there’s another factor of parenting.

By raising a child, you are literally programming how it emotionally interprets the world. You are determining to a very large degree if he will become the type of person who reacts with fear and anxiety to situations he should be totally comfortable with. You are a major influencing factor on whether they will be nice to a fault, or an overall anti-social jerk. It is because of you that they will either be able to experience the entirety of the spectrum of human emotion, or experience none of it at all.

The Two Types of Parenting

It seems like most parents believe in taking either one extreme or another when it comes to parenting: either totally laid-back, hands-off, and even negligent, or an almost obsessive level of interest and control over what their kids do. We live in an age of hyper-parenting, and if the parents don’t do it themselves they hire a school to do it for them.

Parents who take this approach have their hearts in the right place. They just don’t trust that children will grow up right without constant intervention in their development. They don’t really seem to trust the natural process of human growth.

Their fears are not without warrant. We live in a very unnatural world, and that really takes a toll on children. But there’s a limit that is quickly reached if too much pressure is put on children to correct the destructive impact of the world. It should be a major priority for every loving parent to find where this balance is in their relationships, and then develop the patience and emotional skills needed to act on it daily.

When to Yell

Being around children or teenagers can require patience, but this doesn’t mean embracing total pacifism or emotional neutrality. It just means knowing when it is warranted to use anger to influence a child’s behavior. Anger, like any other emotion, is merely a tool in your box as a human being. Most parents will unconsciously choose to use anger in every occasion that a child does something they don’t approve of. This is like using a hammer to dust the fine china.

In most cases where a child’s behavior rightfully requires correcting, there really isn’t any pressing sense of urgency. Think about it. When is the situation ever really urgent? Basically only when someone’s body or property is in immediate danger. Generally any other time, another emotional tone could be used to correct the situation and convey a lesson without also creating the collateral damage that anger carries.

The only advantage unique to anger is the sense of urgency it carries. So go ahead and yell when little Johnny is moments away from sticking the fork in the electrical socket, or stepping into oncoming traffic, or knocking over your priceless violin. This is a primal emotional response, and it works more effectively than any other approach to get the instant attention of your child and prevent catastrophe. But whenever you have more than half a moment to actually stop and assess the situation, ask yourself if raising your voice is really the best way to approach the situation.

Allow Them to Emote

Children are extremely sensitive to the emotions you project onto them. They see it in your body, your voice, your words, and how you touch them. They are affected by your emotions far more than you might realize, and you’ll easily see it if you learn what to look for. Kids get good at masking their emotions when they are told it’s not safe to show them. Look for signs that they are suppressing something traumatic inside.

Amazingly, one of the most effective things you can do to instantly improve your connection with your children is to simply give them the permission to show their emotions without inhibition. If you catch them choking back tears, or covering cries with false laughter as children commonly do, stop them. Look them in the eye, hold them, and tell them that whatever they are feeling is perfectly okay and they are allowed to cry in front of you (or scream, or whatever it is they need to do to get their emotions out). This permission will instantly shoot their level of trust and respect for you higher than ever before.

You Shape Their Baseline

Without this freedom of expression, they will develop emotional blocks over time, and can gradually become closed off. An emotional block is simply any psychological tendency toward difficulty expressing an emotion that would be present under natural, healthy settings. Whatever barriers they put between themselves and the world now will be exponentially more difficult to remove later in life, so please, parents, do everything you can to make sure they never arise.

Parents acknowledge the truth of this when it comes to major emotional events. They understand that physical abuse or the emotional trauma of a parent’s death will certainly leave long-lasting scars. But what about the day-in and day-out reality you create for them? Children who learn from birth that the world is not safe will have a very difficult time fully expressing themselves later. Only parents and other close older figures can provide this feeling of safety for a helpless infant or child.

The world and its influence on your children will always be too big for you to control. Even the best of parents have only so much influence. But what you can do is, at the very least, construct a micro-environment of love and comfort where they are instilled with a foundational sense of security in life. This means that you have to become the embodiment of these virtues. While negative emotions serve their place in times of momentary emergency, you have to remain in control of yourself enough to return to a baseline of unconditional acceptance.

Other People and the Opposite Sex

You’re not just teaching them how to feel comfortable being themselves. You’re teaching them how to interact with other people. From you they’ll learn how to make friends, participate in an economy, and (perhaps most importantly) treat the opposite sex. We are designed for sex, as much as many parents might want to avoid the inevitability of it for their children as long as possible. It’s your duty to do everything you can to make sure that when the time comes they will have a healthy view of sex and relationships.

