Everything I need to know about teenagers, I learned during a six-hour van ride across California. I was tasked with taking four 14-year-old boys to a military camp 330 miles down Hwy 5. I thought that a 6am start would mean they would be sleepy. I was very wrong. They did not stop talking. They read every street sign, every vanity plate, every billboard. They talked about guns, knives, farting, extreme sports, passing luxury cars, internet videos and told the worst jokes I have ever heard. But I was most surprised by the close-mindedness they showed. During one of their conversations, one of the boys made a comment that he would never buy a Toyota because he wanted to “own an American-made car that they hadn’t messed with.” “They”, to him, were foreigners trying to “steal our jobs and take our livelihood.”
Children are sponges. From the moment of birth, they will mimic whatever behavior they see and something will register that this is the norm. Not only in human young but in animals as well. One might say that two parties fight like “cats and dogs” but if a kitten and a puppy grow up together, they will not fall under that stereotype because they were raised learning a different norm. Cats and dogs raised separately and then thrust together usually do not fare as well. It is the same with children.
It’s not bad for children to pick up on things like human emotions, common sense or an accent. In fact, these things are encouraged.
But what about politics, religion and stereotypes? It’s entirely possible that the young man in the above anecdote decided for himself that he would only buy vehicles made in the good old US of A, but I’d bet you a shiny half-dollar that he was simply repeating a sound bite from a parent, a teacher or even a TV show. And I’ll match that bet and say that this probably isn’t a new idea for him and he didn’t just hear it yesterday.
Little pitchers have big ears. And just to make the analogy more complicated, one must be careful with what one puts in that pitcher. The only catch is… the parent isn’t the only one filling. We all (journalists) have a ladle and whether or not we know it, we’re adding whatever juice works for us.