Friday, December 9, 2016

K is for Kids, and How to Prepare Them for the Future



One topic that is often glossed over by Kollapsniks is the topic of how to talk to children about the future. Perhaps it's because, as humans, we tend to place our hopes for the future in our children, and if all we can see is a bleak future then why bother telling them about it at all?

I have two daughters—aged 11 and 13. They are bright and beautiful, clever and compassionate. I'll admit that sometimes I worry about the world they will inhabit when they become adults. It's likely to be a world that very few people are preparing their kids for—and that's putting it mildly. Given what we know about how climate systems are becoming chaotic, how energy that was once as concentrated as a bottle of whisky is rapidly turning into a glass of shandy, about mass extinctions, overpopulation, the creeping corporate takeover of society, the dumbing down of culture, the pollution and destruction of the biosphere, mass refugee movements, resource wars, nuclear meltdowns and so on and so forth ... is it any wonder that so few of us want to broach the topic?

Despite all of these threats hanging over us what message, if any, is society sending to kids about the future? Are the cultural engineers who shape these young minds preparing them for a world in which the above drawbacks of industrial civilisation are honestly discussed? Or are they, instead, doubling down on the failures of the past and hammering into them the idea that what may kill us will also be our saviour? I think you already know the answer to that.

As a parent, I often get to unwillingly overhear/see children's TV programmes in the form of CBBC (Children's BBC). There are no commercials on CBBC but that doesn't mean it doesn't contain plenty of social programming and, by now, my kids are well used to hearing me howl in disagreement at something that was said—especially when Newsround is on.

Newsround—and pretty much every other programme on CBBC—propagates the narrative that we are heading towards a shiny future living on Mars, and that robots will do all the drudge work. Everything will be solar powered and there will be all sorts of consumer gadgets and devices, such as jetpacks and flying skateboards, and instead of dying we will be able to upload our minds into "the cloud" and live in virtual reality worlds that will be even more awesomer than living on Mars with robots.

The CBBC Newsround gang - getting the kids ready for the future

These little techno utopian skits are punctuated with other "news" items about reality TV shows, sports and the lives of celebrities, and—needless to say—everything is very PC and "right on" with a perfect mix along lines of gender/race/ability.

If this little window onto the cultural programming of infants is in any way reflective of the wider world then I hate to think what will be the effect on the state of mind of our youngsters as they approach maturity and find out what the real world is like. What's a concerned elder to do?

So, reaching over and turning off the mind-warp machine for a moment, what are reality-aware parents supposed to do to prepare their offspring for the future they'll likely get? Well, I can't speak for everyone, but my strategy is revealed in the 18 tips that follow:

1 - Teach them how to be aware of when someone is trying to con them. Adverts are a great place to start. Teach them how to strip an ad down to its basic components: what's it trying to do? Make it funny. My kids can laugh at any ad they see and tell you what emotion/fear/desire they are using to get you to buy their product.

2 - Get them interested in making things that are useful. I'm not very crafty, but my wife is, and she has taught them how to sew and crochet. They can now make their own clothes—and they enjoy doing it immensely. And if you're doing any DIY get them to watch and hand you the tools. There is nothing more lamentable than adults who don't know how to change a lightbulb or fix a leaky tap.

3 - Don't give them everything they want. Being denied something that you really, really want, is good for you. Growing up and getting everything you want all the time creates adults that are selfish and unhappy. They will be forever craving material possessions and will be mentally unable to process not getting what they want. They end up unhappy and have unfulfilled and unfulfilling lives. In the future people will not be able to get what they want—the best time to practice for that is now.

4 - Teach them to cook proper food from an early age. Let them be messy and let them create hideous concoctions, if that's what they want. Kids love preparing food and cooking, and the only way they'll learn about it is doing it for themselves. For your own sanity, also insist they clean up their mess afterwards.

5 - Tell them that school teaches you useful stuff but the real lessons come from life and what you learn yourself. I tell my kids that I don't care what grades they get as long as they do their best: that grading schemas are dreamed up by dull people in London as a way to get our kids to compete with Chinese kids and squeeze every bit of creativity out of the educational system. These days most children are put on a conveyor belt from early infancy which leads them through school and college and turns them into bonded debt slaves working in unfulfilling jobs. Impress upon them that this doesn't have to be the case and that alternative paths are open to them. Encourage them to follow their interests as long as this will likely lead to them being able to make a living for themselves that doesn't rely on massive amounts of fossil fuels or ponzi finance schemes. Guide them, in this respect. Impress upon them that the world doesn't owe them a living and that no job should be below them. To that end, don't give them pocket money unless they've earned it doing chores.

