Children and the Urban Environment

February 18, 2008

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en Espanol 

Carrie: I am joined this week by Monica Salazar all the way from Quito, Ecuador. Hi, Monica.

Monica: Hi Carrie, how are you?

C: I’m very good. We were chatting before, that this is the first time I’ve called South America. This is a treat!

Our topic today is Children and the Urban Environment. You are an Urban Geographer, and I’m not really familiar with what that term means. So before we start would you mind explaining a little bit more about what that means?

M: Urban Geography is the study of all the activities and everything that happens in an urban environment. I made my thesis on spatial-socio-economic segregation in my city, in Quito. Then I got interested in age segregation that is present now in the urban environment.

C: Ok, so from that background, you became a Mom. You got interested in natural parenting and babywearing, and so that obviously had a big impact on how you thought about the city and urban areas and the way that we operate in the city. So how did you make that leap – and how did that affect how you felt about the urban environment – becoming a mother?

M: I got pregnant in the beginning of my Master’s studies in Urban Geography. So as I was studying about the city, its structure, problems, activities, I was also living my pregnancy and a few months later was taking care of my baby. So I was also very interested in parenting issues. The information I was processing was a mixture of the Continuum Concept, scientific articles on Geography, breastfeeding videos and babywearing instructions. So I started to realize that – it became so obvious to me that if we solve children’s problems then the problems of society will be solved as well.

So as I resolved to become a natural parenting advocate, to warn not only parents but everyone in society about the importance of showing respect for children, of including them in our lives and of being aware of their needs.

C: You talk about age segregation. That’s obviously something that goes on in most of industrialized society, we kind of cordon off children to preschool and school and playgrounds and certain areas and adults in the workplace. What is your opinion of that in a culture and society? Do you see a problem with that?

M: Yes, the study of segregation among people in general has proven that segregation is the cause of conflict, misunderstanding, violence, lack of communication. But in my opinion when the segregation is among the young and the aged it could be even worse because if adult people, mature people cannot stand segregation; young people who are needing our care; they are more vulnerable to this situation.

So in my opinion the consequences are already present in the astonishing amount of cases of child violence and family conflicts, all of the problems relating to young people nowadays. Some teenagers having been alienated from urban life from early years often show behaviors as if they just came from Mars! They don’t know how to observe almost any urban rule, they don’t know how to greet, they don’t know how to talk to adults, they don’t seem to care about the environment or other people’s needs. So I think this is what could be generalized if we continue to segregate young people.

C: Ok, and that makes sense to me . Because as a homeschooling mom I can see that there is a lot of misunderstanding in the community about homeschooling. One of the issues that are brought up against homeschooling is the socialization issue. Which to me seems - it seems ridiculous- to me that my children would not be socialized well by spending time with me and with other adults. In my opinion, that would help them to socialize and learn appropriate behaviors. But for some people they think that that is a problem. So what you’re saying to me is backing up my own belief about that, that having children integrated with adults helps them to learn social skills. Would you agree?

M: Absolutely. When you take your child with you and for example with babies, one way to integrate them to the urban environment is to hold them in arms or in a sling, so they can see what is happening in real life. Instead of leaving them at home or carrying them in strollers where they cannot be totally aware of what is happening. And then you meet another mom and you greet and say “Hello” and “Thank you”, and you help other people or check out a book from the library, and they are observing us, they are learning us. I would say that this is the best classroom, the best way to teach them how to be good citizens in the future.

C: I totally agree. You sent me a beautiful report, or a file from your website, and I’ll make sure that I have that available on the website. (Note: You can download it here.) You show yourself and other mothers going through their daily activities with their babies and their children on their bodies, and it’s just a beautiful example of that. Anyway I totally agree with what you’re saying.

So what are some of the benefits – you talked about some of the negative things that come from this age segregation – but what are some of the benefits to society as a whole of integrating children into the urban environment?

M: In my opinion some of the benefits to avoid segregation and encourage interaction between people of all ages are to encourage understanding and respect among people. A great benefit of having kids and their parents around is that, parenting skills can be taught to younger generations.

And this can be confirmed by any breastfeeding advocate. They will tell you the fact that a mother who has had the opportunity to observe other breastfeeding mothers will make the whole breastfeeding experience easier, right? That’s the same with most parenting practices. The more we see parents with their kids, the better are going to be our parenting skills because we have more information. So if you don’t know about baby slings for example, the more you see a happy mom with a happy baby in a sling, the more chance that you will babywear.

I think that the number one benefit to have happy kids around is that our urban environment will be enriched with such teachers because we know that kids have such enormous potential, they have such innocent minds. You as a mom will confirm that the things that we learn with our kids are amazing. When I was not a mom, I would not think the way I think now. That benefit could be also transmitted to society as a whole.

