I was in college I spent a semester studying in France,
in the city of Rennes in Brittany. It became my routine
that every Sunday morning, when traffic was practically
nil, I would ride my bicycle to the center of town. It was
a particularly pleasing ride for me because a portion of
it was on a downward incline. At a certain point in the
trip, all I had to do was stop pedaling and I would sail
down several long city blocks until I came to a flat section
of the street. I never traveled
it wasn't really much of a hill; it was just
thing of it was, though, that in order to do that, I would
occasionally have to run a red light. This sounds worse
than it seemed, I suppose. After all, I was on a bicycle,
not in an automobile, and bicycles didn't necessarily seem
to abide by the rules of the road. And every time I approached
an intersection, I would look very carefully to be sure
no one was coming from either direction. And there was
for one day.
day, as I approached the red light at the end of the incline,
pulling to a stop after a smooth and exhilarating ride through
several other lights, a car pulled up from behind me. The
driver, an elderly gentleman sporting a classic blue French
beret, wagged his finger at me and called out sternly,
quand vous serez ecrasée..."
you get run over..."
What then? was his implication, which
came through loud and clear as my eyes met the innocent
faces of the three children riding with him. They peered
through the windows, attentively observing my potentially
I was filled with pangs of guilt, understanding what most
adults eventually come to learn: children copy our actions,
not our words. They learn our values by observing and absorbing
the ones we exhibit. I was teaching these children values
that could bring them harm-even get them killed-if they
were to follow my example. It is not as though I hadn't
been aware of this previously. But in that moment, the knowledge
became ingrained me. Suddenly I understood that
I am making choices that may have consequences
most of us have had the experience of seeing or hearing
children adopt the language or behavior of an adult they
have observed-and of recognizing that it doesn't always
look becoming on them. Sometimes, to be sure, it's cute;
but sometimes, when we see what a behavior looks like when
children are wearing it, we realize with new awareness that
it isn't very healthy-either for them or for our society.
this is beginning to happen on a wide scale. Children are
taking on the behavior of adults, at younger and younger
ages. And many adults are noticing that it isn't always
pretty. It isn't always safe. And it doesn't always bring
the children happiness. It doesn't help them live a life
it comes to money, the culture of children has taken on
a kind of grotesque exaggeration of the choices we adults
are making as a society. Children are bombarded with pressures
to buy, buy, buy; to get the latest and the coolest; to
seek material and monetary riches, not build a life of contribution
and value. They are told that they must have and be the
best or they are worthless.
effects on children, as a whole, have been devastating.
In the United States, anxiety, depression, and suicide are
increasing, and occurring in children at younger and younger
ages. Drugs to control such conditions are now prescribed
for children as young as preschool. Overscheduled, highly
pressured children are stressed out, irritable, and exhausted,
reporting that the thing they most want that money can't
buy is time just to be a kid. [
See p. 10, "
What Really Matters?
Letting Kids Be Kids
," An Interview with Betsy Taylor.
In less economically developed countries, children are being
orphaned at an alarming rate, and thousands die daily of
hunger and treatable diseases, when the economic choices
of more developed countries could easily help alleviate
good news is that it doesn't have to be that way. Not everyone
is living by the standard cultural playbook. Some are choosing
carefully, thoughtfully, and respectfully, as they examine
their own values and the legacy they want to leave to children-and
not just their own families' children, but everyone's. They
are creating what the acclaimed children's singer Raffi
calls "a child-honoring society." [
See p. 6, "
this World Around: Creating a Child-Honoring Society
An Interview with Raffi Cavoukian.
individuals on these pages are some of those people. As
you read their reflections, take what is meaningful to you;
and as you apply their wisdom in your own life, may you
be reminded of this happy little secret: When we honor children,
we become more like them, in their purest form. So our own
journey actually becomes lighter, not heavier, and we ourselves
become more whole. Of course, none of us are perfect and
all of us will make mistakes. But the reward of aiming high
for the children is that we get to touch our own greatness.
As the Chinese philosopher Mengzi said in 400 B.C., "Great
is the human who has not lost his childlike heart."
The views expressed in
are not necessarily those of More Than
Money. We encourage and support respectful dialogue among
people of diverse viewpoints. In each journal issue, we
provide a range of perspectives on a topic to stimulate
reflection, conversation, and inspired action.
Gerloff, Ed.D., is the editor of
More Than Money Journal
Her life passions have focused on learning, growth, and
change, with a special interest in children. Her professional
experience includes working as an editor for
magazine, a French and English teacher,
and a consultant for individual and organizational change.
She holds a doctorate in human development from Harvard
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