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Bonzer Words!: They Didn't Get That Way By Accident

"Very young children can understand values and concepts, even if they can't read or do simple arithmetic,'' says sociologist and educator Bill Allin. Bill is the author of Turning It Around, a book about teaching social values to children. For more information about the book visit www.billallin.com

Bill writes for Bonzer! magazine. For more good reading visit www.bonzer.org.au

The older we get, the more inclined most of us are to believe that the values of younger generations have varied from ours, from what we taught them. Some of this results from the fact that our perspective on life has changed as we gain more experience with it. There is even a quote from the pyramids of Ancient Egypt suggesting that the younger generation was "going to the dogs".

However, there is a real drift that is taking place in values. Rather, in the teaching of values to our children.

As difficult as it may be to believe, the values of right and wrong, good and bad, even a belief in a power greater than ourselves are shared among all cultures around the Earth. For example, we all, no matter where we live, believe that killing is wrong, that people should not steal from each other and that it is wrong to emotionally harm someone over whom we hold some measure of power.

Have you ever tried to understand whatever possessed someone you know to commit a crime, or how someone in your own city could kill his spouse, or what went through the mind of someone who stuck a gun out the window of his car on a highway and shot at another driver? These are all social problems, troubles that affect people in developed nations everywhere.

Their values are different from yours. How could that be, if we all grow up being influenced by the same set of values? Simply, some people don't receive the same amount of emphasis on values in their formative years as others. During the same period, they might experience influences that are contrary to what we would want, influences we might call immoral, or at least counter productive.

Violent movies and television programs do not create violent people, among most of society. Though many of us claim that we "bent the rules" when filing our income tax forms, most of our children grow up to be honest people. In many homes, reading is not encouraged among children, yet most children do at least some reading as adults.

But not in all families. Social problems are perpetrated by a tiny minority of people on the rest of us. Some children who do not have a strong value placed on peace and tolerance will become violent adults. Some who heard their parents brag about cheating on their income tax and watched them pocket the cash when too much change was returned after their parents made a purchase at a shop, become dishonest as adults.

Some kids who don't read remain illiterate as adults. Many adults you know do not read as well as you think they do. Some don't read as well as even they believe they do. Put an income tax form in front of many people and they will squirm, then take it to a professional. Many adults are unable to recognise an error on an electric bill, and if they do will not know how to go about having it corrected, so they pay the excess amount and keep quiet about it.

These people have fallen through the cracks of society.

I have often heard it said that an adolescent of 16 can take a course then get a licence to drive a vehicle on our roads, but there is no course for becoming a parent. Why?

In the tens of thousands of years that humans have progressed to dominance on Earth, we still do not have a manual for parenthood. In fact, most young people do experience classes in parenting, often within their high schools. But these are practical courses. They don't teach values. They don't teach what very young children really need, which is guidance about what the world they are entering is all about.

Many young parents remain ignorant to the fact that children under age five are extraordinarily sensitive to values training from their parents. They tell themselves, "I'll teach them when they are old enough to read. Then they will understand." They don't realise that by then it may be too late.

Very young children can understand values and concepts, even if they can't read or do simple arithmetic. Concept formation is how they understand their world.

Parents and grandparents need to actively teach values to young children. Children need to understand the world the way we want them to see it. Neglecting this will bring consequences that none of us will want.


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