Lessons from the Buffalo

Posted on October 30, 2013, in Parenting

I come from the Lakota nation, called Sioux, by the government. One of our traditions is to study the natural world for lessons on how to live life well. Many lessons come from studying the North American bison we call Buffalo, Pte Oyate, in our language.

When buffalo sense danger they move into a protective formation. The buffalo bulls surround the community. They take their instructions from an elder Buffalo cow that stands in the middle of the herd. The buffalo cows form a secondary protective ring inside the circle of bulls. The calves are in the very centre, since they are the most precious and the most vulnerable in the community. A function of the herd is to protect the young since they are the ones who ensure the survival of the herd into the future. From this, we Lakota see that it is the task of the adults to protect the young, if we want them to have a good life and to live well into the future.

In my Reclaiming Youth work, I mostly encounter professional youth workers such as teachers, counselors, and child workers. I see parents less frequently but I see them as the main protective front line for youth. Of course we expect parents to have the most time in direct contact with children and youth. We see parent as the primary teachers of children. We anticipate that parents will teach and advocate the values that they cherish and foster those values among their children.

One of my concerns is that society and the various institutions provide support for parents. I sometimes think schools and social agencies could have regular parent support programs that would help parents be the good resource they want to be. In this spirit of supporting parents, I want to draw attention this month to two dynamics that we can influence positively.

Television watching is a part of the life of nearly all children and youth. In Canada, the Ipsos Reed agency announced this year that the average number of hours watched by the average child had increased to seven hours per day. I was stunned to see this number. I understand how an overworked adult might think a little TV watching by a child is a reasonable distraction.

When my children were young, I remember being grateful for a good program that would occupy them. I had rules about this, however. We had strong limitations on the number of programs they could watch. Initially it was one hour and one parent had to be watching as well so comments could be provided that reflected our values. I don’t know how often I said how mean I thought the roadrunner was to the coyote, in that old cartoon. I found cartoons to be very violent even while I saw the humour in the settings.

I was particularly concerned about commercials since I know very sophisticated psychology is used in developing them. I worked out a technique that I urged my children to use. The most powerful aspect of a commercial is its effect on the unconscious thinking of the viewer. In order to make the unconscious conscious to the kids, they had to say out loud, “Who are you kidding?” at the end of each commercial. This activity interrupts the unconscious message of the commercial. When young, my children happily chanted, “Who are you kidding?” As they got older, they begged off the chanting. I assume these lessons stuck, since they still seem critical of commercials and commercialism in general.

I will leave my concerns about the violence depicted on television and video games for another time.

My point is to have us reflect on our task of guiding and protecting our children and grandchildren. There are little ways we can do this that can be effective. It is not necessary for us to focus only on national policies although there are those who should do that. In my own home I can tend to details that will help my own child or grandchild have a hopeful view of the world. I can be an effective teacher if I draw on my own resources to graciously talk about what I think is important.

We want our children to be strong. We have the resources, some big and some small, to help our children reach that goal.

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