Young women learn to interact with men primarily from their fathers and brothers. Fathers, the way you treat your daughters creates a template in their minds for how all their future male relationships should unfold. Become the person you want your daughter to marry. Think about how your sons observe you treating their mother and talking about women in general. Your children are always observing your actions and always learning from them. You don’t get the luxury of just turning a false persona on and off whenever the kids are around.

But if you teach them to be comfortable being themselves and dealing with others from a young age, they’ll grow up to become far more capable of treating others well. If they don’t believe that social bonding is easy and natural, they will be prone to staying closed off from the human race for fear of being hurt or betrayed. If they don’t know what a sustainable and loving relationship between two people can look like, they’ll have a very difficult time replicating it themselves. We all unconsciously build our lives around the patterns we inherit.

Curiosity and Silliness

Kids are constantly hungry for new experience and information during their growing phases. Concerned parents should take note of this and seek to fill this natural hunger with enough physical, emotional, and intellectual stimulation. However, they absolutely should not force-feed information or activities. This accomplishes the exact opposite of what it is intended to do. You need to take a step back and wait for them to seek before you fulfill. This doesn’t mean you cannot guide them in their quest for new experiences. It just means you have to learn how to inspire them.

A lot of parents can never understand why their children are obsessed with zoning out with video games. Video games provide the greatest amount of stimulation for the smallest amount of physical work. They are pretty amazing when you think about it. Kids have the ability to instantaneously enter into another world with its own physics, politics, and reward incentives. This a powerful tool for expanding the imagination and exercising many components of the mind. Like a great movie, it can condense a plethora of otherwise inaccessible experiences into the span of just a few short hours. With immersive games, you can live many lives over the course of a single day. Can you really blame a kid for being so drawn to such an opportunity?

In a world with this kind of hyper-stimulation available everywhere, your best defense against too much of a good thing is to fill your child’s lives with so many other amazing and stimulating experiences that they are never left hungry at the end of the day. Don’t chastise them for being hungry. The desire to beat a challenging game set in a rich interactive environment is a major sign of ambition. They just have to learn to act on that ambition at some point.

Treating Children like “Children”

So how should you treat your son or daughter? Probably however he or she acts. Get rid of the idea that there is a certain way they are supposed to be acting, or a certain social role they are supposed to be fitting into. All that crap was made up by people just as dumb as you and me. You can invent a new social role any time you want. And you can instill the confidence in your children to do the exact same thing. You do an enormous disservice to them if you ignore what is actually happening with them right in front of your eyes and insist on projecting an illusion because it’s easier for you to deal with. You should be proud beyond measure that your kid doesn’t act like just another “kid.”

They will be similar, but not identical to you. Don’t take this as an insult, and learn to adjust your parenting techniques accordingly. This is evolution in action. Two old traits combine together into a new one, and that’s how the magic happens. There will come a time when their growth surpasses your ability to watch over them completely. When that time comes invest what is necessary into other mentors with skills and perspective you lack, and do everything you can to prepare them to figure the world out on their own. They are the legacy you leave to the world, but they are also entirely their own people. If there were anything truly worth doing well, it is this.

Continue Reading

The Importance of Constant Struggle

Send him mail.

“Insight for the Young and Unrestrained” is an original column appearing every Thursday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Gregory V. Diehl. Gregory is a writer, musician, educator, and coach for young people at EnabledYouth.com. Archived columns can be found here. IYU-only RSS feed available here.

Youth is the time in our lives we are allotted to figure out how the world around us works. During those important first decades of life, we move from a purely instinctual response-based existence to memorizing the rules of the culture around us and ingraining the physical tasks necessary for survival into our bodies. Upon reaching adulthood, we spend the rest of our lives acting on this information and making a life for ourselves.

The downside to having a firm position on how things work and the practices we grew up with is that it automatically makes the other views and practices we encounter difficult to integrate. This is part of why children are so good at learning things. They have little else to get in the way of adopting new ideas. Instead of comparing the new with the old and letting them compete for mental real estate, they simply take it all in with novelty and excitement. The sooner this process ceases in us, the sooner we start to see the symptoms of being “old.” It’s like the mind has an automatic shut-off sequence that activates whenever we convince ourselves that we already know enough to get by.

When we find new ways to challenge ourselves, we circumvent this process of debilitation. Constantly introducing new technologies (which force us to think in new ways) or living in foreign cultures (which force us to interact with others in new ways) remind the mind of how little it really knows. Aside from keeping us humble, it retains that childlike state of growth and wonder that are natural in early life. It makes a state of wonder a daily living reality.

