There was recent earth-shattering news. Children behave according to what they see in the media.
Now to be a professional who has studied and cared for kids, I am restrained from shouting, "Duh!"
Why is anyone wondering why we are less civil in society? We see it acted out every day of our lives.
Goethe said, “You see what you know,” meaning we recognize our knowledge expressed in the world around us. I submit that we “know what we see.” We know how to act unkind because we see it in interactions with others. We become angry more often because that is what the movie hero does. We think about being hurt or hurting others because that is how good guys take down the bad guys.
Solutions of complex, real problems come straight out of a Hollywood plot. We imitate our own imitations. If a bad man has a gun, a good man with a gun will shoot and kill him.
The human body learns by re-enacting what it sees. This is not due to the invention of Philo T. Farnsworth; it is how culture transmits rapidly between generations. If our ancestors saw someone throw a spear at a bear, then getting food would be that much easier for the children and their children.
We tell our children every day to be a good example. Why? Because we want others to see and then act similarly. Treating someone as you want them to treat you is a codification of this seeing and knowing, seeing and doing.
With the advance of technology, we learn by acting as if in simulations. Fighter jets no longer have a two-seat version for pilot training. Earlier planes would have one seat for the cadet and the other for the experienced trainer. Now, it is all done with simulations. You know what you see.
The re-enactment of scenarios of in-flight emergencies are experienced repeatedly in order to train non-verbal memory to act more quickly, “without thinking.” That is what watching anything does to us if we do it enough with the right sensory input. We stop thinking and just act out spontaneously.
An article in the March medical journal, Pediatrics, concludes that since no one follows the advice to limit screen time, then make sure children watch acts of kindness and selflessness. While the idea of pro-social learning is not new, it is the sad realization that we as a country cannot turn off our insatiable appetite for action and adventure that disappoints.
Our brains from birth are built to suck in information. Children especially are programmed to learn emotions and relationships from their mothers at the instance of their birth. It is the many acts of sensitive reaction to stress that instruct the infant about relationships. “Falling in love for the first time” is an act of imitation. We reflect back to our mothers the love in their eyes and in their faces.
We can also fall out of love with what we see and feel as we grow. Trans-generational poverty is no aberration of one person or group, but a product of a nationwide classroom of knowing what we see. Heroes are not the scholars of Nobel or the authorship of Pulitzer. Instead, the community is the tutor. In some cases, the flashing police lights illuminate the stage and the crime-scene yellow tape keeps the viewing audience back.
We deserve the country we inhabit. “A system is perfectly designed to produce the exact results it gets,” the theory says. Our systems of education, entertainment, politics, wealth segregation and moral training are producing exactly the results we get in our children and in our communities.
Unless we start watching with our children different programs, we are fated to do what we see. We imitate our imitations. As long as they are anti-social, violent or absent of empathy, we will see more articles where we will all start to say, “Duh.”
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a practicing pediatrician for 30 years, and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at [email protected].