The Merits of Accidentally Indoctrinating Your Kids

For all their innate creativity and free-spiritedness, young children believe just about anything you tell them. They do this out of innocence. And they do it because they fully trust you.

This is why you rarely find a kindergartener who leans a different political (or religious) direction from his parents. Young children might openly reject vegetables or chores, but not the belief systems of their mom or dad. 5-year-olds can be disagreeable, but they’re not dissidents.

This is why I’m not a fan of indoctrinating them. Young kids are deeply malleable in their early developmental stages, and I feel it’s not advisable to try imprinting a dogma (even a good one) onto a child’s psyche before she’s old enough to evaluate its merits on her own. Healthy behaviors and attitudes? Yes, we should do our best. Ideologies? Not so much.

But what if it’s accidental? What if your children — let’s say a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, to use a totally random example out of the clear blue sky — become unwaveringly devoted to something — let’s say a 5-piece rock band their parents love, to use another totally random example out of the same clear blue sky — simply by osmosis?

What if you indoctrinate them without trying to indoctrinate them?

Our Greyson (5) and our Violet (3) are currently in the throes of a truly single-minded obsession. Greyson has always been prone to varying forms of monomania. First it was cars and trucks; then it was animals of all kinds; then it was every bird imaginable; then it was big cats; then it was 4 consecutive, oddly impressive, increasingly demoralizing months of Christmas carols.

And now he has a new obsession, which he shares with his little sister. An interest that borders on compulsion (but, you know, in an adorable way).

That interest, that fixation, is Caspian. A deeply likable, deeply obsessable instrumental rock band from Beverly, Massachusetts that has released 6 studio albums in 19 years, and once had a song on a Ricky Gervais show for Netflix. A band which Greyson and Violet’s mom, and also their pops (that’s me), both admire with deep devotion.

I can’t imagine there are a plethora of married people who each, separately, are convinced that the same band is the best band on the planet. But here are Dani and me, an in-sync anomaly. (We don’t share this same adoration of ‘N Sync, to be clear.)

And here are Greyson and Violet, our similarly in-sync progeny, who have somehow — through some bizarre and entirely unexplainable phenomena! — come to the same conclusion about the music we just so happen to listen to all the time.

So what does our kids’ obsession look like?

For Greyson, it’s more of an encyclopedic thing. His deeply idiosyncratic mind is one that instinctively categorizes and indexes things. So what he loves doing is learning and repeating lists of Caspian songs. He knows the sequences of all 6 album tracklists by heart, which has been enjoyable conversational fodder for our road trips since he was 3.

(It’s also a fun party trick! “What’s the fourth track of On Circles, Greyson?” “Division Blues!”)

He has also started asking us questions like “What’s the longest song on Waking Season?” and “What’s the most common [i.e. well-known] song on Dust and Disquiet?” and “What’s your favorite song on Tertia?” We are generally very happy to dispense this information to him, although it does get slightly exhausting when he reaches 30 or 40 questions in the span of a day (or an hour).

Greyson also loves to write out lists of Caspian songs and albums, either on paper or on his MagnaDoodle. He even crafted a little song this week composed only of Caspian song titles from The Four Trees, their first full-length album: “Moksha, Moksha… Some Are White Light… Sea Lawn, Crawlspace… Book IX, Book IX…” Pretty catchy-sounding tune, eh? I just hope he doesn’t get in trouble for plagiarizing his lyrics.

As for our tiny Violet, she’s a little less cerebral and a lot more tactile in her love of the band. Her favorite Caspian song is the hard-rocking “Collapser,” and she has been known to close her eyes and headbang. (Don’t worry, we carefully monitor this activity for safety.) Vi also loves “Castles High, Marble Bright,” a gorgeous and soul-stirring anthem. So she appreciates the full breadth of sonic and emotional textures that Caspian creates, God bless her little music-loving soul.

Violet and Greyson both do this odd thing where they make Caspian songs into characters to inhabit their stories. Just like they’ve done in the past with letters and animals and Christmas carols, they now fill their free-wheeling stories with references to anthropomorphized beings named “Flowers of Light” and “The Raven” and “Ishmael.” And those song-characters interact with each other just like people would. Our kids’ world-building skills are considerable! Not to mention their ability to remember 6 albums’ worth of song titles.

Additionally, both kids love to dance to Caspian songs before we go upstairs for bed. This means that Dani and I hold each of them and sway around to the music while we watch YouTube videos of live shows or music videos. Or they improvise their own dance moves on the living room floor.

They also request that we listen to Caspian in the dark while we go to sleep, and we have carefully delineated which are the “bedtime songs” that have a mellow enough vibe that they won’t get the kids (or their parents, for that matter) too wound up while we try to fall asleep. Fortunately, in addition to being masters of rock wizardry, Caspian writes a darn good ballad. Which means we have plenty of options to choose from for dancing, headbanging, or peacefully drifting into the throes of sleep.

It’s pretty clear that we’ve indoctrinated Greyson and Violet into the cult of Caspian. But we weren’t intending to do it. The choice was all theirs! We simply listened to Caspian frequently, within earshot of them. Plus, we honestly answered all their questions about album titles, song titles, band personnel, and how we feel about each song. Plus, it’s possible that we may have mentioned once or twice in passing that each of us happens to think that Caspian is the best band on the planet (or any other planet or moon in this solar system).

But we didn’t twist their arm or anything. We didn’t vilify people who choose to love other bands. We didn’t tell them that God would be sad (or mad) if they didn’t love Caspian.

Thus, I’m pretty sure we’re not guilty of brainwashing our small children. Our kids’ free will is intact. My conscience is clear on this point.

But having said that, I’ll tell you something.

I sure am relieved they chose the correct band to align themselves with and devote themselves to.

Nailed it. (Phew.)