It’s widely recommended that as people get older they take up new hobbies that challenge the mind. Crossword puzzles, golfing, or even just taking a different route home from work are said to invigorate the mind and keep it fresh. These tactics may offer little boosts of vitality to a solidifying personality, but they hardly scratch the surface of the malleability of the human mind. What if you lived your life in such a way that every birthday you celebrated brought an almost entirely new identity for you from the year prior? Not only would your mind never solidify, but you would really start to see the cumulative capacity of learning as these new identities stacked upon each other over time.

The mark of a leader is in how well he understands this and applies it to himself. Average people spend their time and resources maintaining their possessions and finding new distractions. Exceptional people invest their lives in growing and pushing every boundary they encounter. When an obstacle arises along the path to their goal, they resolve to learn the tools necessary to bypass or defeat it. The moment you start to accept that your identity has been set for you is the moment you surrender to entropy.

The remarkable thing about learning is how new skills stick with us, even after being buried many layers in our subconscious. When you encounter something difficult for the first time, you have the choice to simply accept that you don’t know how to deal with it (and avoid it entirely or hire someone else to handle it for you), or can choose to attempt it anyway. Even a child with almost no frame of reference for how the world works has the amazing ability to utilize endless trial and error to slowly adapt and embrace the mechanics of how new things work. Adults can do this too; they just generally lack the patience and curiosity that children naturally have. They see novelty as annoying, whereas a child will see it as exciting.

If you could only introduce one new principle into your mental programming, make it this:

Whenever you encounter something difficult, keep doing it until it isn’t difficult anymore.

Now, obviously, if this were applied on an absolute scale, you would quickly run out of time in the day. But if you are discerning and can apply it with priority to the major obstacles that continually show up in your life, you may be pleasantly surprised by how your life changes in a short time. Not only will you move more smoothly from one goal to the next (and reach bigger goals than you previously thought possible), but your mind will grow increasingly sharper. The skills you presently gain in every passing day can stack with incredible capacity atop the skills you learned in earlier days, and with little effort you’ll find you can recall and put to use any number of abilities.

Generations ago, it seemed an economic necessity that most people specialize heavily in one particular area of knowledge or ability. This has made many men and women oblivious to the world outside their skill set. They even have built entire identities around what they get paid to do. While in most circumstances it may still be economically sensible to hire someone with certain specialties to handle problems outside our field of knowledge, it certainly isn’t the only option available anymore.

Think of learning in terms of opportunity cost. If you find a leak under your sink, it might be easiest just to hire a plumber to come fix it for $100. Or, through the power of search engines and the malleability of the human mind, you might acquire all the information you need to fix the leak yourself after 5 measly hours of time investment into research and experimentation. Essentially, your time value for fixing it yourself was $20/hour. If you are accustomed to making much more than this for the “work” you usually devote your time to, this might not seem like a worthwhile trade.

However, since knowledge is cumulative, you are actually gaining a lot more in the long run. When you call the plumber, you are paying for a one-time fix. When you invest the hours into learning it yourself, you are getting a lifetime of leak-free sinks in return. If you could learn the basics of every skill set you are likely to require throughout your life (and still make time to thoroughly specialize in at least a few) you will be well equipped to face most challenges in life, and your mind will be functioning at a level far beyond those who strictly specialize. Even the world’s most competent brain surgeon or rocket scientist may be utterly useless in most other areas. He may be the one you want to depend on if your goal is to remove a tumor or get to the moon, but what sort of man can he be if these are the only thoughts which occupy his mind?

Unfortunately, the world by and large still thinks the only merit in learning anything comes from one’s ability to get paid for it and turn it into a full-time profession. The innovation of currency, for all the blessings it has bestowed upon us, has made it far too easy to over-simplify the process of valuation for anything either concrete or abstract. Assigning an objective numerical value to anything immediately hides all the subtlety and potential it really holds. This is a terrible way to view the world, and a terrible way to treat education.

If you are economically comfortable, start looking at your actions in terms of the overall benefit they provide to your life and mind. The more you grow, the healthier your mind will remain, and the closer you get to achieving perpetual youth. Just as the body is designed for constant motion, and just as a sedentary life quickly leads to disease and disorder, an unmoving mind soon withers. Since constant challenge is a necessary part of the human experience, you might as well learn to enjoy it. Embracing a constantly shifting identity can be scary, and the world will certainly distance itself from you for it initially, but the long-term rewards are unmatched by anything else in life.

Continue Reading