I read a peculiar thing a short time ago. An author wrote that he and his wife are raising their children in such a way that their children have as little as possible to “unlearn” later in life. As someone who has raised three children, that seemed like a very peculiar statement.
In some ways, it is arrogant. If you raise your children such that they have little to unlearn, I guess you think you are getting it all right the first time. That’s quite a thing to say.
In other ways, its rather ridiculous. Learning, after all, is a constant process of unlearning, integrating, and re-learning. In part, it is putting away old ideas, and assimilating new ideas. It is actually quite a natural part of development, I am told.
But I also know that unlearning is natural from experience—my own and that of my children. Learning is part of what I do for a living. And learning is not just piling more ideas onto already solidified ideas. It is reevaluating previously learned ideas in light of new evidence or experience or information. Sometimes that reevaluation leads to rejecting or changing an old idea. Sometimes it leads to rejecting the new idea. But adaptation, whether to new physical circumstances or to new ideas, nearly always involves a certain amount of “unlearning.”
So unlike this popular author, I raised my kids with plenty of new situations and ideas to evaluate. I guided their thinking about what sorts of ideas were foundational, and what sorts of ideas were negotiable. I talked to them when they had questions—any questions—and helped them sort through their options pointing out potential strengths and weaknesses.
I let them know that while there are a lot of things we don’t know, there are plenty of things we do know. Some of those things might need adaptation or unlearning at some point down the road. But some things won’t.
I let them know they should not be afraid to “unlearn” things if the “unlearning” brings them closer to the truth of the matter. Admitting you have been wrong is an ingrained part of being a Christian, after all. And I can’t tell you how many times I had to admit I was wrong in my parenting career. I had to model unlearning, much to my chagrin at times.
Perhaps the most important model of unlearning is sanctification. I constantly must unlearn old habits and learn new ways to live if I want to conform more and more to the image of Christ. The old me must die daily. The new me—the united with Christ me—must come to life more and more each day.
So unlearning is part of the rhythm of the Christian life. And therefore one of the best habits you can teach your children.