Once apon a time in a kingdom really not so far away from here, lived a country of happy and enthusiastic children. They dared to dream and embrace everyone with their visions of a beautiful word. However, as in all great fairytales there was a evil and devious monster out to squash those dreams. It enticed those children into its grips with tales of further learning to make them a reality. But it didn’t teach them, it trodded on their dreams, replacing it with nightmares of war and self loathing until those children where no more. Until those children were lost.
Well that’s doesn’t seem like much of a fairytale! More like a nightmare.
But the truth is, it’s our reality …
Out of 15 developed countries in the world, where do you think England ranks in children’s well-being?
You might think 1, 2, probably no lower than 5?
Well you’re in for a shock.
Like a failing British Eurovision song we haven’t even made the top 10!
Research conducted by charity The Children’s Society reports that we ranked 14th out of the 15 countries for children’s life satisfaction and happiness.
Kind of scary when you start to think about the future of your children.
But when you think deeper into it, it’s not all that hard to believe.
Think about your own childhood. You might look back and have some fond memories, but try to remember those other feelings. Can you remember fear? Can you remember being anxious? Can you remember being so low for a moment you couldn’t even consider a bright future?
If I think about it hard enough, I remember these feelings manifesting before I even learnt how to wipe my own ass. And a lot of it came from school, especially around the time of my 11+ test.
A whole year I was prepared for that exam. And by prepared, I mean screamed at when I couldn’t understand ridiculous riddles, of ‘Tom had 4 balls, Jenny had two, who had the most bananas?!’ Made to feel like an absolute failure in life when in the mock exams I scored just above the pass mark because ‘I wouldn’t get into a good school and would be destined to a life with no opportunities’. The anxiety that huge responsibility left on my shoulders crippled me in tears each night and all through the weekend before I had to go to school and face it again.
And it only got worse as my education progressed. Pointless exams on Pythagoras theorem and osmosis became even more ‘extremely important’ for my future. I was taught not to think about solving problems in many ways, but the one straight way that my text book or teacher told me to think. Creativity and self-belief went out the door when I expressed myself in my art class and received a ‘D’ grade because the brush stroke was unlike Van Gough’s who the teacher and the examiner really wanted me to copy. And being ‘different’ was abhorrent, which ensued a good few years of bullying from the popular ‘normal’ children.
The only lesson I truly believe I came away from school with was ‘You’re only good enough in life if you can achieve perfection’.
Achieving perfection is impossible in life. It’s no surprise why my mental health was shot from the moment I agreed to take part in that pissy 11+ exam! When I couldn’t reach the levels of perfection expected of me, I felt I was a failure and unfit for this world. These beliefs have stayed with me and as I have become a mother have taunted me to the point where I developed postnatal depression.
The worrying part is, 20 years later, children still go through this stifling process. Each young child is put on the education conveyor belt, full of creative ideas and positive outlooks on the world only to be pulverised in the machine to come out as beaten up, self-loathing, deflated robots.
We continue to put this strain on our children from a very young age. Expecting them to carry the stress and anxiety of overbearing exams, while they compete against their peers to become the ‘most intelligent’ or ‘most liked’ and not feel mental as well as physical pain. They already have more stresses in their lives than we had at their age, with images of perfectionism hitting them from all angles in social networks and media. But they are too young to realise that its fake. It’s clever camera angles, fake situations and airbrushed images to create the ‘perfect’ idol. And they continue to beat themselves up why they ‘aren’t as good’ and will ‘never be as good’ as that.
If we don’t fix this, it won’t just be their childhoods that are effected. It’s a proven fact that poor mental health at a young age can develop and manifest further into adulthood.
But what as parents can we do to help our children?
We can start to talk
Looking after our children’s mental health is just as important as looking after their physical health. Take the time to discuss their feelings with them. It’s so easy to get frustrated when they can become aggressive or act out. I’m particularly guilty of this. Yet most of the time they do it because they can’t begin to express the turmoil they feel. During that next tantrum, hug them, and tell them you understand. Hold them close and provide a safe space to talk about how they have felt. A healthy mind is one that can understand its thoughts.
Why does the word ‘fail’ have to be so negative? Let’s teach our children that failing means learning. That failing won’t mean they are no good. That failing doesn’t need to be so scary. Einstein put it brilliantly ‘if you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried something new’.
Help them to question
The age old adult screech, ‘Don’t question me!’ still plays in my mind from my childhood. But if our children don’t question how will their minds grow. How will they learn that that their thoughts and opinions are valued? How will they find their place in the world? Guide them and support them in questioning not only life but those who are involved in shaping their minds.
It so easy to fall into the old cycle, for most of us it’s what has been drummed into to follow since we were born. We don’t really no any other way. But if we want to improve our children’s well being and mental health we have to fight against the norm.
As the Exiles said ‘Lets start a revolution!’