Throughout my career in education, I have always tried to advocate for children. However, I felt powerless when it came to protecting children from their enforced seclusion during lockdown. And now, in a post-lockdown world, I’ve had to re-think my priorities.
It’s not easy being a parent. We want the very best for our children. We want to provide them with some of the things that we didn’t get when we were young. This is a natural instinct, but I think it’s also a dangerous one.
There is no question that we are seeing an alarming percentage increase in those who self-harm or who suffer from anxiety, depression and other stress-related illnesses. However, these increases were occurring long before the pandemic – the pandemic has simply brought them into even sharper focus.
The question is why does childhood seem to be more difficult than it has ever been? I think the answer to that would probably take years of research and a 70,000-word thesis but I have a sense that we parents may be to blame.
There is a growing body of evidence, which suggests that we’re making our children’s lives too comfortable, too safe, too clinical and too protected. We hate seeing them cry, we hate seeing them suffer even small setbacks and we do all that we can to avoid them failing. By doing these things, we are actually failing them. We are not preparing our young for a world that is tough. We are not preparing them to strive against adversity. We are not allowing them to develop resilience.
In 1981, as a cocky, self-assured teenager, I took nine O-Levels. I strolled into the Headmaster’s office to hear my results from him some three months later, feeling self-satisfied. ‘Grant,’ he said, ‘I think we can safely say that you have failed miserably to meet the moderate expectations we already held for you. You have achieved, if that is a phrase that accurately describes your performance, 4 passes and 5 fails.’
I left his office deflated, punctured, wounded and my self-esteem plummeted.
In such circumstances, I immediately wanted to speak to my mum and dad. I knew that they would offer me comfort, a shoulder to cry on and allow my excuses to soothe those pitiful examination results.
Mum: ‘Well, you obviously didn’t work hard enough. Serves you right.’
Dad: ‘You might as well leave school and come into the business. 4 a.m. starts, mind you.’
These simple responses catapulted me into achieving six Highers the following year.
My parents didn’t let me off the hook. They didn’t phone the school to complain that it was my teachers’ fault. They didn’t request an exceptional circumstances request because I had been unwell during the examination period. They basically said, ‘Suck it up and get on with it.’
I don’t think many of us parents would do that now. I know I try hard to be ‘tough’, but it’s desperately difficult.
As a society, we have all fallen into the trap of ‘comfort’. And now, we are paying the price. And it’s not just children. Adults themselves are becoming ever more plagued by anxiety, stress, obesity, chronic fatigue or pain and a myriad of other debilitating effects, borne from the fact that we all live in an increasingly sheltered, safe, over indulged, clinical environment and it’s killing us.
It’s a hard message to hear but, for once, I think I’m right. Actually, I think I’ve nailed it. We’re too soft, we’re too forgiving, we’re too quick to apportion blame elsewhere. We need to back off, allow kids to fail, allow kids to build up resilience, allow kids to understand that life isn’t always easy. If we don’t, we’ll end up with adults that cannot cope with adversity, who require support when facing any obstacle that comes in their way and they will fail to succeed. And it will be our fault.
I’m not suggesting no love. I’m suggesting grown-up, common sense, thinking ahead to the future, love. That’s what my parents gave me and thank God they did.