When parents project beliefs onto children.

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After the image of a young boy holding a sign with the words “Behead all those who insult the Prophet” went viral, there were calls for the mother of the boy – who was pictured taking a photo of her young son, as he held the sign next to his younger sibling sleeping in a pram – to be tracked down.

Some even called for the children to be taken away from their parents.

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell asked for the Department of Community Services to investigate the matter and keep him personally updated.

Here’s what David Penberthy wrote about the mother on The Punch:

Dave Penberthy

Normal parents go out of their way to shield their kids from repellent images and distressing concepts. If your kids happen to see images on the television of passenger jets being flown into buildings, or a pile of bodies lying on a war-torn street, it is normal to tell them it is nothing and change the channels.

If, God forbid, your child happened to ask you what beheading was, you would find a way to change the subject pretty quickly. Happily, children are not even aware of the hideous concept. Except in Sydney on Saturday, where a bunch of kids under the age of 10 paraded through the CBD with placards kindly made for them by good old Mum and Dad, one of them saying the enemies of Allah should have their heads chopped off.

This morning we woke to the news that the mother everyone was talking about had turned herself in to police.

This from

A NSW Police spokeswoman confirmed this morning the mother of the boy who was photographed with a sign reading “behead those who insult the Prophet” approached police overnight to hand herself in.

The spokeswoman confirmed the woman would not be charged.

Community Services workers visited the woman’s home and carrying out welfare checks on her children.

NSW Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward spoke to ABC radio this morning and confirmed police had spoken to the mother – who had no previous criminal history. Goward told ABC Sydney:

Pru Goward

“She overnight came in to a police station and admitted that it was her child.

“Parents do crazy things, she might well have just thought it was a giggle to get him to hold a sign, a cute little photograph.

“But it just isn’t acceptable to the rest of us.

“She apparently said that the child had been brought because they didn’t expect it to become violent, which you might disagree with.”

I was as horrified as anyone by the image of that child holding the sign. And I was not surprised when I heard the calls to “take those kids away from their parents” in the days that followed. However, that was never going to be the answer. What the mother did was not a crime under Australian law. She was guilty of appalling judgement, for sure. But parents instilling particular values or beliefs in their children is not against the law.

Last year, I wrote this column about sitting my daughter down to explain ever so gently that Leggings Are Not Pants:

From the moment I gave birth to a daughter, I knew this day would come. The conversation was crucial and it would have been negligent of me to avoid it. I just didn’t expect to be having it so soon; she’s only five!

“Darling,” I began gently one day, crouching down to her level to make eye contact as I held her hands tenderly in mine. “Leggings are not pants.”

As her face registered confusion, I seized the opportunity to continue. “You see, leggings are more like tights,” I explained carefully. “That means they’re different to jeans or pants. We don’t wear them the same way.” She regarded me defiantly. “But I like these leggings!” she protested. I remained calm, maintained eye contact, and spoke kindly yet firmly. “So do I darling, your leggings are lovely. They just need a skirt over the top of them. Or a dress. Heck, even a longer t-shirt.”

I used this anecdote as a springboard into a bigger issue: what values do we instill into our children and what did our parents instill into us?
Mia Freedman

Was it wrong to impose my views about leggings onto my daughter? Had I crushed her little spirit? Or was it my duty as a parent, hell as a woman, to pass on the single fashion philosophy I live by?

Because surely that’s what parents do. Imprint our values onto our children in big ways and small. Share our wisdom. For example, in our household we teach our kids that gay people should be able to marry and that hopefully it will soon happen in Australia. We teach them to have compassion towards asylum seekers no matter how they arrive here and that NO child should ever be sent to live behind razor wire. We teach them to recycle and to turn off lights and taps to help the environment. Since they’re all values my husband and I hold dear, how could we raise our children any other way?

Still, the leggings conversation started me thinking about which beliefs are OK to project and which should be left up to them to figure out for themselves.

Obviously we’ll cross anything illegal or life-threatening off the DIY list. All decent parents teach their kids that smoking is bad and so are drink-driving and sunburn. Seat-belts? Mandatory. Duh.

But beyond those kinds of things, it can become murky. Is believing in a particular religion different to passing on your beliefs about vegetarianism or feminism? What about footy teams? Political parties?

Ultimately, I wondered if it came down to how you view children in relation to their parents. Are children simply an extension of mum and dad, like whacking a sun deck extension on the back of the house? Or as parents should we provide our children with all the information and then allow them to make up their own mind? Easier said than done – and not always possible.

For example, some people believe that teaching your child that God exists is wrong. But if you truly believe that, what else can you convey to them? If you believe that eating animals is wrong, how can you in good conscience serve up chops for dinner? And when I wrote about explaining to my daughter that leggings-are-not-pants (in the same way that someone else might explain that sandals-shouldn’t-be-worn-with-socks), many people SLAMMED me for projecting my own views onto my child.

I’m sure there are other people who would slam me for teaching my kids that men should be able to marry men and women should be able to marry women and one day soon that will happen. But it’s what I believe and it’s what I want them to believe.

It’s not always easy to extricate your own beliefs from those you pass on.

Being a parent is about imprinting all kinds of values and beliefs onto your children every day, consciously and unconsciously. Because kids are sponges. For better or worse.

If they see Mum smoking or Dad hitting Mum, that embeds in their developing minds as ‘normal’ or appropriate behaviour. Just like if they hear their parents express views about religion or refugees or homosexuality or any political issue, then they will surely absorb those views.

By the same token, if they hear or see their parents doing POSITIVE things – treating each other with kindness, eating healthy food, being tolerant of diversity, recycling, volunteering, reading  – then this also embeds into their understanding of what it is to be a good adult.

And consider this. If a child saw the media coverage of the riots these past few days and asked you, “what’s that all about?” the answer you give has the ability to shape how they see Muslim people.

You can choose to say: “Those bloody Muslims are ruining this country and they should all be sent back to where they came from!” Or you can say: “It’s a small group of angry people who are mad about a silly film they don’t like and who are behaving very very badly. They may go to jail because you are not allowed to throw things at police or be violent towards other people not matter how upset you are.”

Because ultimately, every parent and every adult in a child’s life has the ability and the privilege to help shape their view of the world. That is a huge responsibility and one we must take care to honour in the most positive way we can.

What values did your parents instill in you, both positive and negative, both explicitly and implicitly? If you have kids, how do you decide which of your own beliefs to instill in them?