From a workshop given in Auburn, CA, March 19, 1987
Our concern over our children is our concern over ourselves.
Ninety-five percent of all learning takes place beneath conscious awareness, that is, beneath cognitive awareness of either the child or whoever the child is learning from. When we first hear this, we can’t believe it. Yet, as we study it, we find it is true. From birth on, even when the child is in utero, we’re not aware of most of what we’re teaching, and the child is not aware of most of what he or she is learning from us. Conscious awareness, what we call our ego, represents, at best, about five percent of the total structuring of knowledge that goes on in the brain/mind system.
We start teaching our children from the time they are born. What are we trying to teach them? We want a better world for them than we had for ourselves. We want a fearless life for them and we want them to be able to fulfill themselves in ways all of us secretly feel we have never been fulfilled. From the moment they can use any language at all, we begin to prescribe behavior for our children in order to help them avoid our errors and to give them a better life. Our prescriptions, of course, are these five percent ego ideas which address five percent of the total psychic machinery of the child. Most of these prescriptions boil down to, “Don’t do that, do this.”
Despite our prescriptions, 95 percent of what they learn from us is a direct imprinting of who we are. Carl Jung said that the child lives in the shadow side of the parent, the emotional side we don’t express outwardly in our actions but we feel deeply inside. The child lives in our emotional life, picks it up, reflects it. We find that our ideas, even the ones we don’t express, even the ones that are implicit, are directly expressed to the child.
By the time that our children are about two years old—I am speaking as the father of five—we find that they are beginning to reflect back to us all of our secret little pettinesses and nastinesses that we’ve tried to cloak from them, from everybody else and even from ourselves. They become a perfect mirror of who we are. Nothing will enrage parents so rapidly as to see their failings reflected back to them in their children. We begin to scream and holler at them, “Don’t be who I am. Be who I tell you to be!”
We give mixed messages to the child all the time. We say one thing, feel something totally different, and think something else. We smile, but we’re in pain. We’ve just had a fight or looked at the morning paper and our ideas are in turmoil, but we’re saying, “Good morning, dear.”
All children are born with a great imperative, to follow the model at all costs. So a child is becoming who we are with 95 percent of the neural structuring of the brain/mind system and, with the other 5 percent, desperately trying to follow our prescriptions to become who we tell them to be. Faced with massive confusion and ambiguity, the child is split.
The child can never rise beyond the level of his parents and his teachers. We cannot come up with a curriculum, a textbook or a great plan of behavior modification that will ever pull that child up beyond our own level.
The only way we can meet the current crisis in childhood, which is vastly more severe than the American population is willing to face, is to begin with the models through whom our children grow. Only by changing ourselves can we change the world of the child—because we are their world.