There has been much talk here in New Zealand about how teaching children the art of mindfulness will decrease anxiety and suicide rates. The subject has been food for reflection for me during the past wee while. Whilst pondering whether learning mindfulness at school would this have changed my life, I realise it is the social influences that most influences the adults we become.
When I was a child, video games and computers were largely unknown. Television was not even really an interest for me unless Saturday morning cartoons were on offer coupled with the buttery vegemite toast Dad made for my sister and I. We relished every mouthful. Way back then we were encouraged to unleash our imaginations. The magical world we built with cardboard boxes and a couple of bed sheets. The memory of Sunday afternoons is conjured with the smell of freshly cut grass wafting up our noses as we rode our bikes through the neighbourhood. All of these sweet memories peppered my experience of childhood. They were borne of being totally in the moment, experiencing innocence and joy.
There were not so sweet memories of being bullied as well. I was told by an adult repeatedly that I was not worth much as a child. These experiences influenced my journey into adulthood. Whilst these experiences made me determined to prove people wrong, cruel words were imbedded deep down into my being. They set me on a collision course with anxiety and stress later in life. I was blessed with being born into a gentle, close knit and loving family who showered me with love. You can’t be given self-worth from someone else. Like a bulb planted in soil, the conditions have to be right in order for the flower to bloom.
Would Mindfulness Have Made A Difference To My Emotional Development As A Child?
If mindfulness classes, breathing meditations and self-actualisation exercises were taught in school when I was a kid, I am not sure my mid-twenties would have panned out any differently. I was a keen student at school who excelled at anything to do with humanities so I am confident I would have rote-learned the mindfulness lessons beautifully. My challenge though has always been in personal application. A lesson seemingly irrelevant to my personal goals was placed on a shelf in my mind (along with mathematics and physics!). I had plenty of focus as a child. However, I just prioritised my goals ahead of anything else. I stubbornly persisted in trying to prove my worthiness. A strong ‘wake up’ call would have been the only thing to rouse me out of this trance.
I believe you can lead a child into breathing meditations and self-actualisation exercises. Let’s not forget though a child is still an individual. As was the case with me, if there is a strong will, you might teach them the soft subjects of self-care and meditation. From my personal experience, kids actively take on the learnings when they are open and ready. At the end of the day, a parent or teacher can only be patient and encourage.
Today, life is harsh
In this ‘fast food’ society we live in, children grow up faster than we did. They take on an understanding of the adult world a lot sooner. Everything runs at a faster pace than it did forty or so years ago. Children generally experience far more stress than we did with school exams being more intense and starting earlier than they used to be. Let’s also not forget that society is more competitive than it used to be. Extra-curricular activities like sport, music and dance are not solely fun.
Kids are also less sheltered from the harsh realities of life due to the vast influence of the mass media. Their heads easily filled with ‘doom and gloom’ of worldly problems and the opinions of adults. When you consider the exposure to social media and video gaming, and the way these things can become addictive to the point of sleep deprivation and obsession, is it any wonder children find it more difficult these days.
Food For Thought
According to Carl Jung, the memories and experiences of our ancestors that are imprinted upon our DNA at birth. In a recent study, rodents were trained to fear the smell of cherry blossom. The sperm of these mice and the sperm of their offspring were tested. It was found the DNA and brain structure had changed. This is not really surprising given that experiences of extreme stress and anxiety can alter body chemistry. It certainly provides food for thought in terms of the increasing stress levels experienced by children these days.
It is highly likely children today reach a mental health “crisis point” at a younger age due to the over-exposure to compounding stress. When you take this into consideration, the introduction of mindfulness lessons in schools may be reaching many in the nick of time to enable these children ways in which they can cope, and to create a path toward peace and positivity.
Feature photo courtesy of Pixabay