Monday, January 10, 2011

Shaping Our Children

"Children are by and large a blank canvas, and thus any actions (or lack thereof) you perform that have an effect on them will likely shape their future personality and attitude."

I once had a discussion (debate bordering on argument) with a friend about which types of kids grow up to be better adults? Kids that grow up in poverty? Or kids that grow up surrounded by luxuries?

Some of the questions we tossed back and forth included:

Will children who do not have many material goods turn out to be more considerate people? Kind? Generous? Sensitive to the misfortunes of others? And will these children grow up to appreciate and value everything that they have?

On the other hand, will children who live a pampered life grow up to be less considerate? Unkind? Selfish? Insensitive to the misfortunes of others? And will these children become adults that do not truly appreciate or value anything?

I personally think that it doesn’t make an iota of difference. It’s not the material goods that shape a child; it’s the people involved in their upbringing, primarily their parents, of course, but also the other players in their lives. Many factors come into play in the chiseling of a brand new being. When a baby is born, it’s a blank canvas that waits to be painted. Each brushstroke that is placed on that canvas creates a brilliance of color, shape and texture. Lines can be bold, thick, runny, soggy, diluted, bright, pale, sharp or imprecise. They can overlap, run parallel, overshadow another or blend in to create new shades. There are millions of colours that can be created as one shade another. The image will be produced gradually, through the passage of time, with touch ups being done when necessary, but eventually a picture will emerge, a child blossoming into the person they will be. And the end result can be anywhere from a work of genius to an unsightly array of muddled hues.

And we, the adults, the influencers, the role models all contribute to this image. Parents, relatives, the media, society, neighbours, teachers, friends, billboards, television, the internet, advertisements and literature, just to name a few, are the painters in a child’s development. The children arrive with a blank canvas, a palette of colors and brushes. With trust and confidence they place these tools in our hands and we are responsible for them. We may fear opening the paint cans and leave them bottled and untouched. We may act hastily and empty them too quickly. We may open to see the colors but never pick up a paintbrush and swirl through it. And we may place the brush in an opened can and then forget about it, the color drying out, the brush becoming hard and unusable.

But every now and then, there will be certain individuals who will take the time to carefully admire what lies before them and create the picture in their mind, first, before they begin the project. They have a plan, a vision, and with care and determination, they gently glide their image onto the canvas. With love and patience, they contribute to the shaping of another happy, loving and selfless human being.

I believe that all children are predisposed to some of their quirks and personality traits, to positive characteristics that need to be cultivated and to negative ones that need to be suppressed. And that the image that forms on the blank canvas they arrive with is manipulated by their role models and surroundings. Because I truly believe that personality is a mix of both genetic and environmental influences.

Children that are surrounded by wealth can develop into adults that are compassionate and generous, and children living in poverty can grow up to be inconsiderate and selfish. At the end of the day, it isn’t money or social class or a luxurious lifestyle that shapes children, but the world around them, and the people (the painters) that cross their paths and leave footprints – and brushstrokes - in the canvases of their lives.

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