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Commentary Last Updated: Mar 13th, 2008 - 00:02:14

Are we robbing our children of their childhood?
By Joseph M. Cachia
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Mar 13, 2008, 00:57

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The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.' --Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today children are under increasing pressure to grow up quickly and are not being allowed to enjoy their childhood. Children are entitled to a proper childhood and parents need help to realize this right. This is as much their right as giving them food, shelter and education.

�The boundaries between adulthood and childhood are definitely becoming eroded,� says Dr. Karen McGavock, an expert on childhood. Children are being seen as miniature adults. We are making them more miserable by forcing them into a premature adulthood. Childhood itself is disappearing in our society and the media, foremost the TV, are to blame. We need cultural safeguards against the erosion of childhood as this poses a threat of damaging effects of the mental and sexual health of our children.

Modern life leads to more depression among children. Modern kids are getting fed up with games inspired by Rambo or Spiderman. These days they play a different kind of game -- featuring death. Today�s kids are hooked on computer games. Blowing up some innocent fellow or getting yourself killed in a computer game is easy and matter-of-fact.

Considering the time spent in front of a screen -- whether TV or computer -- and the tender age of our children, one is constrained to confess that to allow children to continue to watch this much screen media is an abdication of parental responsibility -- a truly hands-off parenting.

Perhaps it�s time to enact a legislation punishing failing mothers and fathers for bad or negligent parenting, as this is not simply a private matter and consequences of such are constantly being shouldered and suffered by all of us.

Where are the popular childhood recess (what we used to call recreation time) games we had all looked forward to? Some argue that the restraining of this recreation -- a refreshment of health and spirit -- will help to keep kids from getting dirty or hurt. However, many advocates for children�s health say that limiting such free play can inhibit a child�s development. Exercise and independent playing helps kids resolve disputes, learn problem-solving and keep their weight under control.

When kids of my generation were growing up we went to school, then came home and had free-play time until dinner. Thus we had lots of opportunities to use our imagination and develop the true social skills. But we lacked the overlay and maybe the underlay of deep unhappiness that rules today. We were just kids. We didn�t have much materially, but I don�t mean that we were necessarily poor. Maybe there were fewer things to buy.

It is now an accepted fact that the vast majority of contemporary families cannot get by without women�s income. Unfortunately, this is the bitter choice! Parents are compelled to choose work and money over family time. If we really love our children, we should establish a formula by which parents work shorter hours for pay which may be lower, but still allows a higher living standard overall.

As a matter of fact, I see no sense or reason in those trying to discourage mothers taking up work. We can never turn back the clock to the good old village life. Of course, we must be careful of not becoming abusers of our own children by succumbing to the vice of greed and profit to the detriment of the proper upbringing of our children.

And what�s wrong with working mothers? Really, I mean those women who have a job outside their homes, as actually most women do, whether at home or outside, are engaged in some kind of work. And I don�t mean only the women who have toiled, alongside their husbands, in the fields and cattle farms. At that time, younger children were brought up much closer to nature -- romping around in the countryside. Of course, older children stayed home helping their grandmothers to cook, do the cleaning and caring for the younger siblings.

So, what�s so different between then and today�s extended families? Why do we keep repeatedly hammering that such prestigious family status cannot be retained? Definitely, circumstances have changed -- economic factors, technology, industrialization, living conditions, schooling (not necessarily education), etc., but I�m sure that we haven�t yet lost the skill of nurturing our children emotionally!

Children being cared for by someone besides their mothers is nothing new! Researchers on this issue have found that there was virtually no difference in attachment whether children were at home, cared for by a mother or father, or in day care or cared for by a relative. Although this did not cause any big stir, at least it did dispel the scare stories about day care. However, it must be admitted that parents have a far more powerful impact on children than being in day care does. I do not think that non-maternal childcare is about to disappear very soon.

But what �values� are we transmitting to our children? Probably that money and power are top priorities. However, the spiritual (not necessarily religious) formation is the utmost and indispensable obligation. We ensure that they do not fall out with society and keep them in line with fashionable social conceits of the mob. Peer pressure is having the better of us. Religious stories should never be told to children to frighten them into behaving themselves so as to achieve this ambition. We never seem to realize that indoctrinating children into religion is a form of psychological child abuse. Parents could encourage religious literacy, and teach their children what they believe to be true, but definitely without any indoctrination.

The bigger concern should be about the quality of parenting. We should be more conscious of raising moral and ethical children than we are with teaching them a particular religious tradition. Teaching children about peace-making and non-violence is the most important component of spiritual development. Raising our children to think and decide for themselves is what really works for us!

Praise your children by letting them know what is good. Never encourage them to act impudently in any situation. No example of mature conduct is manifested by approving or complimenting your child for being a �smart-alec.� Why isn�t discipline what it used to be and why can�t we let children be children for a while longer?

It is our duty to ensure that we never allow our children to become the future of . . . evil!

Joseph M. Cachia resides in Vittoriosa, Malta.

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