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The Child and the Tribe: Dr. Ronen Hoffman

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

30 January 2016

As parents, many of our daily decisions deal with questions and dilemmas tied to our children. Daily pressures and the weight of routine cause us to distractedly make decisions, sometimes very significant ones, regarding our children, and yet it’s clear to us all how important it is to find time and space to reflect upon our decision making processes, particularly in all that’s related to our conduct and priorities regarding children.

And here, in one sentence I’ve said almost everything: our conduct and priorities regarding children. Let’s admit the truth. Often our decisions regarding our children don’t’ attempt to place the child in the center—but rather ourselves. Too many of our decisions regarding our children are the result of the question: what do we want for the child, as opposed to the more relevant question: are we attentive to the authentic desires of the child himself? Often, too often, our priorities regarding children are the result of the dominant tribal culture we live in, which influences us all. Metaphorically speaking, we all belong to tribes. Each one of us is planted in his group of belonging, the group he loves and is used to, the group that gives him a sense of security, the group whose customs and habits fit his, the group with which he celebrates birthdays, takes trips and has fun. In these respects, and in many others, each one of us lives in his own tribe.

Feeling part of a tribe endows us with a sense of security and confidence but it also has a challenging and complex aspect: It controls us, it’s demanding, it dictates norms, it puts us under social pressures, it defines our behavior patterns and influences our decisions.

Social Psychologist Otto Rank, eloquently describes how from birth to death the person’s soul is under a kind of psychological clamp, caught between two tremendous conflicting powers: On one hand, he longs to be accepted by the group he belongs to, he wants to be liked by his tribe and to receive social acknowledgment and esteem—and on the other hand, every moment he strives to be himself, an individual that expresses his authentic desires and individuality regardless and sometimes in contradiction to the norms dictated by the tribe.

Rank explains that from these two conflicting powers, the power that ultimately wines is the power of the tribe, the power of social acceptance. Thus we’re drawn to acquiring particular brands even though they don’t always express our personal taste, we invest huge efforts trying to attain high social status even though it doesn’t necessarily bring us happiness—which often makes us ‘toe the line’ just to be liked and accepted.

The problem is that we tend to make decisions about our children in the same manner—and we often educate them in this spirit, thus missing out on one of the most important things in our lives: the ability to meet the true, authentic soul of the child, to really see it and enable it to develop and express itself.

Therefore, allow me to suggest a somewhat different way of reaching decisions about our children: let’s place, if just for a moment, the boy or girl in the center. Let’s not automatically follow the ‘decree of the tribe’. Let’s look at the child’s inner world, let’s listen to him, understand what really makes him feel good and how we can help his personality to develop healthily in a way that enables balance and doesn’t create pressure between the natural pull towards authenticity and individuality—and the also natural pull towards social acceptance.

In this context, a yearly dilemma that repeats itself pertains to the children themselves but as in other issues that involve them, we ourselves are required to cope with it: what do we do with the children in the summer? The world of summer programs for kids is overflowing with attractions, both in Israel and abroad. The internet, social networks, transport and tourism that can take us to almost every corner in the world with relative ease—have made the term ‘global village’ concrete and practical for us and our kids. So what do we do? Where do we send the children? To an Israeli summer camp, perhaps abroad? And what do other parents do with their children in the summer? To make the right decision, it’s important to look into the child’s inner world and desires and to listen less to surrounding social trends. The right thing is to send the child to a summer experience that will enable him to open up and be himself, to express many sides of his personality, to meet new friends without social criticism and prejudices; a summer experience that will connect him to himself and to his peers and that will empower him and make him feel good.

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