A community conversation on childhood

Posted on: 6th March, 2014

Category: Health & Lifestyle

Contributor: West Cork People

Freya Sherlock Lic. Ac, BSc hons level TCM/CHM is a practitioner of Chinese medicine in West Cork. She is equally passionate about the nourishment of childhood. She co-founded and co-managed The Little School 1995-2005, facilitates the Parent Plus programme in collaboration with HSE and Dunmanway Family Resource Centre, trained in Early Years Steiner education, Co. Clare and with Dr Tony Humphries at UCC. She has run several large summer camps in West Cork with Forest School Camps and is currently initiating WildChild Outdoor Education. For further info: 086 1273148.

Childhood, it seems, is undergoing rapid changes. Of course, every new generation heralds a certain degree of change, that’s the nature of evolution! However, there are core qualities inherent in children and childhood that have always transcended and bridged generational change but, it would appear that these are now beginning to slip through our fingers.

As a facilitator of parenting groups with many years of experience in education for children, I am struck by the increasing concern I hear from parents lamenting the loss of certain aspects to the childhood experience and all that it once gave to our kids.

In the spirit of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, it seems wise that we start exploring what exactly is going on and how it is impacting on our current generation of youngsters. As Wordsworth suggested, ‘The child is father to the man’ and we are, together, responsible for shaping the nature and quality of our future leaders, movers and shakers, innovators, grafters, givers and receivers and team players.

We need to understand the changing nature of modern children and how to meet their needs yet uphold worthy cultural, social and family values and traditions. Perhaps too, we need to consider how to ameliorate and antidote some of the impacts of modern life on kids whilst not diminishing or dismissing the benefits of those same influences.

‘What’s in the way, is the way’, so if we are finding that our young people are becoming increasingly lost in cyber space, whilst their ability to connect with others in heartfelt ways and communicate with skill is somewhat atrophying, then whose job is it to address that if not ours? All of us. From concerned parents up to lofty leaders.

Without waxing overly lyrical about the good ol’ days, we can perhaps reflect on all that was and is deeply nourishing for children so that we can restore and salvage the soul of childhood before it becomes extinct.

Early childhood really matters, for it is when we dig the well that we will draw from for the rest of our lives. And yet, bizarrely, instead of being contentedly satisfied by the wonders of discovering themselves and their world, we find that according to the Mental Health Foundation 2012, 1 in 10 children in the UK have a diagnosed mental health disorder.

Houston, we have a problem. Children in the modern world are now subject to unprecedented commercial, educational, technological, social and environmental pressures that are beginning to deeply affect their well-being. Should they emerge from childhood without the well-spring of inner resources that those precious years used to yield, we are likely to witness increasing discontent and estrangement from selfhood.

Children are designed to be active, to run, play, dance, laugh, tell stories, build dens, get muddy, climb trees, draw elaboratly, make something out of nothing, imagine limitless possibilities, believe in all that’s good and true, love with all their hearts  and express themselves wholeheartedly. What is it then, that is breeding childhood discontent?

If we are to raise resilient and emotionally intelligent children who can not only cope with rapid change, but live with poise and play their part in leading society into a sustainable future in meaningful ways, we need to take our instinctive concern and mobilise our response. Through community-wide dialogue and debate we can collectively navigate this unchartered territory of childhood in the 21st century and empower ourselves to take appropriate and often very simple action.

The factors contributing to the changing landscape of modern day childhood are complex and multifaceted. Over the next few issues of West Cork People, various aspects of raising children in today’s world will be discussed and explored to help open up a much needed community-wide conversation of how we can answer their call.

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