Why are modern children so stressed?
So stressed as compared to what? Haven't they always been stressed?
If I start from the very start, namely the caveman stage right up to late Middle Ages:
Children lived a much much harder life (in keeping with the necessities and life style of their times.) They learnt to hunt, kill and rough living that included stealing, raiding, lying, cheating, fighting, outsmarting, starving, separation, getting lost from family, violent vengeance, torture, destitution, slavery, suffered corporal punishments, did hard labour nearly like those done by adults, and ran risks of losing their limbs or life on a frequent basis. Child sacrifice was rampant. They were used as enemy spies or even fought in wars as soldiers. The biggest comfort for them was to be near their family and not being hungry.
''according to Seneca, Philo and Cicero, infants could be drowned, thrown away with the rubbish, smothered, exposed to the elements, eaten by stray dogs or sold to slave traffickers. It was not considered a crime to kill a child until 374 AD.''
Can you imagine children's trauma, tension and stress in those times?
Let's not forget: Although, the concept of 'childhood' appeared in 1600s, the condition of children in Industrial Age was absolutely nightmarish. Child exploitation sky rocketed. Children as young as four years old worked in inhuman conditions in factories, farms, industries and mines, or other dangerous jobs for as little as a few pennies a month and sometimes were even responsible for supporting their entire family.
Can you imagine their stress now?
The royalty and the upper class were, of course different from common man as always. But even then, the royal/ noble children didn't have it much easy either, as they constantly contended with political marriages, conspiracies, underwent difficult religious practices, participated in bloody battles, wars, hunting and cruel sports of their day, apart from living a highly protected, highly exposed, highly pampered and highly risky royal life.
Ludwig the second, of Bavaria, Germany is one of the most famous examples of being a product of a sad and stressful royal childhood.
Then comes 19th century when modern attitude towards childhood started emerging which removed children from factories and banned child labor. But corporal punishments, money problems, mostly sad conditions in schools, collages and orphanages, child exploitation, and crimes against children, infanticide, racism, child marriages, prostitution, broken families, domestic abuse, physical violence and depression started slowly being reported causing more awareness towards children's issues.
Children's stress began to be better understood, which in this case means: recognising the issue that had always been there but had never been noticed, never was considered a problem, and never had a name.
Unbelievable! It took humans thousands of years to understand that childhood is a special thing and that children should be nurtured and protected.
By that time, humans knew way more about God, skies and stars billions of light-years away than children in their own home, born out of their own flesh and blood!
Now a twenty first century child is completely different from all his predecessors.
He gets free and compulsory education, has strict rights in place, has child allowance in many parts of the world, has strong child protection laws backing him up at each and every step.
From shoes and clothings, to toys and furniture, from food and drinks to Literature and media, each and every object used by him is 'specially made for children' and must pass rigorous testing to be safe for him.
He has freedom to live and choose whatever he wants, be it his T-shirt or career.
He lives better than ever before, happier than ever before, safer than ever before, and basks under the sun of modern researches and studies that all repeat how special he is and how we can make him safer and happier.
True, he also struggles with modern lifestyle problems such as over and unhealthy exposure to technology, internet, drugs, sedentary life mode, unhealthy food habits, child abuse, child neglect, trafficking, academic pressure, exam pressure, peer pressure, bullying etc. but this is something everyone is suffering from, not just him.
By the way, out of all these problems, only that with technology, media and internet is a new addition. Rest all have been more or less always present in different forms and may even have been far worse, and hugely unnoticed, and unreported.
So, how exactly is today's child more stressed out than before?
How is pressure of handling social media and peers, or getting good grades in school worse than facing factory work, fighting in wars or child exploitation?
Well, maybe this is how:
The enormous amounts of attention, love, luxury, importance and care that a modern child starts receiving even before being born, and which continues well into late adolescence-early adulthood, tends to make him feel he is the centre of the world.
He grows up learning he is the best. Then he enters adulthood and discovers he isn't.
He finds himself unable to cope with the real world and this realisation starts damaging him from deep inside like a slow deflating car tyre.
The world that we adults present to children when they are young, is not the same world they expect and receive when they grow up. This causes disorientation, disillusionment and the child suddenly doesn't know what to do and how to cope.
The child learns from adults around him, and we adults are very very good at being remorselessly bad in many areas ourselves. We swear, cheat and smoke but tell children to stay away from it. We are ourselves addicted to screens of all sorts and tell him to develop love for reading books. We fight wars and tell the children the world consists of butterflies and rainbows.
We believe that if we don't let the child see, he won't learn it.
Well, the child is smarter than this and observes us and learns up all the things we never tell him and rarely learns what we tell him to.
Earlier, a child had siblings, family members, uncles, aunts, grandparents etc etc with whom to talk to, open up, share feelings, take advice, off load his tensions and indirectly get a training at handling pressures, problems and stresses within family, which was often times healthier than being a lone child with single parent or patch and broken family. Nowadays the child gets no one to open up and no safe exposure to stress. Everybody just showers him with love, care, attention and gifts and nobody trains him to handle pressure. Have you ever heard? Back in those times, children with siblings got so much bullied by them at home, that they never had problems with bullies at school. They were well trained and could handle any amount of load.
Today, every time a child has stress, his parents, parenting style, society, culture and school is directly blamed, and the child never gets to understand that stress is a challenge to deal with, and not a disease to suffer from and pop in anti depressants.
So today's child has maybe lesser stress than children of bygone times, but like those of bygone times, he has no training and ability to deal with it.
He is more like a snail without his shell.
''Do not prepare the road for the child. Prepare the child for the road.''
In providing the children with everything that he needs and wants, we should be careful to develop his abilities, and not damage them.
If we regularly provide an animal with its food, we damage its natural ability to procure food for itself. If we constantly carry a baby in our arms, he never learns to walk.
Looking from this point of view, we may be guilty of preparing the road for children and in doing so somewhere we end up weakening their natural coping mechanism that makes them stronger and readies them for actual world.
You can't carry a baby constantly in your arms and think the baby has no ability to walk.
But that's just my opinion. Thanks for reading.