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Parents, Your Children Are Listening

Updated on May 27, 2009

Why do parents pass on bigotry?

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Words of Wisdom From Stephen Sondheim

“Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say "Listen to me"
Children will listen”

-Stephen Sondheim-

I recently watched the video recording of Stephen Sondheim musical, Into The Woods. In short, it’s a story that weaves various fairy tales together (Cinderella, Jack & The Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood), taking the characters and putting them on one street. Though you are told each story, it’s less about their actual stories than what each character means to the other. It’s always been a favorite of mine.

For some unknown reason, I never really listened to the lyrics of the songs. I only heard the music. The above lines appear in the song, Children Will Listen. Though it turns into a cast song, it starts as a solo for the “Witch.” We’re told as children to fear witches. They are evil and nothing good can come from knowing one. With that in mind, isn’t that some amazing advice from an evil person?

Growing up, my mother’s opinions were law. If she disliked someone, I disliked them too. I didn’t begin to question her reasoning until I was older. Once I did, I was in for a shock. My mind had to open really fast.

In today’s society, there are many taboos being debated, gay rights in particular. Parents now must educate their children on this group of people that they themselves may not have been educated on. We are taught to fear the unknown and the unfamiliar. To a straight person raised in a straight family with straight views, homosexuality is certainly unfamiliar. Though there is nothing to fear, people still fear gay people and fight accepting them. Children see this. They are learning earlier and earlier to be bigots. Parents, do you not realize what you are doing?

Years ago, African Americans looked pretty scary and unfamiliar to white people. White parents had to decide whether or not to take the leap and embrace the unknown. Children waited, patiently, for advice on whether or not they should fear African Americans. There were some parents who, knowing it was wrong to feel prejudice against another human being, opened up their minds immediately and encouraged their children to do the same. There were other adults who took their time, needing the Civil Rights Movement to open it for them and their children stayed on the fence too. There are still some parents who have yet to open their minds to this race. Thanks to these parents, another generation of bigots has been born. Parents, do you care about what you are doing?

Though open-minded, I still have my prejudices. As I want to be a parent some day soon, I am working hard to work out these thoughts. I firmly believe that to love a child purely, you need to rid yourself of the hatred in your heart and mind. If my children are anything like me, they will listen my every word, at least for the first ten years or so. I need to make sure what I say is worth hearing.

Please, parents, remember you have an audience. Pick your words carefully. Don’t pass on intolerance without solid reasons. Our world doesn’t need any more conflict.

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