Friday, May 18, 2007

Are Children Inherently Bad?

This article is excerpted from Aletha Solter's book Helping Young Children Flourish. Copyright © 1989 by Aletha Solter.

The notion that human beings are born with an evil nature pervades Western civilization's attitude towards children. The idea is that children are born with unacceptable impulses and tendencies that would not disappear unless the children were taught to control themselves, thereby denying their own inner nature. The proponents of this theory consider it the parents' job to civilize and tame the barbarian nature of children.

This theory assumes that children would naturally hit and bite other people, would never want to use a toilet, learn to share, cooperate, or help another person, and would lie, steal, and destroy property unless they were disciplined and taught moral values and society's rules.

Parents are urged to punish children who "misbehave" so that the children will feel bad and guilty. Guilt is considered to be the great motivating force behind socially acceptable behavior. The children then learn to give up their nasty, uncivilized ways because they love their parents, want to please them, and want to be loved by them.

This belief has done more harm than any other belief invented by humanity. It is one of the main reasons the world is in such a mess. It has provided justification for violence, coercion, withdrawal of love, isolation, threats, and humiliation under the guise of "discipline." It has caused entire populations to be blindly obedient to authority figures and unable to think clearly about how to act. It has produced generations of adults who are burdened with feelings of guilt, fear, and shame. It has caused children's real needs to go unmet, producing adults who go through life trying desperately and unsuccessfully to fill their early needs, looking for someone who can love, accept, and understand them.

If we could rid ourselves of this deeply entrenched notion, if we could treat a baby from the start with an open, accepting attitude, we would catch a glimpse of the real human being with a vast potential for goodness. We would see an innate tendency for physical, mental, and emotional growth, a striving to understand the world, an astounding ability to give and receive love, cooperate with other human beings, learn new skills, and acquire knowledge. We would see the capacity to reach all the higher levels of human potential.

If we were able to fill all of this baby's needs for love, understanding, stimulation, closeness, and nourishment, and if we treated her with the utmost respect and trust, we would see her grow, not into a destructive, selfish monster, but rather into a thoughtful, intelligent, cooperative, and loving adult.

When adults have tendencies towards destructiveness or violence, we must assume that they were mistreated as children. People do not act in bad, stupid, or hurtful ways unless they have experienced hurtful behavior from others, or unless their needs as children were not met. Studies of criminals have repeatedly revealed severe and early mistreatment of these individuals in an environment that lacked understanding of their feelings and needs.

Copyright © 1989 by Aletha Solter


LeRoy Dissing said...

This is a good excerpt and I agree with the author. There has been (and still are) parents who believe that they have to "beat the evil" out of their child. The "spare the rod, spoil the child" belief does not in anyway help shape a child's view of the world as an open & trusting place to share feelings/thoughts.

We agree on this article Julie. I think you would have made a wonderful parent!

Jessie said...

Wow... I have to say I agree with the article.
I believe in open and honest relationship with children. One where you have a relationship with the child instead of this overbearing need to punish the 'bad' out of them.
I am glad you published this, because I think it is important that more parents think about their parenting style and understand that kids have feelings too.

mia said...

It has provided justification for violence, coercion, withdrawal of love, isolation, threats, and humiliation under the guise of "discipline.".....

Yea, that pretty much sucks. I am so glad we have the capacity to achieve better results by making better choices with our own lives and the lives of our children.

The Passionate Peach said...

Thanks for sharing this article. I think alot of parents don't work through their own hurts and wounds, and then are not prepared to honor their children's humanness and feelings because they don't honor their own.

Julie said...

Thank you all for your comments. This concept is so near and dear to my heart. I wish I could shout it from the rooftops.

Still Born said...

you should know that my blog has moved to this URL.

Possum said...

I've read bits - but had to give up!!
Can I ask a favor - could you change the font color to a lighter purple?? It's just a little hard for my over-worked eyes to read the darker font on a darker background.
Thanks Julie.
I'll be back to read soon.
Poss. xxxxx

Possum said...

Thank you most gorgeous Julie.
Great article.
Shame, guilt - all of it - so much part of our society today.
So sad.
I'm linking to this - K??
Biggest hugs,
Poss. xxx

Julie said...

Still Born.... thanks again for the new link.

Possum, you are welcome to link any time, and I appreciate your letting me know the post was hard to read. Yes, Western "Civilization" sometimes seems anything BUT civilized. *sigh*

Ungrateful Little Bastard said...

My parents were not big believers in corporal punishment. I think I can count on the fingers of one hand how often I got spanked - BUT - I remember each one, and I remember this part of me that would think, 'how stupid is this?'

What she WAS a big believer in, however, was shaming when emotions were expressed. And an often repeated line from my childhood was, said dismissingly, "Well if you feel that way, maybe you should see a psychiatrist". Jeeze, y'think?

Julie said...

" often repeated line from my childhood was, said dismissingly, "Well if you feel that way, maybe you should see a psychiatrist". Jeeze, y'think?"

I have found that a lot of what people say to others, they really should be saying to themselves.

Nicole said...

I agree with this article, thanks for posting it! Children come into this world so beautiful, innocent and perfect. What gives any one person the right to take that away? It makes me so angry.

Julie said...


Thank you for visiting and commenting and most of all providing a link to your WONDERFUL blog!!!! I became so distracted there that I almost forgot to say this!

joyceregina said...

Hi Julie:

It was nice to hear the comment from Poss re: purple. I thought I may be the only one who found trouble reading with my "old" eyes.

Still, in the world of Purple, I am always here.