week I received a letter from my son that made me weep. It is a very
private letter and I have major reservations about making it public, but
if one child is helped by it, then this exposure would have been worth it.
this particular week, my 11-year-old began acting up. He wouldn’t go to
the doctor, and was alternately defiant and subdued. He is at an age where
threats to ban children from this pleasure or that only make them hate
you, so I was at a loss, wondering what to do when I asked him to write as
part of his English studies at home, an essay on how he was feeling.
his very touching letter, he said he was very “angry and stressed-out
over work,” didn’t feel he could cope when one of his parents was
irritable, that he felt “overwhelmed.” He knew I would forgive him
because he loved us, and said he would do anything to make up for his bad
sat, letter in hand, stunned. This was not a missive I expected from a
child. It’s true he had just made the transition from a safe primary
school environment to a secondary school, but I didn’t recognise the
stress that comes with that. I didn’t expect this level of awareness of
his responsibilities, the burden this placed on him, or his extreme
sensitivity to discord.
with his childlike disarming honesty, unguarded love, eagerness for
approval, this was a powerful voice waiting quietly to be heard. I think
so much of the time we go around treating children as if they are puppies,
like they don’t understand anything, but they do. They absorb and
absorb. And because they have not yet learned the art of being dishonest
either to themselves or to other people, they are humanity in its
clearest, purest form.
little girl I know, not yet eight, buzzes around her mother like a radar
— “you know Mummy, that lady smiled at you but didn’t mean it” or,
“that person looks shy but is kind” — with that clarity that we lose
as adults because we develop fake crusts as we grow older to conceal
insecurity or denote superiority. We become masks facing masks.
was lucky I was able to pick up on my son’s stress at that point because
he is articulate and trusting. I was able to pay closer attention to him,
to be gentler in my rebukes, to be constructive in my criticism. But I
have come across so many children who lack that butterfly carefree spirit
that epitomises childhood. I see them on the street, walking home from
school, backs bent as if under a huge weight. Children as young as three,
four, five are still beaten mercilessly for small wrongdoings.
almost every school and in many homes there are teachers and parents who
“motivate” children by putting them down — by telling them how
stupid they are, how they will get nowhere. These adults need to recognise
the old brutal dictum of “spare the rod and spoil the child” doesn’t
work; that all it does is make a child feel bad about himself, and look
for quick fixes that would eventually harm them and those around them.
often claim to be emotionally exhausted since in classrooms they have to
cope with depressed children – those who live with alcoholism, verbal
and physical abuse, and neglect in their homes.
statistics (there are none locally available) may have some bearing on our
§ As many as one in every 33 children and
one in eight adolescents may have depression.
§ Youth under stress who experience a loss
or who have attention, learning or conduct disorders are at a higher risk
Almost one-third of 6- to 12-year-old
children diagnosed with major depression will develop bipolar disorder
(manic depressives) within a few years.
Four out of every five runaway youths
suffer from depression.
§ Clinical depression can contribute to
eating disorders. Conversely, an eating disorder can lead to a state of
these statistics in mind, we need to keep a sharp eye out for these
symptoms in our children:
Persistent sadness and hopelessness.
Withdrawal from friends and from
activities once enjoyed.
Increased irritability or agitation.
Missed school or poor school performance.
Changes in eating and sleeping habits.
Indecision, lack of concentration or
Poor self-esteem or guilt.
§ Frequent physical complaints, such as
headaches and stomach aches.
Lack of enthusiasm, low energy or low
Drug and/or alcohol abuse.
with their magical minds, honesty, endless capacity to forgive, hope and
love even in the most difficult of circumstances, are our measure of how
we should live as adults.
and rage rob children of their lives, and we would be abusing our power if
we allowed them to be crushed by it.