For our first Wellbeing Week at St Patrick’s, I want to pose a question. Are our kids being well enough prepared for the knocks of life? A number of social commentators believe that we have over-emphasised the development of self-esteem at all costs.

I want to argue that our goal for families and schools is to develop resilient children. Resilience can be defined simply as the capacity to cope well with our day-to-day challenges and, more especially, in times of adversity or hardship. The future of all children is unknown, so they all need to learn sound coping and problem solving skills. The World Health Organisation predicts that depression will be a world epidemic by 2030 … wouldn’t it be great if we could give our kids an inoculation against such mental illness, so that they can live happy and productive lives, despite the challenges they may face in the future? That inoculation is resilience.

For a whole range of reasons, today’s generation of children are ‘bubble-wrapped’. Our risk-conscious society tends to be so over-protective and that influences our parenting and schooling practices. Erica McWilliam (Professor of Education, QUT) argues that “we worry about the vulnerability of the young to a degree that is historically unprecedented.” McWilliam suggests that we are almost obsessed with having children feel “comfortable” at all times at the expense of any risk-taking behaviours.

In just a generation, consider how things have changed for children:

  • If they fall from play equipment, their fall is likely to be cushioned by ‘soft-fall materials’.
  • Very few would walk to and from school … most are driven.
  • Much of their lives are now spent in structured activities with less scope for initiative.
  • We even tend to engineer their educational experiences by writing letters to schools requesting particular teachers or that they not play with certain children.
  • When children end up ‘in trouble’, school personnel can be pretty sure they will be forced to defend their actions and decisions to the parents the next day.
  • There are a number of recent incidences where parents have tried to intervene in sports selection processes or have even abused selectors when their children have missed out on representative teams.
  • There seems to be no such thing as an accident … someone or some organisation is always to blame!

Dr Toni Noble, author of Bounce Back, asks:

“Will our plump 10 year olds, forbidden to roam, lack the resourcefulness of the free range kids of the past?”

She argues that there is too much focus on trying to solve kids’ problems for them and when a child is feeling down, our response is to temporarily fix it for them by going to Maccas or getting a new toy. Noble refers to the ‘Happiness Trap’ for children which she believes is a result of:

  • Overprotective parenting;
  • Quick fixes; and
  • Looser boundaries.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not want to live in the past, nor do I advocate putting children at risk of harm. Responsible parents and teachers need to ensure the safety and welfare of the younger generation, but we need to be careful that we also encourage our kids to be resilient.

Have a great week

Mr John Zappala - Guidance Counsellor