Just how brilliant do you allow your children to be? How much of a chance do you give them to learn things for themselves? And do you let them think for themselves?
Due to what we shall term ‘A Baby-Sitting Malfunction’ I ended up taking my 7 year old son to Toastmasters, my speakers club, on Wednesday evening. In lots of ways it didn’t seem like a good idea. For a start he would be up very late – I don’t usually get back till at least 11pm – and in addition to that he would have to sit quietly for the best part of 3 hours and listen to a variety of adults speak, and respond appropriately. He would also have to listen to me speak, and manage himself whilst I wasn’t sitting with him. Now my little boy is a very intelligent and lively young man and at the age of 7 is still capable of a full-on-screaming-abdabs tantrum on rare occasions, so taking him with me did have an element of risk attached. However, the babysitter had indeed malfunctioned, and I was speaking that night so I couldn’t exactly ‘bunk off’. As it was the summer holidays he could be excused the late night … so off we went.
In the car on the way there I told him how the evening would go, and he was really excited about it. When we got there I introduced him to some of my friends and then we went and sat right at the front. The president of the club was lovely. She included his glove puppet ‘squeak mouse’ when she mentioned the guests that we had in the audience, which he loved, then the speeches began. Would you believe it? My little roof-raiser sat quietly through the evening, clapped at appropriate occasions, and conversed politely with people during the break. When it was time to go home he told me he had had the ‘best time in his life ever!’ ‘Ever?’ I asked. ‘Well so far!’ he said 🙂
The club doesn’t allow you to join or speak till you’re 16, which is understandable given the fact that it’s a place for professionals to keep their speaking skills sharp, but it set me wondering. There are so many things our kids could do if we just gave them half the chance. I’ve talked about this before (Fearless as a Child). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about ‘hot-housing’ – forcing your kids into academic brilliance when they’re not up for it. But when you see your child has a natural ability for something, and most of all they enjoy it, how many of us support them to follow that thing through, even if it’s something they’re theoretically too young for? You know at the age of three and a half my son had an avid interest in dinosaurs. And I’m not talking ‘Harry and His Bucket Full of Dinosaurs’, I mean the real McCoy. We used to sit there reading from a book so heavy that he couldn’t even rest it on his little legs. The typeface was of course tiny, but the pictures were wonderful. He’d leaf through till one caught his eye, and then say ‘Mummy tell me about that one!’ and I’d read and explain the accompanying text. Then when he went to school he was suddenly plunged into a world of ‘Tom is here. Jill is here. Where is the dog?’ It switched him off for a long time, though thankfully he has had a brilliant teacher this last academic year who has turned him on to learning again. If your child picked up an academic book clearly written for adults, and asked you about the contents, would you read it to them? Not all parents would you know.
I think that as a culture we sometimes stunt our kids’ growth without even realising it. We don’t always give them the chance to find out for themselves. A dear friend once reprimanded me for giving her young son grapes still on the stem. ‘If you give it to him like that, he’s going to eat the stem too!’ she said. Well, maybe the first time, but he won’t do it again will he? How is he ever going to learn to pick the grapes off himself if you keep doing it for him? It’s a balance and not always an easy one to achieve. Of course you don’t let your children find out for themselves that walking into the road without looking could get you into trouble, part of a parent’s job is to keep their children safe. Yet there are so many things that they can work out for themselves thereby learning about the situation in hand, AND learning vital skills in terms of thinking and analysis.
Many years ago now I used to head up a Jewish Sunday school, and on one occasion the children and teachers were preparing for a meal to which all the parents would be invited. We were cutting a salad and I asked my teaching assistant to cut the tomatoes. I watched, astonished, as she pretty much annihilated them. She was doing her best. She explained to me that this was the first time she had ever cut a tomato! Wow! I was shocked. How is it possible for a person to reach a good 20 years of age and never learn to cut fruit and vegetables with a sharp knife?
Do you let your children use sharp knives? I do. How else will they learn? I allow my two and three year old to hold the knife with me so that they get used to the various motions of cutting. If it’s something easy, say my three year old has a small amount of cheese on her plate and she wants it in even smaller pieces I will allow her to use a sharp knife independently while I watch. And I let my seven year old son use a knife independently and unsupervised, because he has been using one so long that he knows how. If there’s something he isn’t confident about cutting he will ask for help. The other day he peeled a kiwi and cut it into pieces. That’s my boy! I don’t have to hide knives away from them because they know that knives can be dangerous if misused, so they treat them with respect. I explained to my kids that the most useful things are often also the most dangerous. Things like knives or fire, or cars or electricity. I explained that you shouldn’t be afraid of them, just learn how to use them safely and effectively.
Let’s empower our kids. Instead of cosseting them from life, leaving some of them ignorant and incapable and others so plain frustrated and angry that they have to launch a full scale rebellion just to gain themselves the right to live their own lives, let’s support them in following their capabilities and their dreams. I’ll tell you what, as a life coach and hypnotherapist I wouldn’t be dealing with half the cases I end up dealing with if people had given their kids a chance to start with. We all make mistakes, every one of us, so let’s not dwell on the past, but focus on the now and on the future. Ask yourself the question ‘How can I empower my child today to be the best that he or she can be?’
I was so proud of my son the other night. Several members of the club came up to him and congratulated him on doing so well, and he accepted the compliments most graciously. The experience may even have ignited in him a lifelong passion for the spoken word, and all because circumstance gave him a chance to experience being amongst people who have just that passion.
This week, empower yourself, others and most of all the children whose lives you are blessed to touch!
