Individuality: The Dangers
Our Consumer Culture and Confused Parenting Priorities
By Laura Schuerwegen
Our society provides children with
confusing messages. While we want them to be responsible, we withhold
trust and responsibility. We want them to be autonomous, but we withhold
attachment when they need it. We end up with needy consumers.
Western society values
autonomy and individualism over anything else. Each person strives to be
their unique self – in most cases, their unique consumerist self.
In order to create these unique, autonomous
creatures, strategies are employed from birth onward. We put our tiny
newborn in a crib, preferably in a room of her own. We let her cry and
avoid human interaction as much as possible, so she won’t be “spoiled.”
We have designed a variety of contraptions to have her self-soothe and
self-care as soon as possible, and also to imprint her with brand
consciousness before she can walk. Sleeping through the night is
important for infants, we think, and we read books to get it done –
preferably quickly and swiftly.
We have huge parental competitions over whose child
gets to walk first. We smugly announce that our child knows fifty words
already (that’s at least five more than your child!).
We prepare him for autonomy by cutting the
umbilical cord seconds after birth, by dropping him at daycare at three
months of age. Then there is preschool and prep school and after school
in order to avoid – at any cost – him becoming a “momma’s child.” We
drill him to sit still and shut up and learn to listen…so he will become
responsible. But we don’t give him any responsibilities. Indeed, he is
not to be trusted.
Children are seen as vicious, manipulative
creatures. They’ll – gasp – do anything to get your attention. And
they’re worthless: They can’t do anything, and therefore don’t deserve
any rights or respect.
So we tie their shoelaces until they’re twelve, we
spoon feed them mush until they walk and talk and write. They have to be
told over and over to eat their veggies and finish their plates, because
we assume they don’t know what’s good for themselves.
We don’t trust them with scissors, or glass, or
cutlery, or fluids, or pastes. We make things especially for them: tiny
plastic plates and plastic cups, and fake scissors, paint, cutlery,
clay. And that’s because we don’t trust them with the real thing and
because, well, it’s big business.
We don’t trust them to walk to school on their own
or go somewhere with their friends. We don’t allow them to choose their
own studies once they go to college or university because they’ll
certainly choose something dumb and end up living under a bridge.
They are not allowed a say in society until they
turn eighteen. They are not allowed to partake of human life until they
reach “adulthood” as defined by either government or parents. They have
to “live by the rules” until they move out of the parental house.
There is a definite confusion of priorities when it
comes to infants. We tend to their wants to avoid frustration: When they
want that little toy, we’ll give it to them. When they squeak because
they aren’t comfortable on their belly, we’ll roll them over. But we
ignore their needs, because we think that fulfilling their needs would
make them needy. The result is children who are confused, frustrated,
easily ticked off, and everything except autonomous.
They attempt to reach full potential by going
through a factory-like schooling system that delivers them all – all
these individuals – in batches.
They will spend their lives searching for their
uniqueness by filling the void in their life by buying the big brother
brands of the ones they grew up with, since they were the only form of
closeness they knew growing up. And because success in life is only
defined by how well you can cope on your own and how many expensive
things you can collect.
And when you scratch the surface of this quest for
autonomy, you’ll find that everything we do to achieve it is just a way
to adhere to the mainstream, our striving to follow the current. To fulfill the deep
desire to belong to the herd that we so profoundly longed for in childhood.
Humanity is not a species of uniqueness and
solitude. It is a species that has evolved through community. The things
that do make us unique, compared to other species – our huge brain and
communication skills – developed because we lived in large communities
and worked together towards common goals.
So I can’t help but wonder how this came to be. Was
it the detachment? Did it create needy children which generated the
distrust? Children whose needs aren’t met will become needy and try to
find any possible way to get attention, to get those urgent needs
Or is it all an ingenious consumerist scam,
concocted by brands to create delusions in parents that will make them
buy more stuff and push them to raise perfect little consumerists?
Or is it kyriarchy that aimed to establish a supply
system of conformists?
After studying communication sciences in Brussels, Laura
Schuerwegen escaped Western life to tend to her family in Sub-Saharan
Africa. She writes at Authentic Parenting
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