It is such a shame that the new year so frequently starts with grey wet days in Britain and when it should start with bright blue sunny days full of hope and excitement so is it any wonder that all those good intentions fall by the wayside so quickly? There’s nothing like a flat grey sky to encourage an abundance of comfort habits and discourage all that exercise, fresh air and salads!
Like most new years this one started for me with staff training in a school, this year it was a primary school and I was running a training session on PSHE with a particular emphasis on sex and relationships education. One of the great challenges with personal, social, health education (PSHE) is that simply having knowledge does not change behaviour-as we know only too well with issues such as smoking or alcohol consumption, everyone knows the dangers and risks but it does not necessarily change the choices that people make. For educators such as teachers or parents this can be disheartening as we would all like to believe that simply knowing what is good or bad will change a child or young person’s behaviour. We all know it does not work for us, our resolutions are all based on things we know about health and well-being in relation to ourselves and yet in no time at all most of us (unless we’ve taken the plunge and signed on the dotted line for that gym membership) have begun to lose focus and interest in all those things we promised ourselves we would change.
There are things that do make a difference however and these are the things we need to be encouraging in children and young people from an early age in our conversations, attitude and of course by demonstrating in how we live our lives. One of the biggest inspirations for positive choice is having a range of aspirations-things to look forward to, to desire, to work towards in life however big or small.
Now when I mentioned this to teachers at the beginning of term, two members of the group made comments that have stayed with me. The first was that there is evidence to show that having overly high aspiration can cause stress in young people and the second was that when asked what they want to be when they are older most children today simply say they want to be famous! Both of these I’m sure are true although I haven’t checked any research or statistics to back this up, certainly I would say from my own experience working with a range of children and young people there are some who feel enormously pressurised to achieve in exams or tests and almost everyone wants to be a celebrity without having any specific direction or talent in mind.
One of the areas in which I work still has the 11+ and the number of year 6 children who have tutors or attend Saturday schools is quite shocking and represents to me the kind of aspiration I deplore. I’m all for helping children to do the best they can but any form of hot-housing is bound to encourage children to feel overly attached to results as a form of self validation.’ I am as good as my scores’ rather than ‘ I am a unique and special person, I make mistakes sometimes but I learn from them’. I know which viewpoint I think is healthier and more conducive to a well rounded and satisfying life, but I also know that not everyone would agree with me and that this is a matter of opinion. Like most things a little balance is required.
To me aspiration is not about what you want to be but rather how you want your life to be and it is this area that I feel we’d do little to help children with. We are stuck in the old 1950s way of looking at the future as a career choice and I am sure Ladybird or someone similar use to have a book about jobs and careers for children that listed Nurse, Doctor,Postman,Teacher, Pilot and probably something like a Baker ans all with clearly defined gender specifications. Somewhere along the line we are still presenting this view of the future to children whilst the media is presenting a more glamorous option of becoming rich and famous for doing absolutely nothing like the Big Brother contestants or the failed auditionees on X factor. To a child or young person the glamorous, easy, party lifestyle of the chosen few seems far more interesting than being a Postman and who can blame them? (No offence to Posties or the work they do intended!)
True aspirations are not dreams they are goals. Talking to children about places they would like to see, countries they would like to travel to, the home they would like to have, animals they would like to see in the wild, types of car they would like to see driving down the street, hobbies and interests they might like to pursue when older, types of building they would like to see-whatever they are interested in. If they love football then it may not be possible to become a professional footballer (although for some of course it is) but attending a world cup final one day is an aspiration to work towards as may be visiting every Premier league home ground to watch a match. By having such aspirations young people are encouraged to see the future as something they have some control over and if they have enough compelling and inspiring aspirations they will be unlikely to do anything that will seriously jeopardise or hamper their chances of making them come true, as long as they have the knowledge and understanding to avoid the pitfalls.
Becoming a world famous pop star happens to only a few people but there are millions of people worldwide who are involved in the pop industry, from media executives to sales staff in high street media shops. If a child longs to be part of the world of pop help them to see that anyone can be if they make choices and take the most useful steps towards their goals and although they may not become a star themself there are any number of roles within the industry from accounts to hairstyling, from management to admin, from album cover design to chauffeuring. Almost any area of skill can be utilised if an individual takes the right steps to get the results they want.
If a child loves playing games on their computer console encourage them to think of the games they might like to invent one day or real life applications for the skills and interests they are developing. not that true aspirations should be around career alone but rather to do with adventures and achievements in life, careers should be built around what inspires us and in this day and age many careers don’t have simple labels any more as they are more to do with evolving and developing as an individual than with choosing a role and sticking with it. Most of the people I admire in my life did not set out to do what they are now doing, they went with the flow and recognized opportunities as they arose in line with their own talents and interests. Encouraging children to do the same is the best we can do for them.
Happy New Year.
© Tatyana Okhitina | Dreamstime.com