Does your child need ideologies?

Is it more crucial to keep children grounded to a belief system or allow them to find their own way?


Viggo Mortensen and Shree Crooks in ‘Captain Fantastic’.
Viggo Mortensen and Shree Crooks in ‘Captain Fantastic’.

Viggo Mortensen is a fierce, intense actor. Like most of the roles he does, the protagonist he plays in his latest film, Captain Fantastic, does not please or entertain. He is a middle-aged man named Ben Cash who lives in a gorgeously feral Washington wilderness with his six children. He home-schools them in hunting, physical endurance, the Bill of Rights, making music, Noam Chomsky (the family has a “Noam Chomsky Day” instead of Christmas) and capitalism (mostly inculcating hatred for it).

Before Captain Fantastic, I had seen Mortensen in The Road, a lukewarm adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s devastatingly good book of the same name, set in a phantasmal, post-apocalyptic America. He has been a chosen lead for Gus Van Sant and David Cronenberg—provocative, political directors. Peter Jackson made him famous as Aragorn in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

Captain Fantastic, in the circle of this year’s top movie awards, is an infuriating, yet uplifting film. Mortensen makes it both. In a slow pace, with his quiet, steely acting, Mortensen takes you to the heart of these questions: Does your teenager need ideological grounding? Do they need to inherit your leftist prism? Why deprive them of or scare them off junk food and supermarkets from childhood? Why do they need to aspire to have the physical agility of elite athletes?

Recently, a friend who has raised two daughters, both now adults, told me he and his wife never drilled any sort of beliefs in their children. They are atheists by choice, just like he and his wife are. See, read and listen to what they are seeing, reading and listening. Don’t say you had it tougher or purer, he said.

Ben Cash follows the exact opposite model of parenting—indoctrinating six human beings outside of any kind of institution with Chomskyan, anti-capitalist ideas about human progress. He believes it is his duty to do so.

I have not found new research that points to the relation between what children are taught to believe and what they do with that indoctrination after they grow up. But, in 2014, the British Journal Of Political Science published a study based on data gathered in the US and the UK which concluded that parents who are insistent their children adopt their political views inadvertently influence their children to abandon those beliefs once they become adults. Children who come from homes with strong political views are more likely to be political once they leave home. They also adopt new viewpoints more easily.

In our country, the training is usually in traditional norms and religion, the focus is the home. How the world outside behaves or misbehaves is not of utmost importance. But the Internet has burst that bubble. Today, a 15-year-old subscribes to several news lists on her smartphone. She is attuned to multiple views about the world. News is white noise.

Does that make the job of the parent harder? Is it then more crucial to keep children grounded to the rigour of an ideology or belief system so they know what choice means? I am inclined to think so, although I don’t have convincing answers for these questions. Ben Cash got me thinking. He would perhaps agree with me that growing up apolitical is worse than growing up a traditionalist or a capitalist or a liberal or a leftist.

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