Children are a bundle of emotions that they often can’t explain. We think we have it bad as adults? Well children have it ten times worse. They can go through a myriad of emotions all in the same day and, usually, have no control over either the emotions (hello terrible twos and teenage hormones) or the events that led to them (missed the bus, lost a toy, boring lesson, fell out with a friend, lost their PE kit and so on).
For toddlers and young children the bad moods are usually fleeting and quickly replaced with a good one but for pre-teens and teens they can often feel like a bottle of coke that has been shaken so many times over the day (forgot a book *shake*, told off for talking in class *shake*, kid next to me in class kept kicking my chair *shake*) that your seemingly unoffensive comment of ‘homework time’ is just that final shake that makes their coke bottle of emotions explode and flow over with no hope of pushing them back into the emotional bottle. We can’t help with all of these little shakes the way we did when they were younger. The best we can do is teach them coping skills.
I know we were all young once, we have all gone through these stages of growing up and we survived, but I think the youth of today get a hard deal. Yes they have the miracle of technology that we never had and most likely they have more money and are more spoilt than we were at their age. Life is sweet. Except it isn’t. I am so happy that I grew up without the social pressures that the internet has brought. I am not here to criticise the internet by any means – there are so many amazing things that it offers both on superficial and deep levels – but by God does it make growing up hard!
The pressures on children and teens to look a certain way and act a certain way are immense. So many children and teens now measure their physical attractiveness and worth in comparison to the latest Instagram stars and trends and measure their popularity in ‘likes’.
Teens and pre-teens are suffering from anxiety, depression, body issues, cyberbullying and a fear of missing out as a result of social media. There is also the ever present risk of grooming and radicalisation. Before the internet these were things which were the rare exception for children and not so much a norm that schools had to run regular refresher training for teachers to be able to be on the look out for. Issues that were previously the territory mainly of older teens and adults are now being experienced by much younger people who have much less life experience and less developed coping skills.
Children and teens are being shown people with seemingly perfect lives, immaculate bodies and expensive things and, due to the sheer number of social media account holders doing this, being given the impression that this is normal. That it is what they should be aspiring to and if they don’t measure up then they are a failure. They are being put into a grass is always greener and I will never be that good mindset which can leave them feeling like they can’t achieve happiness unless they have that money, that body and that number of followers.
As children enter their teens with social media all around them but not the foresight that adults hopefully have (but let’s face it we usually don’t) they are opening themselves up to tiny actions that can have lifelong effects. How many of today’s teens will end up struggling to get the job they want or the relationship they want because of all of the digital skeletons in their past that are no longer in the closet? The photos of them doing something stupid at age twelve that went viral or the rumour that was started about them on Facebook that went around the whole school. In giving children and teens social media, with 24 hour access for those with mobile phones, we have taken our children and put them in the deep dark woods without a map, compass or torch to help.
My greatest wish for my own children and the children I teach is that when they see trends and trend setters on social media they will have the clear mindedness, independence and confidence to be able to mentally filter real from unreal and important from superficial. My hope is that if they ever find themselves in a potential dangerous situation (grooming, cyberbullying, radicalisation) that they have the critical thinking skills to realise that danger and do the right thing and the creative skills to get out of those situations. We can’t be there all the time. We have so little control that it is truly terrifying. Children can become trolls, encouraged and swept along by more forceful friends and the anonymity of the internet. Children can be sitting in the same room as you or in their bedroom being cyberbullied without you even knowing it.
In addition to all of these pressures we also now have ‘fake news’. I know many adults who can’t even discriminate between fake and real news. You will do too. Just have a peep on your Facebook feed now if you have them. How many people are sharing or commenting on four your old stories that were proved to be myths many years ago as if they were today’s news? How many people are asking you to share or like a post and if you don’t then you definitely have proved that you support cancer, child slavery and kicking kittens (and don’t forget the pressuring and slightly peevish claim on each one that ’I bet 92.7% of people won’t share this post’). Then there are the ‘no-one wished this little boy happy birthday because he is disabled’ posts prompting you to wish him a happy birthday and always fake.
Then it gets even sneakier because anyone can edit Wikipedia or write their own blog or opinion piece now and it can be on the internet in seconds. So children who are just starting to use the internet and who are used to everything that is the written word and being presented by an adult is fact, now have the job that some adults can’t manage – the job of filtering what is real and what isn’t. What hope do they have of surviving to adulthood without becoming misinformed fools? Our only hope is to give up trying to talk to them about every possible fake news, rumour, hashtag and trend and instead teach them to be able to think through things logically and begin to make these distinctions themselves.
A philosophy for children approach to both teaching and parenting can hopefully help children to gain the skills they need to survive the online world unscathed, or relatively so.
Gone are the days when we lived in naïve optimism until puberty hit and the only news we got was pretty accurately reported on the BBC. Children are now getting social media accounts from a young age (despite recommended ages of 13). We have even built internet safety and other adult concerns like terrorism into our primary curriculum. Gone are those days where children can just listen to their parents and teachers and get that good grounding of fact-based knowledge before they hit their teens and here are the days that they need to start digesting, processing and forming their own ideas based on a barrage of conflicting opinions.
