The Children’s Society‘s recent report has once again highlighted the issue of whether our society is damaging children: this time the focus is on the self-centred individualism of too many of its adults.
BBC News Online, on Monday 2 February reported on this in these words:
According to the panel, “excessive individualism” is to blame for many of the problems children face and needs to be replaced by a value system where people seek satisfaction more from helping others rather than pursuing private advantage.
Layard and Dunn, in an article in the Sunday Times on 1st February unpack aspects of what this means. They describe four styles of parenting and point out what they feel is the optimal:
disciplined, authoritative, neglectful and permissive. Researchers have studied the effects of each upon the way in which children develop. They agree that the style that is loving and yet firm – now known in the jargon as authoritative – is the most effective. In this approach boundaries are explained, in the context of a warm, loving relationship.
They also refer to other things such as mutual respect, commitment and education in parenting.
In April 2000 a message of great passion and power emanated from the Bahá’í World Centre. It included these words about children:
Our children . . . . should not be left to drift in a world so laden with moral dangers. In the current state of society, children face a cruel fate. Millions and millions in country after country are dislocated socially. Children find themselves alienated by parents and other adults whether they live in conditions of wealth or poverty. This alienation has its roots in a selfishness that is born of materialism that is at the core of the godlessness seizing the hearts of people everywhere. The social dislocation of children is in our time a sure mark of a society in decline; this condition is not, however, confined to any race, class, nation or economic condition – it cuts across them all. It grieves our hearts to realise that in so many parts of the world children are employed as soldiers, exploited as labourers, sold into virtual slavery, forced into prostitution, made objects of pornography, abandoned by parents centred on their own desires, and subjected to other forms of victimisation too numerous to mention. Many such horrors are inflicted by parents themselves upon their own children. The spiritual and psychological damage defies estimation. Our worldwide community cannot escape the consequences of these conditions. This realisation should spur us all to urgent and sustained action in the interests of children and the future.
Since then the world-wide Bahá’í community has been striving to mobilise itself more effectively. We are seeking to create an increased capacity, both within the ranks of the Faith’s adherents and within the throngs of people who also feel passionately about the future of our children and young people, so that we can throw our weight behind this absolutely critical work of nurturing our children and protecting them from the worst consequences of our mistakes, work which is so close to the hearts of so many of the world’s billions.
The message of April 2000 went on to say:
The necessity exists, too, for individuals and . . . institutions at all levels, which is to say the community as a whole, to show a proper attitude towards children and to take a general interest in their welfare.
What is true for us is, of course, true for everyone.
What Can We Do?
Is there more that we can do than is already being suggested?
Clearly there is. Many communities, organisations and religious groups have asked themselves this same question and are moving heaven and earth to address this critical issue. The Bahá’í Community has done the same.
A good example in the UK is the Swindon Youth Empowerment Project.
The Project offers experiences designed to enable young people to came into contact with themselves as spiritual beings, as ‘… a mine rich in gems of inestimable value.’ The overall aim of the project is to develop a “Healthy Human Spirit” and it is inspired by the principles of the Bahá’í Faith as a service to the community. It sees every child as ‘potentially the light of the world.’ However because a child is also potentially ‘its darkness’
the question of education [should] be accounted as of primary importance. From his infancy, the child must be nursed at the breast of God’s love, and nurtured in the embrace of His knowledge, that he may radiate light, grow in spirituality, be filled with wisdom and learning, and take on the characteristics of the angelic host.
The project draws on the words of the 2004 OFSTED Report to define its purpose as:
… the training of good human beings, purposeful and wise, themselves with a vision of what it is to be human and the kind of society that makes that possible.
Wherever we are able to throw our weight behind this wheel, we have to be aware that it is not the work of a day, a month, a year or even a decade. This work will take a generation and beyond to accomplish. It will not be achieved by governments, though they can help it along. It will not be achieved by schools and colleges alone, though they need to be in there working at it, as some of them do. It is not just for youth leaders and charities though their efforts are essential and highly praiseworthy. Even parents are not the only ones upon whom this responsibility weighs.
This work is for all of us to contribute to in some way or other, if not by work then by money, support, encouragement or prayer - or whatever else we can do, however little it may seem to be.
If we do not then how else can we as a society respond to
. . . . the imperative to tend to the needs of the children of the world and offer them lessons that develop their spiritual faculties and lay the foundations of a noble and upright character.
. . . the full significance of [our] efforts to help young people form a strong moral identity in their early adolescent years and empower them to contribute to the well-being of their communities.
(From a letter written by the international council of the Bahá’ís: 20 October 2008)
We none of us can do this by ourselves. But just imagine what can be achieved if everyone in this country and throughout the world does just a little. Together we can build a future for our children. It is not yet too late. Is there any work more important than this?