This is a podcast from Irish Radio 1’s 2nd May programme, featuring Sean O’Rourke’s Guest Dr. Harry Barry, on the importance of developing emotional resilience in childhood. Click on the book cover image to hear the 13 minute interview. The author makes a compelling argument that kids need to develop social skills by playing, socialising, and doing things with their hands. He points out something which is starting to be a conversation which the whole of Ireland is currently having about the future of their children.
When we were kids, it was still possible to play in the streets without getting creamed by a passing car or lorry. When it was raining fun was still had, with card or board games in the house.
Felt pens and drawing pictures and cutting out things to put in scrap books, or hobbies like bird-watching or reading passed the free time. At the weekend the family, if they were lucky enough to have a car, could head out into the countryside and the parents could admire nature while the kids walked about hitting things with sticks (if you were a boy, or catching butterflies to look at or collecting flowers to press (if you were a girl). At school there were sports and activities. I learned Irish dancing and gymnastics when I was at primary school; sports and exercise are now avoided almost entirely in schools because of insurance costs being prohibitive, and sport coming last on the school spending list as a result. Now, by the time children reach secondary school, sports are discouraged in deference to the perception that passing exams should be the main focus of all a child’s energies.
Ireland was still, even in the 1960s, a largely rural and agricultural society, which set great store on being able to do things with your hands, as being handy was a necessary skill whether you wanted to tie a knot which would hold properly in something in the farmyard, or just wanted to recycle your own shoelace for the umpteenth time.
There was still a lot of poverty around in the cities, although the grinding poverty experienced by the lower classes in Victorian Dublin had been largely eradicated, and persisted largely in the inner city.
Consumer goods were expensive, and many mothers chose to make as much clothing for the family as was practical because it was cheaper than buying off the rack, and meals were made from scratch, as fast food wasn’t even a thing back then. Interestingly, nowadays, some problems are resurfacing that had been fixed, we thought, many years ago in Irish society, such as, it is being discovered, malnourishment, which is again a health issue for kids, though this time around, it is accompanied by obesity. The fast food so widely available and popular with mums for its time-saving qualities, and beloved by kids because of advertising and cheap plastic toys that come with the cheap plastic meal, is having huge health consequences for children that will last throughout their lives. They might live longer than earlier generations, but they will have more chronic conditions, many directly connected to modern lifestyles, which they will have to take more drugs for, and spend more time going in and out of hospitals than earlier generations.
As for illegal drug use, that seems to be growing in popularity as a pastime as children progress to adulthood, and there is a huge epidemic of drugs in Irish cities, with drug deaths estimated at three times the rate of the rest of Europe. The clip shown above is a short documentary from 2013, and gives some background. The situation is much worse than that by now, and a walk down Dublin’s main street, O’Connell Street, is like walking through a take of a zombie movie.
Desperate measures are being taken by some to address some of the issues, before the next generation goes down the tubes in the way the earlier one has; the signs are already bad, but where there are signs of problems, there may also lie the seeds of the answers. One school in Tralee has made national headlines by getting together with parents to ban smartphones for their primary school age (5-12 year old) children. The campaign is picking up speed, as there has in recent months been a national debate raging about the malevolent influences of social media platforms on the mental health of Irish children.
As for development of inter-personal skills, as most of us know on an intellectual level, but perhaps don’t really get on an emotional level, online and offline are quite a different kettle of fish. One involves the tactile and sensory (perhaps the distinction will be blurred radically when virtual reality technology goes more mainstream), and the other is mainly about virtual hugs, or hate.
Our sense of self-worth is vital to our development as a human being, and to our happiness as individuals, and contributors to a harmonious society. Self-worth, as Dr. Harry Barry points out, can be taught, and there are a range of skills, some of which we discussed here, which are vital to pass on to subsequent generations, if we are to give them the tools to live well, and not just live like rats in a cage. Or at least, we might be crowded together like rats, but we can still care.