Improving Buddhism

Is it Possible?

Child-rearing and Advice

Child-rearing has many goals, as the result of it is the preparation of the next generation of humans to take over human society and continue to direct it and maintain it toward a long and prosperous future. Without properly raised children, society can turn to many dead-ends and leave the trail to continued existence at a high level behind. Child-rearing is slowly turning into a science, and prior to that there was only tradition to guide parents. Tradition differs in different regions of the world, and the results are different as well. It may be that some of the characteristics of different regions can be traced back to differences in the traditional patterns of child-rearing.


Because it is so incredibly important to the continuation of a religion, child-rearing procedures should be part of the information that forms the basis of the religion, at least until it becomes part of society's fundamental education. Instead of leaving these procedures to haphazard communication, they need to be brought into the realm of education and in lieu of other sources, religious teaching can incorporate what is known. Regrettably, the science behind child-rearing got off to a late start, and even today is not very well established.


Child-rearing can be thought of as having stages. First, there is the nurture stage, where a new-born is supported until it can grow into a youngster who can communicate. Second, there is the training stage, where the basics of the activities of life are taught. Third, there is the education stage, which involves the imparting of knowledge of all kinds to the young person. One could consider that there is also a fourth stage, in which advice is given to a young adult who is finding their place in the world and making multiple life choices. These stages have no precise start and stop points, and could be said to overlap considerably.


In the first stage, children learn by trial-and-error. The brain makes some signal to the motor nerves, for example, and then detects some response, either visually or tactilely. Mammal brains are set up to reinforce paths that are used, so if this trial does anything of importance, it can be recorded or reinforced so that it can be repeated. Parents, or their surrogates, are providing active care much of the time and so they might be providing the response that selects what is recorded. This means that parental choices during the nurturing period provide the child with strongly reinforced choices of elemental behavior. It also means that the extent to which the child is left alone, with objects to observe or manipulate, will have other effects. 


Some of the basics of personality are affected by this early nurturing. A child which learns that crying loudly will bring an invariable response to solve any discomfort will have different personality characteristics than one who learns that crying loudly has little effect and parental attention is governed by other factors, such as schedules. A child who is held a large fraction of the time does not experience the training that comes from time alone with objects for observation and touch. A child who is fed according to his parents' choices rather than being fed according, to some extent, to his own reactions to the taste and texture of the early food, learns that having one's choices accepted is a desirable thing, as opposed to learning to trust to other's choices. A long list of personality effects can be compiled, related to the details of the child-rearing practices that take place in the first two or so years of a child's life. Perhaps it would be possible to make a connection between the various personality types, listed according to some categorization scheme such as the famous Meyers-Briggs one, with parental behavioral choices. Of course, genetics and epigenetics play an important role in personality, but nurturing behavior also plays an important role, and so far, there is no robust outline of which traits are affected by either of these, or how the two combine to produce different personality effects. This gap in scientific knowledge should be rectified, and one of the goals of Improved Buddhism should be to see that this gap is filled in, reliably and competently, at the earliest opportunity.


Parenting habits play an equally important role in the next stage of child-rearing, when the parents and child communicate, but before there is any reasoning capability developed in the child. This stage represents a huge information flow into the child, and in many cases, there is little or no filtering of this information by the child. As long as the information is not self-contradictory, there is little reason for the child to not accept this information, and to store it as valid information, useful for the entire life of the child. It should be obvious to the parents that the information they choose to provide the child during this stage forms the basis for the child's behavioral choices, not just as a child but later as an adult. There is no formal procedure for teaching a child, and again, there is simply tradition or even less, randomness and impromptu choices, in what is done now. Again, there needs to be the application of science to this field, which is hardly even created at this time. 


Since the information provided by parents and their surrogates and supplemental personnel is so hugely important in how the child will develop, it is nothing short of astonishing that so little work has been done to codify the best methods of providing that information, of how it should be organized and ordered, what observations the parents can make to help them make timing and other choices, and how the parents can ensure that what they want to teach the child is actually what becomes embedded in the child's brain, in the best possible way. Just as for information provided in the first stage, as long as this part of the science of nurturing is not wholly developed and a part of society's general knowledge bank, taught to all parents, it needs to be an integral part of any advanced religion. 


Possibly it should remain a part of religion, even in future times when the missing sciences of first and second stage child-rearing are better established. There may be chunks of information, especially in the second stage, which are part of the religious background of the child that the parents provide via their training activities. Furthermore, parents are not the sole providers of this information after some threshold age, and others play a role. Those more specialized in religion might serve as the supplemental personnel who fill in for the parents here. Parenting is a tremendously important task, perhaps one of the most important tasks in human society at any stage of societal evolution, but there may not be enough room for specialization and additional personnel would be needed to do the best job of child-rearing. 


Relgious personnel at the outset of a new religion need to determine what it is that should be taught to a child, at different ages. Information should be provided in a coordinated way so that the information provided has the best chance of being remembered and, more importantly, being accessible and able to be utilized in all those situations where it would be of value. Instead of haphazard collections of information, chosen by the whims of individuals who feel they know the missing science of child-rearing, but instead fall far short of this knowledge, there should be an organized set of learning lessons for children, and there should be prescriptions for how to adapt this knowledge to each individual child. 


The third stage of nurturing, which is the stage after the child begins to be rational and can question, or rather filter, any information provided to him, and further begins to make choices as to what information will be gathered and accepted, is less important that the second, if the second stage was property fulfilled. The second stage provides the information that serves as the basis for filtering information in the third stage, and there should be no conflicts arising provided there is coordination between the information which is organized for the second stage and that which is organized for the third. 


In the period before there is sufficient science developed regarding child-rearing, how should a tentative and temporary set of this massive amount of information be collected, and how should instructions be prepared for parents and their associates in the child-rearing process? Only a committee or group with experienced people, including parents who have successfully raised children, might provide this information. The idea that some single individual can deduce the necessary results is simply unrealistic, and members of the new religion need to select from their numbers some contributors who can best perform the collection, organization and distilling job for general child-rearing information and for that specific to the religion. They should, as well, provide a call for society in general to support further scientific research to develop the whole body of information, so that children are not left to the whims of those who do not understand well how to do the critical tasks of child-rearing.

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