Levels of stress are on the rise. More and more of our friends, family as well as those around us are displaying overt signs of it.
Increasingly we are aware that our teenagers - even primary-aged children - are showing signs of significant anxiety – more pervasive than the nail-biting we may once have experienced. Parents experience moments where sinking is more likely than swimming. What should be done?
The answer is stunningly simple; achieving it is in our power. What is more, there are beneficial knock-on effects.
As with any other form of change, it is not easy to implement - and both patience and perseverance will be sorely tested. But given the alternative, ever rising levels of stress leading to potentially very serious consequences, this is an easy and obvious sacrifice to make.
Be warned though – it is radical, although stunningly simple:
• Instead of signing up children for the usual gaggle of activities, resulting in them being chauffeured from one location to the other at breakneck speed, because “there are only 25 minutes between football and tennis,” and we are talking Sheikh Zayed Road at 5pm - do not do that. Take a deep breath and give activities, clubs, groups, lessons, tutoring and coaching sessions a miss, or nearly.
Before you do this, examine the true motives behind all this frenetic activity. Be as truthful - as soul-searching - as you can be.
• Do you do all this it to give your child every benefit you can think of?
• Is it to force them to get physical exercise in an increasingly sedentary childhood?
• Is it to enable them to do sports to excellence and put on some muscle?
• Is it to give them a sense of achievement when they compete, perchance even win, at some sporting event?
• Is it to keep them sensibly occupied and out of mischief while you are at work, rather than stay at home and do pretty much as they please?
• Is it to give them all the opportunities that you did not have perhaps?
• Is it to enable them to do better at things you wish you had done better at?
• Is it to help them become more “cool” socially?
• Is there a worry that if “everyone else” is doing it, it must be something they need to be doing at this age?
• Is it so that they would do better academically, socially, within their peer group?
• Is there an element of XY and Z are doing it and they are going to get so much more accomplished than my child?
Consider what would happen if they did not take part in these things?
What most children of today do during the school week - activities that are not related to schooling - is mind boggling. They are as busy as a CEO; it is not really a joke when some mothers say they need a social secretary to keep on top of all the timings and schedules.
Mothers’ and children’s lives have become incredibly complex and rushed. There is literally no time for anything that reminds us of why we had embarked on parenthood in the first place.
But here is the thing: children need time to wind down – not an afternoon a week “free” so that they “can have a friend around” and have their time further booked up. They need time to - just be “around.”
A careful examination of the average 10-year old reveals that they have at least 1 activity each afternoon (that is a conservative estimate; the majority have 2) and if they have an afternoon “free” that is booked up with either parties or play dates. Weekends follow suit – rugby, diluted by swimming, dancing, skating, you name it. If there is any time left over, that is taken up with a family outing then homework.
Have you ever wondered why the most ingenious ideas are born in the shower, or on the toilet? It takes a little boredom to become creative. If every single moment of the day is scheduled for something, no matter how educational and beneficial that thing may be, thinking and imagining are abandoned. If a child does not get to stare out of the car window on the way to school, instead watching endless cartoons on a DVD player, they have effectively been robbed of the opportunity to think. (Concentrating on the times tables is actually not better here, though listening to music is.)
So, be very brave, brace for battle, and come the next opportunity to sign them up, quite simply do not. This will result in battle, but a battle for the good.
If your child is very fond of a sport or a competent enough pianist, for example, by all means continue with that, as for the rest: abandon.
Do they really need clubs and activities to fill their time? Would going to the pool or a playground when the weather’s better not be just as good? You could watch movies together, go for walks, cycle rides, skating sessions, play board games, make or bake things and generally do a myriad of childhood related activities - together. You could invite friends occasionally, people whose company you all enjoy.
All this, however, is completely meaningless, if they replace activity with time on an ipad or laptop instead. Be strong and resist. It will be a war zone for a time, but your children will ultimately benefit, getting back that one immensely precious thing that is always so scarce – time. Suddenly, afternoons will become longer. There will be opportunities for activities you have never had time for: going to the beach after school, art and crafts, doing homework properly - not just rushed, last minute. There will be time to investigate things, do research on things that interest them.
During the summer, back in your homeland, you may have come across children who still had a more traditional childhood – more natural and less managed or electronic. Why did we lose this here in Dubai? Was it due to the wealth of really high quality opportunities, or the affluence of parents? Whatever it was, it is not too late to stop and try doing things differently.
The result may just be:
• A calmer, more peaceful life,
• Less stressed children,
• More quality time for things that really matter – including to teach them skills such as washing-up, cooking and tidying up properly after themselves
• And even a bit more money that is not being paid out for expensive activities
Surely this is worth a try?
Agnes Holly, BA English and German; MA Comparative Literature; Hornsby Dipl Special Educational Needs. Agnes has more than 25 years' teaching experience in various roles ranging from university to nursery teaching, in addition to on-going work bringing up 5 children.