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