As an American parent, I tend to want to protect my kids’ innocence. I want them to discover the beautiful parts of our world and being human and shield them from the darker sides of human nature until they are older. I think of this as a somewhat American trait because most people I have talked to as we have traveled to many countries over the years seem to take the view of “Life is hard. The sooner kids realize this, the better prepared they will be to deal with it.”
I obviously can’t say with certainty which view is healthier for kids. But living in Colombia, we run into this issue on a regular basis as we see poverty, young kids working, displaced people asking for change (over 2.5 million people have been displaced in Colombia due to war and conflict over the last 20 years). We encounter it in our daily lives.
Take today’s conversations for instance. Siena, our six year old, and I were “on a date”, sitting in the lovely garden courtyard of a local bakery, sipping tea and eating pastries, when she asked, “Why is that there?” pointing to barbed wire and electric fencing over the walls of a nearby house. “Well, it’s to keep people from coming in, honey,” I replied. “Why do they want to keep people out?” she countered. “Well, most people in the world are nice and do good things but some people do bad things, like steal or hurt other people. The people in this house want to keep out the people who do bad things,” I replied. She didn’t say anything else but I couldn’t help but wonder how what I said affected her sense of safety.
A few hours later, Jade, our nine year old, and I were “on a date” (today was the pre-first day of school date day with mom). I told her that I needed to get back home to call the vet in Cambridge, MA. Our amazing babysitter had taken our cat to the vet for his international health certificate so he can travel here with Esteban next week and I needed to call the vet to pay for the appointment. “How will you pay over the phone?” she asked. “I will give them my credit card info,”I said. “But then they will charge more things,” she said “or at least that’s what they would do in Colombia.”
OK, another explanation by me about how these things can happen anywhere, but I have never heard of it happening in the US. Credit card fraud is quite rampant here, on the other hand. My card has been cloned here already and $500 of merchandise has been charged. Here, when you want to pay for a restaurant bill, or any bill for that matter, by credit card, the waiter brings a credit card machine to your table. This is normal and customary. You never let your card out of your sight. To call somebody and give them your credit card information in unheard of.
Again, these are all pretty minor compared to the stories of war, violence and domestic violence and child abuse I have heard here. Luckily my kids haven’t heard any of these stories yet. And I wonder, will they? How will it impact them? Is is a coincidence that I spent the first eight years of my life in the Soviet Union, a totalitarian state, where crime was virtually unheard of and people felt safe to walk anywhere at any time of day, and that I tend to view the world as basically a safe place with mostly honest, good people? Living in the US has reinforced this view. Innocent until proven guilty.
My husband on the other hand was raised in Latin America -Argentina and Venezuela – and thinks that I am naive. He doesn’t trust people nearly as easily as I do and is always on the look-out for being tricked or taken advantage of. Is that a coincidence or a product of the cultures he was raised in? I am willing to bet on the latter.
Again it’s difficult to say which is more effective. My husband’s view is probably more effective living here and it has helped him negotiate business deals internationally. Americans are viewed as naive by people in many other cultures and yet, my view has helped me encounter mostly kind and honest people along my life’s path. Will exposure to “real” life make my kids less naive or more jaded as they get older? I have no answers, only questions.