Don’t Be Scared: Raising Kids in a Fear Obsessed Culture

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The last few weeks seem to have people more on edge than usual. I’m sure this is a combination of the horrible events in France, Mali, and Nigeria and a media that is obsessed with atrocity. I usually try to stay away from anything too politically charged on here, but I need to talk about this trend I am seeing all too much of on social media, and unfortunately in casual conversation. Lately, people are looking for groups of people to fear with little to no provocation (the entire republican presidential primary has been dominated by it). This is a dangerous direction for us as a population.

First, I know that fearing what we don’t know or understand is hardly a new human phenomena, and I also understand that we will always have a level of racism and bigotry in our society. Some people would rather just hate, and we can’t fix them. All we can do is make them the outcasts. My issue is the current willingness of otherwise intelligent and generally moderate people to default to the position of fear seems to be growing. Whether it is Islamophobia, homophobia, racism, sexism, etc. the idea that one group of people needs to be feared due to the actions of a few is a breeding ground for disaster.

Now this is a blog about parenting, so let me frame this in the light of how we bring up our children. Teaching your children to fear what they do not understand as opposed to learning about it is raising the risk of sentencing them to a life of seclusion, ignorance, and hate. As parents we have an obligation to our children to help them explore our world and its people. The “gated community” mentality will not suffice in modern times. Your children will reach out to the world and find people, they need your guidance so the people they find are positive influences. Send them off with the idea that Muslims are going to hurt them or black teenagers are criminals, and I promise they will find awful people looking to lure them into embracing those ideals. Luckily the inverse is equally true. Give them an open mind, and they will find wonderful people from every possible background who will enhance their lives.
The argument I keep seeing is safety and/or protection in regard to our children and communities. This is simply an illegitimate reason, and often just used to justify the thinly-veiled bigotry. Of course we want our kids to be safe. I don’t know many topics that all decent parents would agree on, but I am sure that the safety of their children is on the top of that list. With that in mind, teaching your children to fear large groups of people does not make them safer. What we can do is teach our children to be wary of situations around them, and judge individuals as individuals. Then they can assess whether or not a situation is a safe one to be in. This is a far more valuable skill than blocking off large portions of humanity.
As we have seen time and time again, we cannot rely on media to help with this lesson. Different groups are simply not portrayed equally in American media. This is your job as a parent. You need to explain to your kids that people of all types are good or bad, this is determined by their own character and nothing else. Make no mistake, they hear how you talk about everyone around you, and they will shape their world in a similar way. Teach them to question what they see or hear and form their own well thought out views and opinions. That’s the best way to equip them for the future.

So, I offer this, instead of looking for reasons to fear what is different, I encourage you to look for ways to appreciate it. Next time you see a story of a horrible extremist of any kind doing something terrible, search for a positive story. Show your children (and yourself) all the good in the world. Just as evil is not limited by race, culture, or religion; neither is good. So find the good, and instead of being afraid of the monsters, try to be inspired by the humanity.

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