I’ve been thinking about fear and how it is used to manipulate and influence. A while back, I wrote this article about fear and learning for Life Learning Magazine. I also describe what happens instead when we create environments where our children feel secure. But aside from the issue of fear and learning, fear is an issue in many other aspects of our lives these days. Politicians try to motivate us to vote for them (on the basis that they will protect us from economic collapse or a massacre by foreign terrorists). Corporations persuade us to buy their stuff (drugs to protect us and our children against or cure us from diseases, for instance). Authorities try to keep us and our children in line (ostensibly for our/their “own good,” whether it’s attending school or playing alone in and walking home from the park).
I don’t want to reduce a complicated topic to black and white, because there are international economic instabilities, terrorists, diseases, and abusive parents, all of which are fear-inducing. However, I think it’s important for us to explore about whether or not we and our children are influenced and/or manipulated by fear, whether or not that has any rational basis, and if there is a better way to live.
In terms of fear and learning, children’s use of electronics is a good place to begin for many of us. It is the topic of two recent articles in Life Learning Magazine – here and here. There is fear of cyberbullies, pornography, violence, mind-numbing compulsive use or even addiction, negative health effects from cellphones and Wi-Fi, even obesity from sitting too long. Some of those could be valid concerns. However, there is also this, as expressed in an article in The Atlantic in April, 2015: “Kids are learning a distorted view of the digital world that reflects the fears of adults rather than the aspirations of youth.”
One of the foundations of life learning is trust in children’s abilities. But fear can gnaw away at that trust. We might fear doing the wrong thing, parenting the wrong way, or messing up or hurting our kids; we may fear what others will think, or the unknowns lurking in the future. Fear might cause us to doubt ourselves and our decisions, and even act against what we think is in our children’s best interests.
So what do we do about that? I think we take the advice I gave in my article: We trust our kids as we help them explore the world. We research the source of our fear, we formulate a plan to manage the risk if it turns out that there is one, and we learn from any missteps we might take (especially if the misstep involves flagging trust!). We meet the world and its possible dangers in partnership with our children, not focused on our fear but motivated by their enthusiasm for the moment and aspirations for the future. That will help them learn to manage risk and help protect them against being manipulated by fear, both of which are important life lessons.