“I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” Maya Angelou
Growing up, I never had a mentor, a hero, a person who would inspire values, strength, hope and wisdom. The only inspiring thing I remember is my father obsessively quoting Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.” This quote really stuck with me and everyday I felt the pressure of being inspired by something. Not necessarily someone, but at least by something that I heard or saw.
As I grew up, I became more aware of our generation’s need of real mentorship. We live in a world where children are almost pushed to adulate cartoon characters, where teenagers’ only reference point are celebrity stars who have done nothing really to make our world a better place and who offer very limited inspiration.
From Disney princesses to superheroes, kids are obsessed with a fantasy world lacking any connection with reality. How can Elsa, Superman and the other mostly men superheroes offer any real guidance, reference and most of all knowledge about the world to children? How will they offer a reasonable base for developing real life heroes as teenagers? The seeds that you plant in childhood, are the plants you will grow and nurture in adolescence and adulthood.
My opinion is sometimes met with a lot of hesitation:
“They are way too young to know about this person.”
“This is not enjoyable for them.”
“The fantasy world is more important for kids than reality. They will learn later about these people.”
This is some of the feedback that I receive when I randomly mention some of the knowledge that I expose my kids to. Kids are never too young to learn. You can expose them to any kind of information. It just matters how you communicate it to them.
As a communicator, I learned that you draft your message according to your target audience. Try explaining electricity to a 4 year old, an 8 year old, a 16 year old, a 23 year old, and then to a non-expert and expert adult audience. The communicator holds the key when it comes to crafting a message that is easy, interesting and applicable to the listener.
As a parent, I feel responsible to teach my children about the world around them; to bring the world at their feet and help them understand life, human nature, our role and the choices we make for ourselves and the world surrounding us.
So, how do you teach children about life and human nature? Through real life heroes of course! Artists, writers, environmentalists, leaders…. Our real world is full of inspiration for all ages! I don’t need the influence of princesses to help my girls understand the role of women in society, their contribution, their sense of style and beauty. I have so many real women who are ready to inspire, nurture and guide my girls in all senses.
From Jane Goodall, to Frida Khalo, Maya Angelou, Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, Eugenie Clark… the list is endless…. And no, kids below 8 years old are not too young to discover these persons and their passions. And no, the difficulties in these people’s lives are not too harsh, because it is what you say about them, how you say it and what you focus on when you discuss their life challenges.
Allow yourself to witness the interest, joy and curiosity of your child. Guide them and encourage them to explore different personalities with various interests and achievements and see what resonates with them.
I know that many people recommend books like Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and the She persisted collection, but I find them too factual. I want to trigger connection, passion and curiosity with these real life stories. Here are some books that my three year old girls resonated with:
The Watcher by Jeanette Winter
Our House is on Fire by Jeanette Winter
When it comes to poets, I usually like to concentrate on one poem at a time. Along the lines, I talk about the poet herself and how she reflects her life experience in the verses. This library book really caught my kids’ attention:
Life doesn’t frighten me at all by Geraldine Alibeu
And finally, when it comes to artists, I show mainly books with their work of art and we describe what we see, the emotions depicted in their work and how that intertwines with their life experiences.
When it comes to real life heroes, mentors, make sure you start with the ones that inspire you. Your passion and appreciation for what they achieved will shine through.
Personally, I am a big fan of Frida Kahlo. A lot of people were scared that I might be exposing my girls too soon to an art that is too somber. Yes, depending on what facet of the artist you focus on. Frida is the definition of passion itself. Passion for colors, nature, animals and strong emotions. Sounds like I just described a kid’s world, haven’t I? How could they not connect with that!
With Frida by our side, we had numerous discussions on colors, flowers, animals, sophisticated jewelry, clothes, owning your personal sense of style, Mexico, love, physical pain, art therapy and mother nature. The discussions are endless and each time we discover and explore more. I doubt that any Disney princess or superhero can generate so much discussion, passion and knowledge.
Having said all this, I encourage all parents and teachers out there to include real life heroes in children’s lives as soon as possible. Give them the inspiration they need and deserve! Nurture their personal tool kits with real life lessons and values that they can apply soon enough in their lives. Open the gate to knowledge and inspiration as soon as possible and fill their world with the beauty and richness of real human beings.