C: Yes I agree. That’s very true. And one of those things that we learn when we become a mother is how to slow down and enjoy the moment. And I think we struggle with that, as adults we focus on producing all of the time whereas children are very into their moment to moment experience of life. And sometimes we struggle with that internally to slow down and stop and smell the roses so to speak the way that children do. And the more we adopt that way of being in the world, the easier we find that transition to motherhood.

I can definitely agree with what you’re saying – that can benefit society as a whole. It’s a different dynamic when you bring children into a space. I was just reading on the internet yesterday about a group that is taking babies into the schools, and they’re saying that it has an impact on bullying. That when older children spend time with babies and toddlers, it helps them to overcome bullying. Isn’t that interesting?

M: Absolutely. Being around kids makes your behavior better, because when kids are there, your language is better. Everything is – you try to be your best do your best, especially when young kids are around. The presence of kids could make us aware of the importance of creating a good environment for all of us. Because if kids are there, we are going to be aware that they are going to be the future leaders of the society, and we have to take care of them. It’s not only a theory that kids are the future of our cities. Because we are going to see, and we will try to respect that. We will try to take care of the environment and make a better place for them and their health… and we will benefit from that better place as well.

C: You mentioned breastfeeding earlier and how children who are raised with breastfeeding as their normal experience are going to have fewer challenges if they decide to breastfeed their own children. Or in the case of a boy, he normalizes breastfeeding. That’s the normal thing. My sons talk about how when they get married, they want their wives to breastfeed their babies!

One of the issues we have here in this country, and I don’t know if it’s so much an issue where you live, but we give lip service to the concept that breastfeeding is best for mother and baby and the world. But, women often have issues when they’re out in public, meeting the needs of their babies. So what can we do when we’re with our child, to make sure they have a healthy experience in the urban environment? Public breastfeeding would be a big part of that – what are your thoughts on that?

M: I think it’s useful to ask ourselves, “Does my child know my friends?” “Does he know my workplace?”, “Does he know what my job is about?”, “Does he visit regularly the same places that I visit?” So, with small children I recommend that they be carried as much as possible before they are able to walk and even later, so that they feel that they are a part of this environment. And as well, whenever children start learning through their parents, especially the mom, so to give them the opportunity to see the adults, greeting other people, saying hello, is a way of teaching them, of making sure they are having a good environment.

But it’s as simple as making sure that our children are going with us as much as possible, and to observe the behavior that we want to teach them: to be good citizens, if you want. I don’t mean to suggest to be extremely aware of making them participate in the activities of the city.

It’s not even necessary to encourage them to greet or to tell them how things work unless they ask you, because the simple fact that you are interacting with the urban environment, and the fact that you are taking your child along with you, will make him or her assimilate the urban customs. Like the culture, the good manners, throughout the adult participation.

C: What you’re talking about reminds me of the work of Jean Leidloff, who wrote a book called The Continuum Concept. Are you familiar with her work at all?the continuum concept.jpg

M: Yes.

C: That was definitely an eye opening book for me, it was one of those things that once you read it, you view everything differently afterwards. It was just amazing to me how the parents that she observed behaved with their children. Things that we kind of take for granted – that they did not have to teach their children because their children were with them, and the children just learned how to be in their culture.

Just the example of when the parent would take off walking through the forest, they never stopped to wonder if the child was following them. They took that for granted and the child always did follow them! And they just seemed to understand that that was the thing to do, it is the thing that is done. And that was so interesting to me, that they didn’t have to train their children “Ok, you need to follow me now…” .

M: Actually by reading The Continuum Concept and at the same time, studying segregation in cities, that’s when I started thinking about this problem in the cities. I took The Continuum Concept and just linked the two kind of studies.

C: Yes it’s a fascinating topic to discuss, and this has been a really interesting conversation Monica. And we’re actually going to be having you back on the show in a couple of weeks to talk about your pot-in-pot method of keeping food cool. And I’m not going to give it all away now, we’ll save it for the next conversation, but for those who are interested in saving money and reducing their impact on the environment by lessening the amount of electricity they use, that will be an interesting discussion and I’m looking forward to it myself. Thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.

M: Thank you Carrie.


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One Response to “Children and the Urban Environment”

  1. Robin on February 18th, 2008 2:19 pm

    THAT was a great read Carrie and Monica, definitely very interesting. I never did experience any baby wearing, but I was a breastfeeding, stay at home, work at home mom with my children right in the midst of my daily doings. I used to just think it was cute when my daughter would mimic some of my actions, but now I am proud that I was teaching even when I didn’t realize it. I need to give myself more credit;)

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