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Our kids are hardwired to download our program!

By petra - Posted on 09 October 2012

The other day I watched a tiny-mini pigtailed girl, about 18-months-old, staring fixedly at my 12-year-old daughter & her friend. I realized that tiny girls just don’t stare at random women that way, but they are fascinated by big girls. I could almost feel her downloading the ‘big girl program’ as I watched, megabytes of cultural information a millisecond, and thought to myself that one day a compilation of all of her downloaded data about being a big girl would create a template for ‘girlness’ that she could adopt or reject or wrestle with, depending on the data & her inclinations.

This led me to think that children are programmed to download cultural information, and the most powerful programs they download probably come from their parents. In fact, you could say children are hardwired to download information from their parents, and that can be a problem because no matter what we tell our kids they may or may not listen, but they are programed (whether they choose it or not!) to download what they see us doing. Eeek!

So, even though we tell our kids how to behave, we end up with disconcerting situations like when our toddler says ‘fuck off bummer’ to his daycare provider when he is offered broccoli at snack time:). Or, should you (like me) have anti-authoritarian & non-compliant tendencies, don’t be surprised if you end up with sassy children who get to know the principal really well, even if you tell them to “be polite & reputable” every day before they go to school. Not that you are responsible for all your children’s sass-mouthed or otherwise freaky behaviours, but it is important to know they are hardwired to learn from you and their other significant adults, and they are doing it all the time, especially when you least expect it.

The good news is (for those of us who do not want to repeat the mistakes of our parents and for those of us who learned to parent by trial & error …& error …& error), that we can reprogram ourselves & by doing so we can help our kids to reprogram themselves, too.

A great time to purge & defrag your hard drive of misfiled, unwanted crap from your parents (& the other adults that cared for you) is when you have kids. But if you’re way past that point, and you already have a pack of kids, then the next best time is now! First thing to do: cultivate a community of like-minded parents who can support you in your reprogramming goal. Tell them what you are working on and why; and support them in their efforts to do the same. Second thing: be gentle with yourself; take care of yourself. Third, keep a bountiful sense of humour as your secret weapon. Fourth, tell your kids when you make a mistake. If you want, you can tell them: “Don’t download that last thing I did! Download this next thing I’m going to do!”

After thinking all this through, the itty-bitty girl was still staring at my big girls, so I told the big girls my theory. My daughter said “you’re so weird, mum”, but she looked at the little girl and smiled. Little baby girl looked surprised and suddenly shy, but she smiled back. Hmmm, I thought, new data for her big girl program… big girls can be friendly!