Children displaced from their families, unconnected to their teachers, and not yet mature enough to relate to one another as separate beings, automatically regroup to satisfy their instinctive drive for attachment. The culture of the group is either invented or borrowed from the peer culture at large. It does not take children very long to know what tribe they belong to, what the rules are, whom they can talk to, and whom they must keep at a distance.
Despite our attempts to teach our children respect for individual differences and to instill in them a sense of belonging to a cohesive civilization, we are fragmenting at an alarming rate into tribal chaos. Our very own children are leading the way. The time we as parents and educators spend trying to teach our children social tolerance, acceptance, and etiquette would be much better invested in cultivating a connection with them. Children nurtured in traditional hierarchies of attachment are not nearly as susceptible to the spontaneous forces of tribalization.
The social values we wish to inculcate can be transmitted only across existing lines of attachment. The culture created by peer orientation does not mix well with other cultures. Because peer orientation exists unto itself, so does the culture it creates. It operates much more like a cult than a culture. Immature beings who embrace the culture generated by peer orientation become cut off from people of other cultures. Peer-oriented youth actually glory in excluding traditional values and historical connections.
People from differing cultures that have been transmitted vertically retain the capacity to relate to one another respectfully, even if in practice that capacity is often overwhelmed by the historical or political conflicts in which human beings become caught up. Beneath the particular cultural expressions they can mutually recognize the universality of human values and cherish the richness of diversity. Peer-oriented kids are, however, inclined to hang out with one another exclusively. They set themselves apart from those not like them.
As our peer-oriented children reach adolescence, many parents find themselves feeling as if their very own children are barely recognizable with their tribal music, clothing, language, rituals, and body decorations. “Tattooing and piercing, once shocking, are now merely generational signposts in a culture that constantly redraws the line between acceptable and disallowed behavior,” a Canadian journalist pointed out in 2003.
Many of our children are growing up bereft of the universal culture that produced the timeless creations of humankind: The Bhagavad Gita; the writings of Rumi and Dante, Shakespeare and Cervantes and Faulkner, or of the best and most innovative of living authors; the music of Beethoven and Mahler; or even the great translations of the Bible. They know only what is
current and popular, appreciate only what they can share with their peers.
True universality in the positive sense of mutual respect, curiosity, and shared human values does not require a globalized culture created by peer-orientation. It requires psychological maturity — a maturity that cannot result from didactic education, only from healthy development. Only adults can help children grow up in this way. And only in healthy relationships with adult mentors — parents, teachers, elders, artistic, musical and intellectual creators — can children receive their birthright, the universal and age-honored cultural legacy of humankind. Only in such relationships can they fully develop their own capacities for free and individual and fresh cultural expression.