6 - Show them how much fun can be had for free. My fondest memories from childhood involved tobogganing down a snowy hill on a plastic bin bag, building dens in bit of woodland at the edge of town, hunting for fossils for my collection, playing conkers, riding my bike with friends from dawn until dusk and bodyboarding on a cheap polystyrene surfboard. All of these activities were either free or very cheap—and very fun. I also had loads of toys and certainly suffered no lack of anything—but toys were things to be played with when all the other possibilities just mentioned had been exhausted. Today my kids, and many of the other kids in town, go down to the harbour in the summer and jump off the walls into the water, just as kids have done here for centuries. You can hear their cries of joy from afar.

7 - Get them interested in reading, because books open up all sorts of doors in the mind. If you want to be really devious occasionally forbid them from reading certain books. I forbade my 13-year-old daughter from reading 1984 recently ("It's too grown up for you,") and—unsurprisingly—found a copy hidden under her bed with a bookmark placed well into it. There is nothing like forbidding something to make it attractive to curious minds. When they are young read them stories every night. All kids love being read stories and they love their parents to read them stories most of all. From a book. Made of paper.

8 - Teach them to question authority and not to blindly obey whatever instructions are given to them. By this I don't mean encourage them to be mouthy confrontationists, I mean tell them to trust their instincts and, if something doesn't feel right, discuss it openly with people they trust. At the top I mention CBBC—when I was a kid in the 1970s, many of the famous faces on TV (we now discover) were pedophiles, using their status to prey on young kids. We can only guess how extensive this network of kiddie fiddlers was/is (even the Prime Minister at the time, Edward Heath, is under suspicion of running a ring), but we know that the psychic vampires who populate it prey on people's blind obedience and unwillingness to question authority. Give your kids the equivalent of a silver crucifix and some garlic to ward off these monsters.

9 - Tell them about how the future is likely to be, but don't be a doomer. Show them documentaries. Talk to them about problems—and ask them if they have any good ideas about how to tackle them (you'd be surprised). Nobody knows what the future will hold. It will certainly be turbulent, and turbulence means lots of potential and possibilities for those willing to engage with it.

10 - Teach them about growing plants for food. Just as with preparing food, kids love to grow plants—especially if they can eat them afterwards. Tomatoes are great to get started, as are potatoes, peppers and radishes. All are easy to grow. If you have the space, give them their own plot, raised bed or mini greenhouse. If not, then get them to grow some plants of a windowsill. Take them to a farm and show them where eggs and milk and meat comes from. Teach them what grows for free in nature.

11 - Allow them to be bored. Many kids today are over-stimulated and cannot figure out what to do with themselves if the entertainment gadgets are switched off. Periods of boredom allow the brain to slow down and—more importantly—develop a more reflective aspect. In the future there will likely be far fewer opportunities to be over-stimulated, but at the same time there will be a lot of boring drudge work that needs doing. A mind addicted to external stimulation would not be able to cope with—say—working in the fields for hours each day, whereas a mind that is able to be quietly contemplative and reflective will fare far better.

12 - Make sure they are good mannered. Manners are a form of currency that will open doors and make them pleasant to be around. Also teach them how to disagree with someone with an opposing viewpoint without being hostile and reactive. Being good-mannered in a disagreement doesn't mean being a pushover—it simply means that you can reject the other side's BS with good grace and move on without turning into a foamy-mouthed berserker.

13 - Impress upon them the importance of avoiding debt. Unless they are certain the debt is an investment, make sure they realise how it can trap them. If they want to buy something that is a consumer item they should save up for it.

14 - Teach them how to physically defend themselves from attackers. Getting them enrolled in martial arts classes or boxing will be good for them in many ways. Not only will it give them the ability to fight off an attacker, but it will boost their self-confidence and improve their physical fitness. What's more, many if not most would-be attackers already have some knowledge of their victims, and knowing that they are a black belt in karate or a kick boxing champ will make them think twice. In Europe we are already seeing a huge upsurge in domestic abuse and violent street crimes as law and order breaks down. Young women on the streets of some cities face the prospect of being raped by gangs of men, who can get away with it as observers stand idly by and the police turn a blind eye in the name of community relations. As the father of two girls I want them to be able to fend off an attacker—fighting dirty if need be.

15 - Tell them they ain't gonna live on Mars. No way. Never gonna happen.

16 - Teach them to be open minded but realistic. Get them to think logically and to seek out evidence.  Once they have discovered the harsh truth about the Tooth Fairy and Santa, use this as an example of why you should never trust anything you hear. Being an open minded sceptic is the best way forward.

