December 17, 2017

Children Learn What They Live- And Pass It On

children learn what they liveBy Ceetee Anderson Sheckels

Recently, I was somewhere between livid and nauseated when a story came on the news; the individual, using his role of ‘minister’ to further his viewpoints, expressed the viewpoint that is most damaging: stating that child abuse should begin in infancy, he claimed “children must be taught to submit to authority.” While I have seen other examples of this viewpoint by similar types of individuals, I have also seen it in everyday life.


One example in the distant past was the young mother who explained the way she treated her two-year-old daughter: “I have to show her who’s boss.” Another said: “Parents need to make a child afraid.” Between formal and informal research, a pattern has made itself clear: when the focus is on authority and obedience, children do not develop a conscience.


While not every youngster who is treated in such a manner grows up to be unable to function normally, the significance of this pattern cannot be dismissed. Parents and other adults whose primary focus is on authority and obedience fail to transmit the values of right vs. wrong. At its worst, youngsters learn to “not get caught;” instead they learn “what they can get away with.”


There are a number of different sources of this problem. Some religions believe in it; some cultures believe in it; some adults simply follow what they themselves were brought up to believe; and others are simply too lazy to put their time into teaching and raising their children. Regardless of the particular source, the consequences can be the same: human beings who go from childhood to adulthood without ever developing a conscience.


During the last few decades, especially, there have been numerous attempts to unravel the “whys and wherefores” about those who do not fit into normal society. Although many research studies have shown a clear link to childhood abuse, they have somehow missed this all-important factor. While child abuse should be condemned at every turn, this additional factor must also be addressed. For human beings to develop a conscience, it requires parental time, effort, and focus in those early years.


Second, it has long been known a child’s basic personality is “set” by the time a child reaches three years of age. While using child abuse as a matter of ‘authority’ is one of the main factors in how a child eventually turns out, there is another, equally important factor that is common to many who treat children in such a manner: some “pop-psych” books refer to it as ‘stuffing.’ A common saying in the olden days was “children should be seen, and not heard.” Although many who subscribed to this notion considered ‘seen’ to only cover obedience and work, the ‘not heard’ aspect of it proved to be very damaging. The general idea was the less “bothersome” a child was, the better it was for whomever was in charge of the child.


One part of this involved youngsters learning at an early age to never express their thoughts and feelings. From being given the message that their opinions were of no value because they were children, to being abused if they cried, children were routinely ridiculed, punished, or ignored if they expressed what they thought or felt. They learned early to “stuff it all inside.”


A second part of this often involved children’s needs not being met. One example would be a child who is ill or injured, and, instead of receiving a parent’s care, is neglected. While it may seem unconscionable to the majority of us, neglecting sick or injured children was commonplace. The rationalization was forcing children to fend for themselves would result in strong, independent human beings. It did not. Instead, being on the receiving-end of such neglect results in individuals who do not have any compassion for other human beings. At its worst, they enjoy seeing other people suffer.


We can take all of these characteristics– the absence of values and standards and conscience, the desire to “get away with” something, the need to “stuff” normal thoughts and feelings, and the lack of compassion– and have a very clear view of those who do not fit into the world.


Decades’ worth of research studies on the links between child abuse and later criminal behavior (especially crimes-against-persons) have not, to the best of my knowledge, addressed these issues. In fact, we can still find material today that claims there is no understanding about conscience– how some develop and live by a solid conscience, while others appear to have none at all. I would venture to say these characteristics– especially when combined, and when commonplace in children’s lives– make up the foundation for “building” the criminals who engage in antisocial behavior and actively harm other human beings.


C. A. Sheckels is a single parent to two kids, both now adults.  She writes for online content companies and other clients.  Visit and

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