Instilling mature convictions in children

I became a parent 9 months ago but even before that I’ve been battling with this:

There is no such thing as a 4 year old Republican, a 4 year old Democrat or a 4 year old Christian. There is also no such thing as a selfless 4 year old, a sharing 4 year old, a good losing 4 year old.

Your job as a parent is to teach your child conviction as an autonomous adult. How they develop that is by watching you, how can that conviction be autonomous?

My youngest child is now 25 years old. What I’ve learned from the process:

(1) They learn from you the bad things as well as the good.

(2) You aren’t their only teacher: they learn things from playmates, from other adults, from films and TV, etc., etc.

(3) What they believe will be influenced by what you believe, but it will never be the same as what you believe.

I guess I’m not really looking for parental advice but really the answer to: atheists on this board would certainly call teaching children religion indoctrination. What is teaching children to share?

Well, I’m an atheist and my wife is a practicing Catholic, so between us we opened up a range of possibilities to our children, including baptising all and taking them to church from time to time. The result is that oldest is vaguely Wiccan, while I think the others are atheists: I don’t discuss religion with them, but I know they aren’t church-goers.

Socialization. Which is a lot different from teaching them religion.

In case I haven’t been as clear as I need to be, how is teaching a child right from wrong different from what others would call indoctrination.

Teaching coherent principles of right and wrong is indoctrination.

I happily indoctrinate my son to be Jewish. :o

Human beings are social animals. Part of raising a child is helping them learn a set of social and emotional tools that will help them have positive interactions with others as they get older.

So, yes, to some extent it is indoctrination. You’re choosing SOME thoughts and behaviors to encourage and SOME to discourage. If you’re thoughtful about it, you’ll try to encourage things that will probably help them later in life (share with your friends) and discourage things that will probably hurt them (violence is a good way to solve problems).

But as kids get older, they start to think for themselves. They take the basic ethical and moral principles you taught them by indoctrination when they were little and play around with them: Do they hang together as a coherent system? Do they lead to desirable outcomes in their day to day lives?

We teach our kids right from wrong when they’re tiny to give them a good foundation as moral beings. But by the time they reach adolescence they should be capable of taking those moral lessons and analyzing them autonomously. The goal is not to provide a fixed set of immutable rules that they will follow for the rest of their lives, but to give them a general framework for thinking about moral problems that they can use to generate their own rules as the situation demands.

if you are not sure about which sort of political or religious indoctrination to use, why not focus on things of uncontested utility? Your chances of being a long term happy parent and grandparent will increase markedly if you work to instill conscientiousness, ability to plan out (in writing!) and complete projects as well as the rudiments of whatever set of trades or vocations that you expect your kid to financially benefit from knowing in the future. Even if he later on chooses his own path all the way to the starving artistes neighborhood, better he be a starving artiste who can do odd jobs from time to time.

In spite of all we do, kids end up with their own ideas about the world. This will begin to become glaringly evident somewhere around age two. Its pretty much downhill from that point on. By the age of 13 all of their ideas will be autonomous and yours will be sooooo wrong.