What are we teaching our children?

It’s halfway through half term and my life is overwhelmed with children.
With no time or energy to think about anything else, I focus my thoughts on children and the question that my Dad puts to me on a regular basis – “Just what exactly are you teaching your children?”

As parents, we put the education of our children in the hands of their school teachers, football coaches, Brownie leaders, Sunday School teachers and Youth Club organisers. And then do we sit back and think “Job done.”? Maybe, maybe not.

But what exactly are we teaching our children?

Have we failed when our teenage son knows what we think of Primark and yet can’t resist the lure of cheap clothing?
Should we feel pleased our 16 year old has been moved by “Slumdog Millionaire” or outraged that he watched it on a pirate DVD?
What do we do when the selfish enjoyment of ten minutes in the shower outweighs all environmental and financial concerns?

What happens when each of our children grows up to be their own person – who may or may not care about what we care about?
Which of them will react against our ethical stance and which of them will buy into the causes that we feel strongly about?

Our children have grown up with fair trade as a part of life, but how limited is their understanding? The older ones have some concept but not enough for it to influence their choices. My seven year old thinks fair trade is oranges and my six year old considers fair trade to be chocolate. Some work needed there, I think!

On September 23rd 2007, I publicly launched the organic re-education of my children via the blog I was writing at the time (www.hometruth.org.uk). I can proudly announce that I have stuck to it and organic products have become the norm in our pantry. So the market gardener who challenged me back then by saying “Children learn from only one person – and that’s their parents.” (surely that’s two…) really did get under my skin.

So what have they learnt?
My eldest son and his girlfriend do buy organic on occasions. Result.
My 10 year old has no idea why I buy organic or what organic means. My seven year old still calls organic milk “Spanish milk” , so therefore deduces that organic means “grown in Spain.”  My six year old  thinks organic is “nice”. Following that logic, bananas are organic; cauliflower definitely is not.

I must say, I was taken aback and rather dismayed at these responses. Maybe it’s like being adopted. Our three youngest children know that they are adopted; they know that adoption is important to us as a family; it is a word that they hear and can talk about at any time; but they only have a hazy understanding of what it is to be adopted which will become clearer the older they get. Maybe fair trade and organic are those kind of words.

Not that I am saying that we don’t need to be talking with our children about such things. We often assume our children have a clearer understanding than they do. A friend of mine was horrified recently when her seven year old daughter told her that black people have brown skin because they have been burnt by the sun. I guess the more we talk with our children, the more we can straighten out their (and often our) understanding.

I am intending to use Fairtrade Fortnight as a time to chat with my children specifically about fair trade. With the extra profile and materials around, it’s a great opportunity to bring it up. It gives me a couple of weeks to come up with a simple (and interesting!) explanation.

For now, I guess we keep on keeping on……living by what we believe in and hoping that as role models, some of what we do will translate into some of what our children become.

Image via Flickr

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