Our Children Are Watching

Our Children Are Watching

By Gonan Premfors

“Coup underway! Bridges in Istanbul blocked by military”, I read the text on my phone slowly. The coup attempt began when we were having dinner with friends. The energy in the small quaint Turkish coastal town, where we have our summer house, changed instantly as cell phones buzzed and news streamed live on screens everywhere. Our summer paradise had turned into a tense political cauldron as nobody knew who was rooting for who.

Gas stations were jammed with cars filling their tanks, ATM’s had big lines and soon cashless, supermarkets were packed with people buying drinking water, tins of food and as much fresh bread as they could carry. Television sets lit up the houses and the voices of newscasters, some supportive of the coup and others against it, echoed between houses. From our home we could hear sirens, cars honking, people shouting and hovering helicopters.

Borders had been closed and planes were being turned around. Nobody could come or go. If things got violent we had talked about a plan; we had our passports, cash and a loose plan to buy a boat and head straight for Chios, the closest Greek island. Then we hunkered down and waited to see how bad it would get. We were in touch with friends and family in Istanbul and Ankara who were telling us about the helicopters firing at buildings and fighter jets doing low passes over their homes. Our annual summer holiday of sun, food, and friends had turned bloody and frightening. For the first time in my daughter’s life I feared for her safety.

The next morning I woke up to the sound of fighter jets screeching across the skies. The modern Turkey I loved had again been catapulted back in time by 30 years and reminded me of my childhood experiences of tanks on the street, soldiers at every corner, and fear – so much fear.

Image of Istanbul bridge blocked by military during coup attempt

I used to crave reading and watching the news with all these egomaniacal men in leadership positions parading around podiums making ridiculous statements to rally their base entertaining. I used to scoff at the thought of them running the world. Well some of these people are in power now, elected officials, they won, and I have now realized that their divisive rhetoric has no punch line worthy of my laugh.

Now, it’s important that I stress that not all world leaders are this way, just some very important ones. It’s also worth pointing out that the voices of the extremes (whether left or right) are becoming stronger and rallying bigger support. This new brand of leadership I am witnessing is disturbing. Not because I agree or disagree with their political views, this has nothing to do with an economic model, a health care plan, or my stance on immigration.

This new brand of leadership is disturbing to me as a parent. I do not know how to explain or even justify the actions of these men to our children.

What we are witnessing flies in direct opposition of what my kindergarten teacher was trying to teach me when I was five years old. Every pillar of citizenship that I am striving to teach my child: play nicely, inclusion, community, compassion, empathy, how to share, are all being met with a reality, if you believe these leaders, that is almost the complete opposite. At some point we have to ask ourselves, if we wouldn’t tolerate this kind of behavior from our neighbors, if we would demand better from our co-workers and friends, if we would pause to have a very frank conversation about human connection and values with our own family had them or anyone we know displayed such disregard for love and peace – how on earth have we chosen to tolerate this behavior from our world leaders.

We as parents are the bridge between our children and the outside world. We are constantly modeling what accepted behavior looks like and how to act, react, and respond in a multitude of human experiences. Yet I challenge you to think of a sound bite or attribute put forth by our leaders today that you would want emulated by your child.

Children watching TV

How is it that we are tolerating such deviation from our norm from the very people we voted into power, voted to represent us the people. Our worldwide political systems forces us into our respective corners and blinds us to the possibility that our loyalty is guaranteed no matter what. At what cost? EU/Brexit, Republican/Democrat, Liberal/Conservative, global warming/climate change deniers or any other polarizing points of view: we protect and hold firm to our stance, our team colors, and opinions no matter how far off they are from the core values and beliefs that we hold near and dear to our heart.

When do we raise our hand and demand a little better from our own side?

This is a call to action. Complacency can no longer be our modus operandi. We the healthy bystanders on the sideline must voice our discontent with what we are seeing and in some sense o.k.ing, because the truth is our children are watching and learning, they are watching us and our leadership and they are learning, learning a set of values that you would never want to see in your own child.

At the end of the day most countries, including my country of birth, are still democracies where the voice of the people must be heard. We somehow put these men in power and they should be working for us, not vice versa. We are not their subjects, they are accountable to us. If we don’t let reason and justice prevail I am fearful that our voices will quickly become muted and lose their importance.

But in order for our voices to be heard, we must also learn to hear the “other side” and learn how to include them and make sure we don’t alienate them. Ultimately we all have the same fears, the same desires, and the same hopes. Ironically we hold the same values to be true. In my view, we must work as hard to understand those we don’t agree with as hard as we fight bad leadership.

The Turkish coup attempt of 2016 was not bloodless. More than 300 people died and in excess of 70,000 people were arrested. Turkey is still recovering. The fear we felt was real, and it makes me incredibly sad that the sense of not feeling safe from my childhood had returned and my daughter got a taste of a tragedy that really should be no more.

The coup experience was an important reminder for me to not forget about the lessons of the past, and the importance of bringing up a generation that knows themselves and what it takes to be a good and productive human. To understand what the world looks like today, we need to look at the world through our children’s eyes and discover what they see. Do you see good leadership, good values, good citizenship? If you don’t, for the sake of our children, you need to stand up and change the narrative of what it takes to be a good leader. Our children are watching.

Gonan Premfors

Gonan is the originator of the philosophies behind Gozamm, the home of the Parentology, Trust and Open Heart workshops. An industry thought-leader and a perennial innovator, Gonan is setting trends in the realms of families and business worldwide. Her eclectic background; being born in Turkey, married to a Swede, having lived in the Middle East for 25 years and now living in California, she truly brings a new dynamic perspective to an important field. -- view all articles