Reconstructing Kid Gloves

 

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Category: Children/Teenagers Date: 03 Nov 02


Last 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.

 

On 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.

 

In 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 behaviour.

 

I 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.

 

Combined 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.

 

A 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.

 

I 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.

 

In 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.

Teachers 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.

 

US statistics (there are none locally available) may have some bearing on our children’s health:

§    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 for depression.

§     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 clinical depression.

 

With 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 forgetfulness.

§     Poor self-esteem or guilt.

§    Frequent physical complaints, such as headaches and stomach aches.

§     Lack of enthusiasm, low energy or low motivation.

§     Drug and/or alcohol abuse.

 

Children, 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.

 

Sadness and rage rob children of their lives, and we would be abusing our power if we allowed them to be crushed by it.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur