The decline in children’s freedom to play and explore, undirected by adults, has been gradual over the past 50 or 60 years. This gradual decline has been accompanied by a gradual increase in anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders in children. Because the change is gradual, people don’t necessarily see it. Yet, over time, the change has been dramatic. Today, by unchanged measures, the rates of anxiety disorders and major depression in children and adolescents are five to eight times what they were in the 1950s. When people see that their own children are depressed or anxious, they tend to blame themselves, as parents, rather than the social conditions that have deprived children of freedom. Or they assume that this is just a normal part of childhood or adolescence, because it is so common.
-From an article by Author Peter Gray on Education. Feel free to view the full article here:
Having experienced a childhood similar to the one described here, I can certainly relate. I was a very depressed child, and I also had many anxieties growing up, some of which I still have. I have never been diagnosed with any specific mental disorders, I haven’t even been checked for any, but I do know that I have a few mental hangups.
And I do attribute most of it to how my childhood went. I try not to blame anyone specifically. My parents did the best they knew how by me, and even though we didn’t appear to agree on a lot of things, they couldn’t be expected to know how to handle every situation perfectly. I am not trying to insinuate that any parent should or even could be able to do so, however, parents can get better. There are a few tips that I have picked up from being a child that I hope will help any parents out there that are trying hard to understand their children.
1- As stated in the article above, lack of freedom to play and explore had been proven detrimental to a child’s health. Allow them to roam about, even if you want to keep them safe, there isn’t much danger they can get into if you watch them. Take your child outside and let them see more of the world. I know your busy, but wouldn’t you rather let your child see the world instead of having them cooped up with television or video games? Keep in mind that the action is “taking” the child outside, and exposing him to things. Children that are shown the larger world will often want to participate more in it. Children are far more visual than not. This doesn’t mean that stopping them from playing video games ever again is the right idea either, but giving them a broader range of experience simply lets them find more activities they enjoy.
2- When your child says something, listen to them. You may think that you know better than they do, simply because they are older. This is not always the case, and it especially is not always the case when a child is telling you something they don’t want to do, or that they don’t like. I am not talking about eating vegetables, at least not yet. What I am referring to is when you take exposing your children to things just a little too far. Take, for instance, a child who has a fear of water. If you decide that child needs to get over their fear of water, so you take them on a canoeing trip through some white water, all that child will think is that you didn’t listen to them, and that will hurt their trust in you as a parent. Instead, you can start small with them, but don’t force them. Start with swimming lessons, then maybe go canoeing on a lake, if they decide they are interested. Just because you are interested in something does not mean that your child will be. You may have the same genes, but you are not the same person. Most identical twins do not have exactly the same interests.
3)When your child has concerns, talk with them, not to them. Help them work out their problems with discussion, but never simply tell them what to do. Again, children are usually visual, and showing them how to accomplish something generally works better than simply telling them how. This is important to do in early childhood, but this is perhaps the most important tip I have for when your children enter adolescence. Showing your children that you are willing to discuss things with them without judging them is important for building trust, and helping them to open up to you. This is an important thing to remember whether it be something negative, like your child getting a low grade on a report card(I find it to be far more useful to discuss why they think they got a low grade and how they can improve than yelling at them and grounding them. Most low grades come from a child not understanding the subject matter and being afraid to ask questions. Punishing them severely tends to only perpetuate that problem. Each situation is different, however, so work through them separately.) or if it’s something neutral, that could go either way, such as a child telling you they have a new boyfriend/girlfriend. It is especially important to remember this when facing a situation you never thought you would face, such as if your child ever admitted his/her homosexuality, or told you that they didn’t believe in your religion. Remember, listen and discuss. Don’t get angry, and if you feel yourself starting to be, remove yourself from the situation until you have calmed yourself down enough to handle it. Getting angry will only hurt your relationship. Be glad when your child trusts you enough to share with you their feelings, or the situations they have gotten themselves into.
4-When you find out that your child doesn’t trust you, is anxious and depressed, and you don’t understand them at all, evaluate how you’ve done through tips 1-3, and then start trying to get better. Anger won’t help you, and it will just make things worse. Listen, discuss, and love. That is the only recipe for building a relationship that has any chance of long-term success.
I don’t know if this will help anyone or not, but I hope it does. You might see me as some “liberal” who doesn’t believe in punishment. I assure you that is not the case, I just think there are better avenues to try in order to handle problems that arise, and only when these avenues fail should we resort to stronger measures, but ultimately I am for supporting and loving the children you raise. You brought them into the world, are they not your responsibility?