Life moves fast! For a few years the You Tuber Logan Paul was seen as a ‘safe’ influence. His brother was even a Disney channel regular until the channel “mutually agreed” to separate themselves from him. Skip forwards a few years and Logan Paul’s videos take a turn as they begin to objectify women and, of course, his now infamous and callous visit to the Japanese “suicide forest”. But at what point do the parents of his pre-teen fans decide that he is no longer appropriate? Before his inappropriate turn? Well that isn’t possible, so by the time parents stop their child from watching You Tubers like this, their child has already seen many videos that challenge their way of seeing the world. If the adults around them haven’t given them the skills to take in information and opinions and make considered judgements then children are left being influenced by no-longer safe idols. A sting in the tale to this example, by the way, is that my middle son loved Logan Paul. We bought a Logan Paul hoodie. Then he hit the press for being, in laymen terms, a complete imbecile and that hoodie got consigned to a drawer. We both learnt a valuable lesson there.
Another part of the world children are experiencing is the increasing threat of terrorism. When I was young there were definitely still acts of terrorism around the world, but it was not to the scale that we see now and not such a part of a child’s world. It happened. It was in the newspaper, on the radio and on one of the three or four news programmes that were on grown up TV at some point during the day. It did not intrude, too much, into most children’s lives or consciousness. It was a grown-up concern.
Children nowadays are experiencing terrorism and gaining an awareness of it from a much younger age. After the bombing of the Arianna Grande concern in Manchester in 2017 four of the children in my class mentioned it during register. This was the next morning. Less than twenty four hours after it had happened. They actually mentioned it as soon as I reached their names in the register and burst out with the tiny bits of information that had already seeped into their little brains. All of a sudden I was faced with four children who knew about the bombing and twenty three children who were now wondering what was being talked about and were eager to hear more. There was an assembly about it too. My class didn’t go, they were far too young for a 20 minute assembly even if it wasn’t on such a sad and scary issue, but their siblings did. Some parents chose to tell their children about the bombing and some didn’t but the children were a part of the world. A world where information comes from all avenues, and where even Disney Channel icons can end up in the midst of a terrorist situation. How can you even hope to explain these things to a three year old? I struggled with my two pre-teens.
Not only are the children that we teach now exposed to more videos and news about terrorism, we even actively have PREVENT training for teachers to spot the early signs of extremism and radicalisation that we may see in children. It isn’t just the ISIS style extremism either. In a turbulent society there is also radicalisation coming from the white supremacist front. How can we expect children, who are only just becoming aware of a vague concept of death and whose biggest conflict is usually about not wanting to brush their teeth before bed, to be able to understand and process the existence of terrorism?
Philosophy for Children does not give all of the answers but what it does do is help to create a mind-set from a young age which gives children the tools to take in information which is often conflicting (and sometimes fake) and opinions and create their own. That is the key. The opinion and ideas that we all have are exactly that. Our own. So it is up to us to give our children the tools to be able to form their own opinions, taking account of everything they have heard and read, without being overwhelmed or brainwashed by the most vocal opinions. If we create little philosophers then hopefully they can create a positive future for us all.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
It is a common concern nowadays that, with our fast moving society and social media, children are getting involved in the world of adults from a much younger age.
I worry about it. I have children of my own, all boys. I feel that if I had girls I would worry about it even more. But of course I do have girls. Around fifteen of them in my class every year and I worry about the world we are sending them into, equipped with all of the teaching and, dare I say it, boring lectures that primary school has had to throw at them in the guise of PSHE and ICT and with the hope of giving them some tools to stay safe in life and online but with little in the way of skills like critical thinking, analytical skills, imagining different scenarios and actually making their own decisions. “Don’t trust men in white vans and stay away from strangers” we say. “Don’t go on this app or that one”, “If you are a girl dress conservatively or beware. If you are a boy you are obviously born with no impulse control so this is what you need to remember while you fight those natural urges”.
But, of course, none of that is entirely true or vaguely helpful. Bad guys don’t always come in white vans, sometimes they are not even male. Strangers aren’t always bad and the people who might hurt you are not always strangers. This or that app might be dangerous but new ones pop up every day and bad people find new ways to exploit innocence on the internet (and children and teens find new ways to hide things from their parents). Girls who dress a certain way are not “asking for it” and boys are not all born with the urge to hurt people and lack of impulse control. These over generalisations that parents and educators sometimes give in order to try to protect our children, therefore, are bordering on useless when taught in isolation.
Yes we should be teaching children what to look out for to stay safe from danger but even we do not know many of the signs until they have been reported on the news and they don’t always get reported in the news until a few terrible incidents have been discovered. In that case teaching facts and assumptions is not enough. In order to help children navigate the world in safety and make the choices that lead them to have a happy and fulfilled life we need to teach them how to make those choices when there are no adults around to ask (or they wouldn’t ask anyway even if one was sitting right next to them). We need to teach them how to think critically and creatively and consider all options and possibilities when making their choices. This is one of the benefits of using P4C in education - to give children those thinking skills to help them to navigate the world.
Miss Magical Mess is a pre-school teacher and P4C Level 2B facilitator. After a shaky start as a P4C facilitator (P4C with 3 year olds... are you kidding?) Miss Magical Mess created her own approach to P4C and enquiry model and is now a big fan.