What on earth is going on with our children? More to the point, what on earth has happened to our society that allows 14 years olds to roam the streets, smashing shop windows and stealing electronic equipment? And the biggest question of all is: what are we going to do about it?
I don’t need to tell you what’s happening on our streets right now, night after night. Turn on any news channel and its all they’re talking about. To cut a long story short many of the youth of this country are committing theft, arson and general destruction on such a scale that the police are considering measures like water cannons and rubber bullets in order to control them. Some of these kids are barely out of nappies. I’m betting most of the vandals that have terrorised the streets of the UK for the last four nights don’t do their own washing or cook their own meals … so it’s not just the kids who are ‘ill’. It’s us. We are bringing up a nation of thugs. It’s time we did something about it.
What’s the answer? Well first of all the threat of water cannons and rubber bullets may have cleared London’s streets last night, but it hasn’t solved the root of the problem – the young perpetrators are mostly still at large, and they still hold a lawless attitude. A ‘Robust approach’ is not the only answer. There will be many who call for a ‘return to traditional values’, but I don’t think we can return to anything. There is only going forward. We need to identify the reasons, and make sure that the solution is something that is relevant to the young people of today. Also, saying that the young people are bored or see no future for themselves is not a deep enough description of what is happening. There are plenty other ways to deal with boredom than to go out looting.
I think we can start to understand what is happening by looking at these three related factors:
• The Media
• What is acceptable to us as a society
• The way that we as parents and educators are raising our children
Give your eyes a good rub and take a look at what is offered to us and our children for entertainment these days. The media is awash with violence, sex, and greed. As we speak my six year old son is sitting in front of the tv watching cartoons that depict young people fighting for their survival, and to ‘save the world’. Aggression and violence is always the answer in these cartoons. If there is any intelligence or problem solving involved it’s very much a ‘side serving’ rather than the main dish. Most of the computer games you can buy today, and which our young immerse themselves in, are similarly violent. Sex has become a currency for selling anything, and is portrayed as something that needs no boundaries, something that anyone can do for fun. Don’t we have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the world? Are we alright with that?
And as for greed, isn’t it all about stuff, stuff, stuff these days? What you have defines who you are in our society. TV shows one ad after another for more and more toys, more and more ‘bling’ and during the actual programmes makes it clear that if you want to be in with these guys you have to have these things. You have to be made up, you’ve got to be dressed right, and in a sexually appealing fashion. Recently there was a fuss in the media about our music videos being too sexually explicit, and if we’re honest that’s not the only problem. The language is very explicit, and the actual messages portrayed by the music are often those of lawlessness, promiscuity and greed.
But before we blame the media for society’s ills we need to stop and take a look at society itself. Because all the media does is reflect back to us what we as a society are. The media is giving us what we ask for, because that is what pays. So the media is a very accurate measure of what is going on in society itself. If you take a look at our media channels you begin to realise that we as a society therefore allow greed, violence and aggression, promiscuity and bad language. These things have become the norm for us. Children will push the boundaries, it’s one of the things they do best, and look at the boundaries they’re pushing! Is it any wonder that so many of our young think these things are ok? After all these are the messages we are giving them , or at least allowing them to absorb. We need to take a long hard look at ourselves! As any parent will know, your children often force you to reassess the way you approach life, and our kids are currently doing this on a national scale. We need to wake up!
So we approach the third point. How are we raising our children? Well aside from giving them a raft of deeply twisted messages about what is right and normal in our world today, our actual methods of parenting and teaching need looking at. Most of today’s parents are so busy making a living that we’re not giving our kids the attention they need. I have 3 children of my own, I know this isn’t easy. Today’s life is fast, it’s not always simple, and we have to keep up to keep our families afloat. But this means we are too tired and stretched to actually raise our kids. So they’re raising themselves or being raised by the TV and their peers – and look where that has lead! Even when we do find time for our kids, we don’t seem to know what to do to manage them. We turn to the ways we were brought up, and let’s be fair, justice was often meted out fairly aggressively, even if it was just how we were spoken to. ‘Clear up your room or you don’t go out.’ ‘Do your homework or no TV.’. And so sometimes if we’re a little enlightened we’ll say to ourselves ‘I don’t want to be an aggressive parent, I want to be a nice one’, so what are we replacing aggression with? Permissiveness! Now everything is alright. Kids can do whatever they like if they just push hard enough. ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ has somehow become ‘kids know best’. They don’t. They’re kids. They need us to bring them up, that’s what we’re for. If we as parents and teachers don’t take charge and teach them right from wrong, who is going to?
So now on to solutions. First, we need to heal our own attitudes and thus heal our media. The society we have created and continue to create is patently not working. When the children rise up and start the process of self destruction that has got to be a potent message for us that we’re doing something badly wrong. We need to reassess our basic societal values. How much stuff do we actually need? Is the over sexualisation of everything really acceptable to us? Is aggression really the answer to everything? Is permissiveness the answer? Is the way we habitually speak and the language that has come to be regarded as normal actually alright with us?
Come on and take a stand. None of these things are acceptable. You don’t have to be religious, or ‘a prude’ or ‘old fashioned’ to realise that the way we are living is NOT WORKING. We need to clean up our act, and demonstrate better values to our kids. We need higher ideals. We need better ways of dealing with adversity. Let’s bring in gratitude for what we have. Let’s bring in a focus on the beautiful things in life and on inner beauty. Let’s bring in working together to make things better. Let’s bring in assertiveness and an intelligent approach to replace aggressiveness or passiveness in our dealings with our world and in our parenting. Our rioting children are doing us a big favour. They are giving us a wake up call that we ignore at our peril. We need to change as a society and we need to do it now, for the sake of our future. We owe it to our kids.