Individual Responsibility for Children by Children
The title 'Child' is crowned on all of us at one point. Are you still dragging mud or moving forward?
We all find ourselves in environments that are structures built around relationship(s). Society has these structures, each serving a purpose. The purpose comes from the fact it exists, i.e., imbued with meaning. Since meaning is what something signifies or expresses, the expression is its existence, and from its significance, we derive purpose. The first basic structure one finds themselves in is the family.
The family( like everything in reality), exists and from its existence, there is a purpose. To understand the true purpose and meaning of a family, we need a guide to the truth. Children grow up in an environment built around a relationship that ideally should be guided and grounded by love. They take a long time to develop autonomy and independence, requiring a lot of care and attention. The family environment affects children deeply as it is where they learn and grow.
Humans are conscious thus can discern what is good and evil. They are aware of themselves and their outside existence. Consciousness in itself is not limited to adults but is present in children as well. To understand this, let us look at how children are affected by psychological trauma. Most psychological trauma often comes from two sources, tragedies (or catastrophes) and malicious actions.
Tragedies and catastrophes are events like life-threatening diseases, floods and earthquakes. They often occur to people without warning, and some, like diseases, can last for even a lifetime. A fact about tragedies is that they are not evil; they cause pain but are not evil. The reason is that all tragedies and catastrophes are not conscious of what they are doing; they simply occur.
Humans are incredibly resilient and often bounce back from tragedies stronger than they were before. They have a vital choice of allowing the pain to shape them by either strengthening their love or becoming bitter.
Malicious actions, on the other hand, involves someone consciously inflicting harm on you, committing evil. During therapy, we have observed over the years that the one thing people struggle to heal from most is malicious/evil actions. It encompasses physical, emotional and sexual abuse, murder, manipulation, stealing, cheating and deceit.
Think of a scenario of a person or animal you love and care for. If that person or animal died due to a disease, it would break your heart, and you would experience a lot of pain. If they were murdered, healing would prove much more challenging. The reason being, loss and pain are in both, but the latter involves a face-to-face confrontation with evil.
The struggle to process evil actions is seen even in adults as their conceptual frameworks for processing gets overwhelmed. It explains why support is crucial to processing, as people process together.
So, what do children do in the face of tragedies? Most children with support handle it very well using imagination and fantasy that can come out through play or art to process. However, when it comes to malicious/evil actions, children struggle to process them. In therapy, they struggle to heal from sexual abuse, most not truly understanding what was done to them. However, even if they can't fully understand what happened to them, they know it was wrong. Children struggle because of one thing; their understanding of good or evil has been tested beyond its capacity.
Children learn what is good or evil when interacting with their primary caregivers. German-English Psychologist Erick Erikson, between 1958-1963, identified 8 stages that people go through in life. The completion of each stage means the growth of not only a healthy personality but acquisition of morals.
Erik Erikson's stages of Pychosocial Development
The first 5 stages occur between the ages of 0-18yrs. During the trust vs mistrust stage (0-18months), he claimed that a child learned and assessed if they should trust the world through the interactions with their caregivers.
In this stage, children trust when cared for and nurtured the right way with love. When a child grows up in a loving environment, they develop trust, as parents do not infringe on their meaning. Parents who are patient and kind with their children create an environment where a child feels safe enough to express themselves without the worry of infringement. A child whose meaning is infringed at this stage harbours mistrust, as they do not feel safe enough to express themselves due to fear of infringement. Infringement here being evil acts, done without love.
Since children can harbour mistrust or trust even at this stage, they know when their meaning is being discovered or infringed. They learn this using feeling, not only internal but external. Feelings of warmth from a caregiver (external) promote safety and stability (internal), and feelings of contempt promote fear and instability. Slowly, children learn what is right using feelings originating from the caregiver and what they feel in response.
It is this unique nature that makes humans amazing but vulnerable when growing up. Children can tell when their meaning is being infringed upon. Without healing, children develop an issue with love which they carry into adulthood, such as distrust, shame, guilt, confusion, isolation and inferiority. If you have an issue practising love within yourself or with others, you eventually mix up what is right or wrong. Adults can suppress such feelings showing that children learn from an early age when their meaning is being dictated. Children need governance to attain a balance. A balance where they don't infringe on the meaning of others and their meaning is not infringed upon.
It would require the child to learn patience, kindness, not be envious or boastful, not arrogant or rude, not self-seeking, not irritable or resentful, not rejoicing in evil (infringement) but rejoicing with the truth. It would require the child to learn love. Children should ideally learn and practice all these in a family. Sadly, if a child’s meaning is infringed upon from birth, they are prone to infringe meaning, even as adults, on others.
The construction of meaning and purpose in life starts when we start interactions with our primary caregivers. As children, we do not choose the environment that we are born in. We are born, and we exist where we are born, with whomever we are born with, to take care of us. Whether they are good parents or decide to be neglectful is their choice, but the consequences fall on the child.
Most psychological disorders such as personality disorders, socio-pathological mental illnesses and mood disorders have successfully linked their aetiology to dysfunctional childhood environments. One can then raise a bold claim and say the failure of parental figures to help children successfully negate this stage has contributed to the current societal challenges we face. Parenting is service; parents serve children, and children are to obey their parents. Obedience becomes tasking and almost impossible in an environment that promotes bitterness and hate, but where love is endearing, children readily follow instructions, prosper and thrive.
We have all faced pain and have related to it on different levels, learning how to cope with it, live with it or let go of it. Most of the pain is rooted in our childhood. The most common response to it in current times is to use it as an excuse to do what we want. Our fear of negative emotions drives us into a self-preservation mode of utter and complete rejection to objectively see the bigger picture, of understanding our problems. So, we tend to reject our issues, hide them and hold on to a strong notion that we are decent people who have conducted our duties and responsibilities. The rejection of these feelings is problematic as the unprocessed issues fester taking root in us, our relationships, eventually dominating our life.
The truth is most people believe they are good and are conducting their duties, parents included. Even when clearly shown the consequence of their actions. If confronted with any element of parenting that affects their child, they can have a counter with a comparison of what they offer or offered sieving with pain instead of trying to understand the issue. Parents debate how they meet other obligations for the child, refusing to acknowledge their actions and the consequence it bears.
Most humans are born and raised in a family unit. As beings and a society, we have been failed and failed, falling short in our roles to love each other perfectly. This is the challenge we face as a society. For the sake of our children and our future, we need to make a choice. To take up the mantle as individuals and groups, transforming by moving towards good. We have already seen what is needed to move towards good, a perfect love. It is the guiding tool for all, even raising our children, which in itself is service. We should take up responsibility, start maturing as a society, as beings and grow in consciousness the right way, guided by perfect love.