17 - Show them by example. There's no point in telling them to do stuff if you then go and break all the rules yourself. Admit that you're far from perfect. Tell them all the mistakes you have made along your path, and that you hope they'll avoid the same mistakes. Be ready for them to make the same mistakes.

18 - And finally—loosen up. Don't be one of those joyless parents who only allows their precious snowflakes to eat organic quinoa and listen to non-culturally appropriated fairy tales. Instead, allow them to drink Coca Cola, eat chocolate until they throw up, stay up all night during sleepovers, play with knives, hear rude jokes, encounter bullies, be in the same room as drunken adults talking nonsense, climb trees and run with scissors. Seriously. Because although there may be some minor risk involved in all of these things, there is an almost 100% probability that if you don't allow them this freedom you'll create a delicate little flower who won't be able to survive unless they are cocooned within a safe space and given trigger warnings every time they encounter mild peril. What's more they'll just end up rebelling against you and will turn into exactly the kind of person you didn't want them to be - and it'll all be your fault.

That's pretty much how I'm raising my kids, mindful of the likely future they'll find themselves living in. Oh, I forgot one last thing—make sure you treat your kids well. Look after them, love them and treat them with respect. Foster within them joy, compassion and a sense of fairness. Those kids are not yours—you're just borrowing them. Because one day the boot will be on the other foot and, if you've done your job right, you can only hope the favour will be repaid. And if the future turns out even harsher than all your preparations have allowed for, then at least they might help you to push that shopping trolley down The Road.




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This blog post is an updated version of an earlier one, including four new points and a few edits for clarity.

17 comments:

  1. I would think that your children would be better off exposed to advertising than undiluted BBC. If you try to shelter them from it then they will be slower to develop a critical attitude to it.

    The BBC of course is not in any way neutral or impartial though it is sufficiently smug its self-view to convince itself that it is, which makes it so much more dangerous than Russia Today, or even Fox News (do they still have that Terror Alert: High message on the ticker every couple of minutes?).
    The BBC can be mildly left-wing in a very pro-establishment sort of way, in what was once called New Labour, but generally seems to be more of a kind of what used to be called One Nation Toryism.

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    1. Oh, they get exposed to plenty of adverts elsewhere. On the occasions we go to the cinema we always make a point of counting the ads before the main feature. When they went last week there were 42 adverts they were made to sit through.

      Yes, the BBC. I've a friend who is an independent TV producer who makes 'reality TV programmes' (he's alright really - he tells me all the tricks they use to meddle with people's minds, such as employing transvestite narrators and lobbing tantalising mind bombs designed to make you shout at the screen) and he opined that BBC employees seem to have been hypnotised or possessed in some way. He reckoned there is something "in the basement" at Television Centre, and new employees are taken down to see it when they first start.

      As for Fox News -- I've no idea if they have terror alerts. I don't think I've been exposed to it for quite a few years, if ever. But if they did then I suppose it's all to do with keeping their viewers in a state of anticipatory excitement --- something the BBC could never be accused of.

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  2. well then I hope you've explicitly told your daughters to read your blog, lest they start catching onto your tricks.

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    1. They would never read my blog - apparently it's too "booooring".

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    2. Send them over to the Diner! We're not "boooring"! :)

      RE

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  3. I think that number 14 - teach by example is key. Your children know you better than anyone. You can't put anything over on them. Teach by example subsumes many of the other points like teach them to be polite, etc.
    I would add that teaching your children not to be obnoxious, again, by example, might be useful. In a resource constrained future, we will all need the help of other people in our immediate community to survive, absent the safety net of state funded social programs. It helps to be a person that other can get along with.
    Having said that, children are born with personalities and intrinsic character. The best that parents can do is groom their native inclinations.
    I would add one more point. Teach your children how to spot sociopaths and steer clear of them. I don't know if children can spot sociopaths on their own but it might be worthwhile to teach them that they don't have to associate with people whom they don't trust. Again, I think if the parents avoid socializing with sociopaths, the children will learn to do so likewise.

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    1. Indeed - my kids have both been "lucky" in that they have experienced making friends with sociopathic/psychopathic kids. In each case it was a messy "divorce" and we (i.e. my wife and I) had to confront the parents and point out how their kids had been behaving. Not very pleasant but they both now know how to spot one and steer well clear. Of course, these were just youngsters but I'd be willing to bet that those kids grow up to be manipulative psychos. Both came from chaotic and broken homes with no father figure and mothers that worked long hours, but I'm sure that's just a coincidence.

