Alwyn Poole founded and was the head of Mt Hobson Middle School in Auckland for 18 years. MH Academy is now an in person private school for Year 11-13. There is now a nationwide online provision called Mt Hobson Academy Connected for Years 1-13.
OPINION: It is to the shame of New Zealand’s adult community that news came out last week that in the last five years the number of anti-depressants issued to children and teens has increased by 53 per cent.
My memory of the mental health situation for children and young people five years ago was that it was not that things were utopian. It looks like the disappearing $1.9 billion for mental health is still on the way to being a solution.
Life is always difficult for someone, somewhere and every human being will have their share of that. Tragedies happen: sometimes deliberate or caused by the negligence of others, sometimes through sheer accident or illness. People get hurt in relationships or do the hurting.
There is no perfect marriage, nor any perfect family. We all face death at many points as we lose loved ones – and we all will face it for ourselves.
However, we have accentuated this to where, in current society, tragedy is an industry, media sensationalises it, politics is always based on ‘fixing’ problems and many individuals and organisations, from churches to charities, have huge financial/psychological vested interests in acclaiming existential threats for part, or all, of society.
There are problems that need fixing, but the pervading sense of hopelessness we exude impairs action more often than it motivates.
We are always better off with good help from others and in positive communities.
We also learn to moderate many of the societal messages and can remember when people were saying the same thing 20 years ago, 40 years ago or, with a bit of research, 400 years ago.
Children do not have the same maturity, experience or skillset to moderate the messages of gloom.
The starting point, if we want our children to be well and grow into positive and resilient adults, is that they have to be allowed to experience something called “childhood”.
In the past there were strong barriers between adult knowledge and that for children. The internet, for all of the positives, has burned them down.
Childhood needs to be a time when children are protected from the problems of the adult world as much as possible.
The superb film Life is Beautiful makes this point brilliantly.
Imprisoned by the Nazis, a father (played by Roberto Benigni) protects his son from the horrors of the situation through creating a game and drama.
Watching the film as adults we are always aware of the reality, but we also come to realise that the boy will be better able to deal with it through growing with innocence and unconditional love.
We need a parenting revolution in New Zealand where we surround our children with unconditional love, allow them to be inquisitive about the world, to talk, to play, to question their part in it and to grow as do young trees in a field when we fence out the cattle.
They need to be able to explore faith, hope and love without the cynicism, negativity and projected worries that adults too often pile them with.
Let alone verbal and physical violence.
The same is true in our schools and education system.
At every level we need to tell those who would impose adult problems and adult-vested interests, and seek to indoctrinate rather than educate, that they need to leave children alone.
For example, the world is not going to end in 10 years. If recent global patterns are followed it is likely to have a long and prosperous future – especially if children are allowed to grow with aspiration and idealism, as they will then be far more able to solve those problems as adults.
Issues of adult sexuality should not be punched down into the world of year one to eights as recent Ministry of Education documents insist upon. We [also] need to be so careful about imposing the politics of race that sets child against child.
It is not that these things don’t matter. They matter at the right levels, but they are being imposed on little humans with neither the developed brains nor experiences to understand and cope with them – nor any ability to make a difference in these moments.
Far too often now adults are choosing to have their ideological arguments with each other in the environment and playgrounds of the young.