It’s impossible not to be stunned into utter disbelief and horror that a child of 15 can commit a cold blooded, pre-meditated murder of a trusted figurehead in front of other children but, yet again, we see that it can happen. It has happened before and will no doubt happen again. Where has childhood gone? When did violence, anger, disrespect and lack of compassion become so easy for a child to manifest? It chills me to the bone to think that there are children going to bed at night with feelings of hatred and the desire to kill. Where did that come from? Was it always thus? What has happened to innocence?
I am blessed with the opportunity to work with a great many children and many of them are polite and well mannered – most of the time. But even in those children there are cracks that show themselves quite often, exposing vulnerability, unhappiness and disconnectedness from what childhood is (or should be) all about. I am no expert on childhood; I am no expert on psychological problems that haunt us all in these fractious times but I have seen, over the years, the gradual break down of intrinsic happiness in children – even those who one would say were blessed and fortunate.
Childhood is becoming a pressure cooker full of problems for our (and their) future. We adults wear our busyness as a badge of some kind of masochistic honour and have rendered a society around ourselves that feels inadequate if it doesn’t match up to our level of accepted busyness. Add to that we have been railroaded into a life of intense consumerism and materialism and we are seen as some kind of weird outcast if we don’t conform to that model. And what effect has this had on our children? They have become by-products of that insidious and super-effective manipulation of governments, big business and the media.
Our lives no longer allocate time as having any real and blessed value. Economic pressure expects you to be rushing around like a blue-arsed fly because in doing so you won’t have time to cook, make do and mend, walk somewhere instead of drive, make something, stay at home, etc. And if you don’t have time to cook, make do and mend, walk, create something, stay at home then what are you going to do? You’re going to buy processed or fast food, buy new disposable tat from China, buy new cars and plenty of fuel, find instant gratification at a pub, cinema, theme park etc.
And we don’t just stop at doing that as adults; no, we pass those habits and behaviours onto our children from day one. We’ll force a dummy in our baby’s mouth to stop it crying and then sit it in front of a TV as soon as it’s able to be put in a sitting position to entertain it. From that moment on we have disconnected our child from childhood. From that moment on our child will expect instant gratification in the form of something that can be switched on, put in its mouth or given as a decoy to replace true parental care and love.
So many of our children are simply not given time by their parents. So many are probably loved by their parents but in a way that is so, so desperately disconnected with the kind of love that children urgently require. It happens on so many levels too. I see it all the time. The well-to-do parents who work every hour that God gives will lavish expensive gifts on their child and allow them TVs, computers and video games in their bedrooms and, consequently no control over their usage. I have seen the terrible consequences that can have on children. They lose every vestige of self respect because they’ve never had to earn anything or work hard to achieve anything. On that level, those children are nigh on impossible to work with or reach in any way.
Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum you have children whose parents don’t earn a fortune but are still too busy to give their children time. They both have to work (we won’t even go into the problems of single parent families) to enable them to pay for all the things that society expects them to have. Notice I don’t say they are too busy to love their children. I’m sure they do love them but they don’t have the time to show it. But, because of the sacrifices these parents make the pressure is on their children to a) beat themselves into some kind of apoplectic state over exam results and school success and b) to fill every spare moment of their out-of-school time on a different activity, be it sport, music, clubs etc. They too have become disconnected from childhood because they are never in any one place for more than a couple of hours to discover what childhood is all about because they are desperately trying to prove something to – whom? Parents who want to keep up with the Jones’s? I see that happen too often too.
Then there is another group of parents who choose to ignore their children’s needs because they are too concerned with their own. And, quite often, those needs are probably derived from the fact that they never knew what childhood was themselves. They don’t know how to give and share love and time because they, themselves, never received it. They get their gratification from alcohol, drugs, tobacco and their children have to learn to find their own way in life. I don’t, personally, see this childhood as any worse than those others discussed above.
Our children are forced to learn to be mini adults from a very early age. They are also forced into being brought into the mire of society’s problems from the moment they can comprehend what’s going on around them. As soon as they get to school at 5yrs they are being taught about drugs, childbirth, sex education, paedophiles, etc. At 11 they are being taught how to put condoms on a banana. And then, of course, they have access to every amount of foul content in films, pop songs, video games and internet sites. They are given free reign to access all these heinous things because parents are too busy to entertain, talk to, share time with their children. It’s a blessing to many parents that they can foist their offspring onto some electronic form of entertainment.
What is the answer? I don’t know. It’s all too far gone along the road to perdition as far as I can tell. How can society work on what’s needed to repair broken, disconnected childhood when it continues to pressure children into getting umpteen GCSEs, go to University and carry a £35+k debt for a second rate degree, spend all their parents’ money on throw-away electronic gadgets and tat because society pressures us all to spend to make the economy grow (another subject for another day), spend every evening away from home at some club or other just so that parents can have some ‘me’ time and, most importantly, when we simply refuse to listen to children. We simply don’t listen to children – with our hearts, our souls and our ears. We ignore them; we entertain them for the sake of entertainment; we feed them volumes of crap food because the media makes us feel inadequate if we don’t and we happily hand them over to other, underpaid or voluntary adults who will take over the reigns because we haven’t got the time.
And that, basically, applies to those in this world who ‘have’. The ‘have-nots’ are not really a different story. They still give birth to children who quickly become disillusioned, unhappy and un-listened to. It’s no different really.
And then, when things go wrong – either on a more parochial level or national headlines level – we all jump up and down and think that another child has gone the wrong way.
IT’S NOT THE CHILD’S FAULT! We cannot hold children responsible for losing their way in childhood. We cannot expect them to conform to a society that expects exemplary behaviour when their parents no longer have time for children and when society and the media forces us all into the consumerist/instant success and gratifying/materialistic/self-centred rat race that governs our species. We have to turn attention away from following the herd and being pressured by big business and turn it, instead, to just ‘being there’ for our children. By allowing them to be children without fear of being told to ‘be quiet’, ‘get on with your homework’, ‘I’ll buy you a new one’ or, so importantly, ‘you can’t go out and play because you might get abused/murdered/abducted’ they will grow to understand that life is not about being bought, sidelined or ignored and they will learn to value love, time and relationships and trust others. Maybe our children will be happy again, one day. God, I hope so.