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  4. An interesting point you snuck in there was the concept of "cultural engineers". Typically, engineers in the normal definition are indeed clever problem solvers, but purely at the behest of their employers. The real question is who is setting the goal they are assigned to achieve?

    I suppose there could be a shadowy cabal, but I doubt it. I think it's still simply about money, and corporate capitalism. ( There's no one driving the speeding train!) There are some convoluted "chicken or egg" causality feedback loops, but I still am left concluding that the response is individual, local and situational.

    Our three kids are in their thirties now, and while I wish I'd had more awareness of our predicament twenty years ago, they all know my views on things, and I gently urge personal resilience when I can, as solutions will not be coming from the social hierarchy.

    As far as teaching by example, we have retired early, moved to a homestead in the country, are growing or bartering a great deal of our own food, and planting trees like crazy.

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    1. I think social engineering generally comes from the left. Obviously, the more extreme examples would be Mao and Pol Pot et al, but you can see it in more diluted form in our societies. There are the so-called opinion makers and the opinion takers (aka culture makers and takers) - with the former being the media, big business, government etc.

      Instead of there being a cabal there is merely a consensus that forms and coalesces around some aspect of culture. It's a clever exercise of control because the 'victim' is a willing one, to the extent that they allow themselves to be manipulated in this manner. I got a good experience of this living in Denmark, which is a very top-down controlled society with high levels of social engineering and civic obedience. I began to notice how certain things seemed to just magically appear—one minute they were absent, the next everyone seemed to be convinced they couldn't live without them. Food is a good example: from there being no sushi bars in Denmark, there suddenly seemed to be one on every corner. Every TV chef was talking about it, every magazine cover featured sushi and families dutifully chowed down on something they would never have dreamed of eating just a year before. The same thing happened with "brunch".

      And then there was the Nordic food craze - which was entirely manufactured by social engineering. That restaurant, Noma, opened in Copenhagen and was 'crowned' as the best restaurant in the world. I went there once and was served a live prawn in a glass of melted glacier water - something you had to be on a six month waiting list to experience and pay handsomely for. The overarching plan for all this nonsense was to attract wealthy business elites to the city (which was also the same objective as for the 2009 climate conference there). I was somewhat privy to this plan as I was an English-language newspaper editor there at the time and the Danish government asked me to help publicise their social engineering experiment - this is what I wrote for them:

      http://denmark.dk/en/green-living/nordic-cuisine/the-new-nordic-cuisine

      Of course, those are just food examples, but they are doing the same thing now with cash i.e. phasing it out and making it look like a good thing. People in Sweden are even agreeing to have chips implanted into them, and I'm sure that other governments will be watching with keen interest.

      So yeah - my 'solution' to all this madness is the same as yours: plant trees, produce stuff, make useful friends.

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    2. Here is Sweden microchipping some of its citizens. It's all done in the name of the god of high tech, of course.

      Microchips inserted under staff's skin

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  5. Hi Jason,

    I read your reply to Wolfgang where you wrote: " In each case it was a messy "divorce" and we (i.e. my wife and I) had to confront the parents and point out how their kids had been behaving. Not very pleasant but they both now know how to spot one and steer well clear. Of course, these were just youngsters but I'd be willing to bet that those kids grow up to be manipulative psychos. Both came from chaotic and broken homes with no father figure and mothers that worked long hours, but I'm sure that's just a coincidence."

    To be honest, that described my childhood and I'm pretty certain that I'm not a sociopath. I've met them - unfortunately - and I avoid them like the plague. Also, I'm well aware that there are plenty of families and children who haven't gone through that particular social dynamic of the messy divorce and the situation they do live in is a very toxic environment and it wouldn't be a bad idea for a messy divorce to occur. Just sayin...

    We're all good mate. It is all cool, but I will tell you what I see (apologies, I don't usually do that and it has been twice today. The world is a noisy place for me).

    In that situation with the feral children you are experiencing what has been described as social pressure and your response to that social pressure was to seek to blame others. Social pressure is where other peoples interactions are impacting upon yourself. There are better responses.

    As an interesting side note, it is almost impossible for children to be diagnosed as sociopaths, mostly because their personalities haven't developed fully and most children display at least some behaviours that are consistent with that personality type. I can usually pick them out as adults, but even for me it is a really difficult task and sociopaths can sometimes be quite charming.

    Taking a cold hard look at the world, I'd have to suggest that children’s ability to cope with adaptions to their surrounding environments is not a well practiced life skill. Parents have a tendency to want to maintain as normal an environment as possible for the children despite the serious challenges facing our species.

