It seems rare that I read a newspaper article that really hits the spot. Christine Jackman’s article in the Weekend Australian ‘Magazine’ Oct 3-4, titled, “Fragile: Do Not Expose to Life” is one of these.
Reminiscent of Richard Louv’s movement, ‘No Child Left Indoors’, Christine Jackman talks about taking children ‘off the beaten track’ even if in the local suburban park. Let them play with nature, get dirty, cut and bruise themselves.
She reiterates what many of my friends tell about their childhood. One of my friends said his mother only came down to the beach to find them once in their childhood, when they were late from a fishing trip (just the children in a row boat in the ocean) because they missed the tide and it was after dark and they were still rowing in.
I often took myself off for hour on weekends roaming around the family farm, cutting across a couple of farms to get to the creek and then exploring my way down a kilometre before walking back along the road. Often no-one knew where I was.
When my sons were children I would occasionally walk them up a mount behind our town, a three hour round trip. They weren’t entirely thrilled. The played regular sport (mostly field hockey with those hard sticks and very hard ball). Last year I took my son with me to walk up Mt Bartle Frere (the highest mountain in Queensland but a mere 8 kilometer walk) with some seasoned walkers. My 15 year old raced up the mountain to be first up and back. Although he grumbled initially about it, he seemed to enjoy the company of middle aged adults in that venture, and their easy repartee with him.
I think I was still overprotective of my sons. It came in response to the near misses I had as a child and teenager, some which may have caused death or severe disability, others included paedophiles. Now I have had the experience of raising sons, I can look at protection in a new light.
Firstly that children should be allowed to explore in nature – it ensures growth of physical strength and intellectual capacity – but not alone without adults or responsible older youth.
Secondly, adventure leads to pain and adults must learn how to approach children in pain. Calm observation is necessary in cases of mild and severe injury. For mild injury, whatever first aid is necessary, reassurance, and encouragement is important. The child must be able to vent their distress and fear, and it is the adults job to acknowledge that pain and the sight of blood is frightening yet the child should learn to calm their breathing, look at the pain and blood, assess for themselves and even help to apply their own first aid. This is an important part of the child learning how to control emotions, look at their physical or emotional distress calmly, evaluate, and apply rational strategies in every day life. It will help the child have the courage and self-assurance to achieve their best potential in life, regardless of set-backs along the way. In cases of moderate or severe injury, likewise calm, assertive response is necessary. Adults must have training in first aid skills in case of lacerated artery, or broken bone.
Thirdly, adventure in nature is a good place to teach children planning processes that will be helpful in all of life’s endeavours. A fulfilled adults life is full of risky undertakings: taking a partner and raising children; being the most productive member of society you can be; enjoying life. Being able to look danger in the face and knowing how to assess risk and plan for the amelioration of that risk so that the likelihood of achieving a goal is on your side will help save the life of youth who often feel they are ‘bullet-proof’ while allowing them to extent themselves. Later, it will help them make commitments and become successful. This teaching seems best imparted when it involves a range of age groups from the young to the old.
Fourthly, adults may have moments in their life in which great sacrifice, even the greatest sacrifice, is asked of them. Childbirth is still a risky proposition for any woman. As we realise the potential for geological and human made crisis to sweep over our communities and families, adults may find themselves confronted with the necessity to sacrifice their whole life for the life of their children. Yet most sacrifices we will need to perform as an adult involve ‘trading-up’ ie giving up lesser things such as frivolous entertainments for greater things such as spending time teaching and bonding with children in prayer, in discussion, in nature, in knowledge, in art, and in play. Childhood experiences of facing mild dangers, can grow into youthful experiences facing moderate danger, so that an adult can face anything.
There is one important place of child suffering, the family home. The family home is the key environment that will raise a baby to be a mature youth or adult. The family home is the place where a baby learns to give up the mother’s breast, the toddler learns that to ask is not necessarily to receive, the child learns to be silent, to listen, to discuss clearly and to participate fully in the work of the family, where the teenager learns to become a role model and mentor of children, and the older youth learns to be a servant to a progressive civilisation. At each phase, every day, in a child’s home life there is an emotional suffering involved in learning how to manage emotions, deal with other people, improve spiritual, intellectual and physical capacity.
The child must suffer, to grow into a mature adult. The child must suffer for humanity to progress. The child must suffer, but to the extent we can prevent, the child should not be disabled physically or emotionally. However, the prevention of physical or emotional disability requires that the child must suffer.
The child must never suffer alone. The adults task is to assist the child in their suffering, to acknowledge it, to acknowledge that the child is not less loved for railing against their suffering, to ensure suffering is appropriate for the learning of the child, to ensure that achievement (the overcoming of suffering) is highly praised, to love and embrace the child who is having difficulty overcoming suffering, and never letting up until the child has grown.
The child must suffer and so must the adult. I’ll leave their suffering for another day.