Be careful little ears what you hear.
I remember singing those lyrics from a Sunday school song as a young child. At the time, I heard it as a warning to be careful what I listened to. And sure, there is value to being cautious about what we consciously take in. But what about all the subconscious messages we don’t even realize we are hearing?
We talk a lot these days about the influence of messages our kids and teens are receiving from outside the home- from peers, school, social media, etc. We seem to talk less about the messages they are taking in at home or from family, but these messages are just as powerful (probably even more powerful!) in shaping the way they see themselves. From the time they understand language, verbal or not, children begin to internalize the messages they are exposed to. The words they hear begin to take root in their minds and hearts, even if those words are not spoken directly to them.
Maybe if you think about it, you can remember some of the indirect messages you heard growing up and can connect them to the way you see yourself now. Perhaps it was your mom talking under her breath about how much she hated her thighs or your dad saying with embarrassment that he didn’t know why he was crying. Your 5-year-old self may not have thought much about it, but if you kept hearing some version of those messages, they likely took root. Maybe you grew up being self-conscious of your own thighs or tried desperately to hold in emotions rather than expressing them. You may not have thought much about where those insecurities started, but hearing and seeing them modeled, however subtly, cemented them in your mind. Thighs like ours are something to criticize, and vulnerable emotions should stay hidden.
Chances are, these messages did not start with your parents. They may have been passed down through many generations- probably not purposefully, but effectively, nonetheless. The great news is that, if you are starting to recognize messages you do not want to pass along, you have a chance to keep them from being perpetuated in the next generations. How? Well, here are a couple things to consider:
- We all have insecurities, and simply hiding or suppressing them is not healthy or helpful either. Just be considerate of who is hearing you process them and how. Do process them with someone who is developmentally and emotionally mature enough to understand and support you (maybe a counselor, trusted friend, or supportive partner).
- When you talk about things that make you feel insecure in front of your kids, reframe them in a way that shares a message you do want to pass along. Instead of bemoaning your body, remember, out loud, all the incredible things it can do. Even if you acknowledge something about it that makes you feel uncomfortable, follow it up with things you appreciate. If you tear up in front of your kids and feel embarrassed, share with them that expressing how you feel is healthy and can help you connect to the people you care about.
You cannot keep your kids from taking in any harmful messages. We live in a world where they are inundated by them. But you can control what you say and refrain from reinforcing them. You can purposefully speak messages that build up their self-worth, making them stronger when they face the ones that do not.
Be careful. Little ears are listening.