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How To Educate Teenagers

Children are strange and mysterious creatures, capable of wild and irrational trains of thought and even wilder conclusions. Teenagers are the same, only more so.

Say, one day one of your children (I don't have any, this is sort of a thought experiment) comes up to you and says: "Dad, Mom, animals are creatures just like us. They feel pain, they suffer. It is unethical to eat them and from now on I won't do it. I will be a vegetarian!"

This is highly complex philosophical thinking and you should applaude your child for it. Even if it is not capable of such deep thoughts but has merely been indoctrinated, it is still giving up some personal comfort for the (assumed) Greater Good and you should applaude it for that.

More, you should actually encourage it on its chosen way of living. Prepare a vegetarian option for dinner, so that he or she would not feel excluded. Eat less meat yourself, at least as long as you child is around. Do not cook its (formerly) favourite meat-dish every second night. Instead you should guide it through the difficult time it is experiencing - like trying to conjure up the image of a cow looking at it with its big, sad eyes, when, all of a sudden, your offspring lusts after a steak.

Children will come up with all kinds of ideas, and it is up to you, their parent, to teach them which of these ideas they should pursue and which better not. If, for instance, your child happily declares, that, when it has grown up, it wants to become an internet fraudster, you should discourage it from that career path. If, on the other hand, it decides to become an engineer, you should encourage it.
With merely moral issues it is basically the same, although it is sometimes far more difficult to be a wise counsellor.

Any way, unless what your child is doing is outright illegal or he or she is simply to young for it, you should encourage it. If it is just a fad, it will wear off. If not, it is important to show that you care about its way of living. And that you respect it. Most of all, don't ridicule their decision.

If, for instance, after six weeks your daughter is still shunning steak, she probably means it.

This is a good time to point out to her that eating an animal is not different at all from wearing its hide, and that, if she is a vegetarian for moral reasons, i.e. that she respects the animals right to live, she should also refrain from wearing leather shoes, jackets and belts, and should also not use accessories made from leather either. Like the new handbag she fancies.

Tell her that this is even easier than stopping to eat meat (remember, she is still a girl - trying to talk a grown up woman out of buying a piece of clothing she has set her mind on, or a new handbag, is close to impossible).
You can always replace a leather garment with a substitute made from vegetable matter or from what the petrochemical industry provides these days.

Things might be a wee bit problematic if your daughter rides, though. Maybe she can try bareback. If she insists on a leather saddle, point out to her the shallowness of her morality - in order for her to enjoy the pleasure of a ride, an animal has to die? If she insists, maybe you can take her to visit an abattoir. Remember: you are still encouraging your child to live up to high (and, after all, self-chosen) moral standards.

Apart from that, your kid will probably get used to it pretty fast. Cotton belts, Converse sneakers, faded army jacket. Buy him or her a new silver chain for that amulet one usually wears at that age to replace the more common leather string. Feeling comfortable? Good!

When you child is firmly settled in avoiding leather products in addition to avoid eating meat, it is about time to address the age old question of what constitutes an animal and what not. And where to stop.

Introduce her or him to the philosophy of the Jaim sect, who think of life as being so absolutely sacred, that they sweep the sidewalk in front their feet before every step in order not to tread on the the accidental ant (like they do in curling, although there the reason is a different one).

Take your kid outside to its scooter. Tell it that every spladge, every dead insect still discernable on it is a merciless killing of an inncocent life whose only mistake was to be at the wrong place at the wrong moment. Make sure that from now on a trip to the bus shelter where your kid meets its friends is not calculated in terms of the gas price as a share of the weekly pocket money, or in terms of your child's carbon footprint, but in terms of lifes taken. Wash the headlights every morning and do an insect-count before you do it.

So, after a while, you have a child that not only does not eat meat any more, but that is also shunning all animal products that cannot be procured without the loss of the animals life. It has settled in its chosen lifestyle and is happy with the substitutes provided. Like cotton. Or soy as a source of protein.

Now children of that age who are sensitive to ethical problems are usually eco-aware as well. Pollution, globalisation and the agricultural industry are the keywords here.

Where our parents took to the streets to protest against Vietnam, we took to the streets but did not protest against anything (ok, maybe Nato rearmament, nuclear reprocessing and the odd airport enhancement scheme), our children take to the streets to protest against climate change, globalization and gene-manipulated crops.

So after a while, it would only be right for you to show your concern for your childs sensitivities in this area. For instance, by talking about soy beans with your child, because a) your child might not now that soy beans are a form of crop and b) gene-manipulated soy has become so pervasive these days, that it is getting close to impossible to get any soy products that do not at least contain traces of gene-manipulated soy. Sometimes even if it says "ecological" on the label.

This will probably be a real challenge for your child, because it now has to abandon all those products that made becoming a vegetarian such an easy-peasy thing in the first place as well: soy burgers, soy sausages... you, of course, provided them. To help your child stick to its decision. But now, you are afraid, has come the time to ween it off these crutches. Remind it of the deep immorality of gene manipulated crops and the dangers these can pose to the earth. Watch "Jurassic Parc" with it and discuss the problems of containing genetically altered life presented in the movie.

Assure your child that a healthy living is possible even without a protein source like soy. Cereals, fruits, nuts, vegetables... there's so much to choose from! Remind it also that mankind is an omnivore and that soy was unheard of in medieval Europe and meat a rarity for the poorer folks - rare as in a few times a year. And still they survived.

If you have not already done so, go medieval in your meals: bread with with cabbage. Or with turnips. Another meatless classic you can try is potatoes with spinach. And, on sundays, with a hardboiled egg. As a treat.

If you vigorously support your child in all this, it will follow. More: it will be proud of you and tell its friends that it managed to make you a vegetarian as well (just make sure you never mention the fact that your company operates a subsidized canteen with low price meals like roastbeef and potatoes).

Keep the routine on for a couple of weeks. Your child will need some time to settle in with broccoli, courgettes and peppers (did you now that there are deep frozen burgers available made from broccoli and nuts?), and you will need some time to read up and/or google on the reaction of plants to external stress.

So you think it's ok to eat plants, eh? Because they don't suffer, eh? Boy (girl), are you wrong... let me show you this video here I found on YouTube that shows the reactions of a plant when you tear off a leaf. Now think of a harvester, gowing through a field of corn...
Oh, and plants communicate. If a tree gets attacked it is capable of sending out pheromones to warn other trees in the vicinity about the attack - so that the other trees in turn can alter the chemical composition of their sap to ward off any snack-attack coming their way. One for all, but not quite all for one.

Now, when you go out into the garden to pick the veggies for tonight's dinner (you were smart enough to start a grow-your-own campaign with your child, weren't you?) think about what the brussels sprouts plant experiences every time you cut off one of the little cabbage heads...

At this time your child will realize that whatever it does, by eating it will cause a living being to suffer. "But then what can I eat?" it will cry out in despair. "How can I live without making other living things suffer?"

This then is the right time to introduce your child to Soylent Green (tm).