When Should Children Be Taught Certain Facts and Skills?
In response to an article I wrote recently about teaching information, facts and skills to children much earlier than most adults think is advisable and possible, one of my readers wrote to ask me to elaborate on the "when." When to teach children what is a critically important question, yet one that is seldom asked. The following was my reply to her.
Many adults believe that timing of information given to children is extremely important. They think that if the timing of wrong, it may harm the child's mind or morals. This is wrong in every possible way.
Teaching a child about drugs, for example, does not open the possibility that the child will adopt the taking of drugs. The whole purpose of teaching the child about drugs is to inform them about what harm can come to them by taking drugs other than under the supervision of a medical professional. Teaching a child about sex between man and woman does not encourage the child to experiment with sex prematurely. Despite these widespread beliefs, there is no evidence that early teaching about drugs, sex or any other matter that a parent should be teaching to a child affects the mind or body of the child as a result of being taught prematurely.
Despite parent supervision of internet use by children, the truth is that this is impossible. Kids are resourceful and will find ways to circumvent restrictions by the parents. One way, for example, is simply to visit a friend's house, someone who does not suffer such restrictions. In other words, information on every possible subject is available on the internet. However, some of this information is wrong and some (in its wrongness) does harm. Consider how many adults have been fooled by urban legends and so-called Nigeria scams.
A parent should be teaching life skills about all subjects when a child is young. How young is too young? You know your timing is wrong when the child shows no interest in the subject, gets distracted easily. THAT is the only criterion for premature teaching.
Innocence in children is admirable if you want them to never grow up. But they do. Children who have been kept innocent by their parents tend to become ignorant adults. Ignorant adults don't know what to do and when to do it. They have few coping skills when life throws them a bad curve, such as a personal assault on their person, a home invasion, divorce or death of a loved one.
The child, not the parent, should choose when he or she is ready to learn about a subject.
Children learn about life in the womb, even before they are born. They have the ability to learn a language (a sophisticated and complex cognitive process) even before they can walk. Studies show that children study language before they even have the ability to make use of that learning through their own speech. Children have the ability to understand the most complex information we can give them at a shockingly early age.
If mistakes are make with early teaching, they would be with the adult, not with the child. The adult (usually parent) might not teach well for the learning style of the child. Imagine a parent using the lecture style of a university professor with a child of two years. No matter how fact filled the lecture might be, the child will not be interested because young children learn by doing more than by listening. They learn language by listening, but that has an incentive because the child wants to participate in family conversations. For most matters to be learned early by a child, they can learn is easier by doing something.
I most cases, children learn while they play. Play is their form of work. A parent can teach a child in the context of play. Make it a fun and enjoyable situation. Because kids want to learn, teaching them something that is given them as if imparting a secret is also a fun learning style. They often want to believe that they know something other kids don't. And they should be in that situation at least once in a while.
Let's take a teaching example. How many facts might a parent possibly teach a child about sex? Let's say 50 facts. A child of three years has no need for or use for 50 facts about sex. The child will not be interested in learning 50 facts. But he might be interested in learning a few of them. It stops being fun for a child to learn when the learning becomes memorization. A child has learning limits. Those limits are more of total accumulation at any given time than of their ability to understand something.
How many lies do parents tell their children so that they can avoid teaching them the truth? A parent may tell a child that a new baby is delivered by a stork or an angel from heaven. The child will know that is wrong. The child sees the mother grow in the belly, then return from the hospital, with baby in arms, much thinner. Which does more harm, telling the child that babies begin with the joining of sex organs (every kid has a set) of mother and father, or telling the child a lie? Believe me, telling the lie to a young child makes the child mistrust information from the parent.
A lie told to a child by a parent, no matter what the intent of the parent, is a lie to the child, a lie that undermines the trust the child has in the most important adult in his or her life. A "white lie" is a lie and it's understood as a lie by the child.
The message a child learns from a lie by his parent, no matter what the nature of the lie, is "I'm a bad parent who can't cope with teaching you the truth, so I am making up this lie. We're stuck with each other, so live with it." Children recognize lies and diversionary tactics far more readily than most adults realize. They don't know what to make of a lie, what to do about the fact that their most important source of information about life has lied to them. The child will still love the parent, but trust between them will have been undermined.
Children can handle truth at any age, even as young as age one year. No child knows what to do with a lie told by a parent, no matter how well intentioned it was. A child's life revolves around trust, and since the young child's life revolves around parents, for a parent to lie to a child to avoid telling the truth helps to destroy that environment of trust between them. It shatters the child's life.
Bad parenting does far more harm to children than teaching them too early has ever done.
Please consider these thoughts carefully. Put them into action yourself and tell other people you know. There is nothing private about this information. You and they are not too young to learn. Nor too old. There is no young age limit to learning just as there is no upper age limit.
Invite others you tell to join our group.
Children, more than adults, are built to learn. They are learning factories. Young children process an alarming amount of information daily, far more than adults do and far more than most adults realize.
Do not hesitate to write back with more questions.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to know when, what and how to teach critically important information and skills to children so that they can grow up healthy and truly well balanced.
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