    I'd also have to suggest that parents rarely talk to their children about the realities of the future, because they fear that their children may ask them the very hard question which will drive a wedge into their relationship: What are you doing about this? Children have no social filters so they are generally very alert to hypocrisy.

    Apologies for being a bit of a bummer.

    Chris

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    1. Hi Chris,

      Sorry - you appear to have fallen victim to my careless writing. When I wrote "sloppy divorce" I was talking figuratively about their kids and ours. There was all the business of returning each other's clothes, toys etc, dealing with the school to make sure they didn't sit near one another, and nervously trying to avoid the parents in social settings. That's all I meant - I wasn't being clear at all.

      And you may be right about not being able to spot psychopaths at an early age (the term "sociopath" was developed by the pharmaceutical and prison system under the premise that psychopaths can be 'cured' - which is very profitable for them. I'd recommend reading the books of Thomas Sheridan, who has done a lot of research into this). However, when your daughter's friend does things like torture pets, force others to enter suicide pacts, issue death threats by text message, exert a powerful form of mind control over other kids and force them to do things they don't want to etc, etc, it's my duty as a father to protect my offspring. Possibly this behaviour is learned , or maybe she was born that way - either way I'll leave it up to the psychologists to argue it out while I remove my kids from their influence.

      As for talking to kids about the future - we talk about it all the time. I say the exact same things to them that I say on this blog. Some of my relatives say it is wrong for me to do so, and that kids should be swaddled in comforting lies - but I can't do that. Yesterday we watched a TV programme "New Lives in the Wild" with Ben Fogle (look it up - I'm sure it'd be right up your street - some of the cases are in Australia) - this one was about an English bloke in Ibiza prepping for the breakdown of civilisation, which he reckoned would be in about five years. Afterwards we had a good chat about it.

      Cheers,

      Jason

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  6. Hi Jason,

    Thanks for the gracious reply. No problems at all, I just wanted to point out that one set of circumstances does not make for a defined end point. :-)!

    Of course the kid sounds like a right little rat bag. I'm personally curious as to where he may have picked up those particular techniques as there is an under used word for them: Evil

    If there is ever serious trouble, he will be one to avoid or deal too. Take your pick! It is a poor choice either way. Still, it is best never to give the kid an angle on you.

    I'll check that one out. Preppers can be a little bit silly from my experience. I'm very glad that you can talk to your kids realistically about the future. Not many can or want to do that.

    Cheers

    Chris

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    1. Hi Chris - "I just wanted to point out that one set of circumstances does not make for a defined end point." I totally agree - I hope it didn't come across that way. I do expend some mental effort writing the blog posts, but sometimes my replies to people can be a little hasty as I often do it on the hoof. In any case, it would have been silly for me to do so as my own father described himself as a 'street urchin'.

      Actually it was a girl, not a boy. Girls, I am reliably informed, can be worse than boys when it comes to the capacity for emotional cruelty to their 'friends'. (Oh cripes, I'll probably get in trouble for saying that!). And with the advent of communications gadgets and social media it's all too easy to cyber-bully one another.

      My youngest - who has a phone at the insistence of other family members (when we lived in Denmark, all the kids in the class had the latest iPhone at age 5 - I managed to stave it off for a further 6 years) - got a message the other night saying yours truly would die at 23:59 unless she forwarded the massage to ten more people. We had a good laugh about that one - I even lay on the floor next to the clock and told her where to bury me.

      The best weapon against cyber-bullying is ridicule.

      Check out the TV series I mentioned. As for the prepper bloke - rather than being a bug-eyed loner sort, he's more of the kind of person JMG would approve of. Interesting to watch. Other ones in the series I have seen and can recommend include the couple who moved to northern Sweden, and a millionaire American bloke who gave everything away and went to live in a swamp.

      Jason

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  7. Hi Jason,

    Yup, I can't argue with you at all! Sloppy writing and sloppy reading comprehension makes for a total disaster of a comments thread! We're in good company!!!

    Thanks for the explanation. Best wishes for the solstice.

    Chris

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  8. Under no. 7:

    "If you don't know the trees, you may be lost in the forest, but if you don't know the stories, you may be lost in life."

    - A Sibeian Elder (apparently), quoted in a book by John Agard (called 'Book') that I sent to my daughter for her 11th birthday last year.

    This ties in well with what J M Greer says about knowing many stories making us more adaptable and resilient, whereas knowing only one story (e.g. Progress to the Stars) makes us less, and, when that narrative starts to fail, tips us into rage and despair.

    Best wishes for good parenting

    Alan

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I'll try to reply to comments as time permits.