People who live for others are much more fulfilled than those who live for themselves. By putting children first we can hope for a brighter future.

Fr Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist.
This column appeared on February 2009

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Any chain can only be as strong as it embraces its weakest link. The same is true in regard to how we function as a community or indeed our own family lives. Family always tells the story of the joys and struggles, success and failure, love and hope that accompany us all on our pathway through life. One of the most vulnerable groups in all our communities at this present time are young people. Young people often struggle as a result of the breakdown and dysfunction regarding family life.

A major new report has been issued in Britain called “A Good Childhood: Searching for values in a competitive age”. The report presents a very worrying reality in that childhood is being blighted by the pursuit of “Self-fulfillment”. In the eyes of many people personal success simply means material success.

Self -fulfillment means something different. It means happiness. However, whatever we call it; it is harming children at an alarming rate. As the briefing paper accompanying the report puts it:

“The belief among adults that the prime duty of the individual is to make the most of their own life, rather than contribute to the good of others is causing our young people a lot of problems. They include high family break up, Teenage bullying and unkindness, commercial pressure towards premature sexualisation, unprincipled advertising, too much pressure and competition in education and acceptance of inequality.”

Although the report is about British children much of it could easily be applied to Ireland. Family break-up continues to grow at an alarming rate in Ireland. The shift away from traditional family to a wide variety of circumstances is telling its toll on the emotional well being of children who find themselves bruised emotionally by the breakup of family life. Where children experience unhappiness and instability often they act out their hurts with behavioral issues.

There is an alarming increase in reports of bullying particularly among teenagers. Teenagers can often be cruel to one another as we know from so called cyber-bullying, involving internet and mobile phones. There is enormous pressure on teenagers, to become sexually active again placing huge emotional issues on very young shoulders. Advertising aimed at young people is all about recruiting them into the consumer society. In these recessionary times, many children for the first time are experiencing what it is like to have to do without.

One of the biggest problems that affect young people is when the Parent places their happiness and personal life as more important than their Childs. This rationalization often leaves devastating consequences for teenagers as they struggle to find role-models for their own lives.

A huge challenge facing family life is that parents have to be willing to sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of their children. People who live for others are much more fulfilled than those who live for themselves. We all have a responsibility to enhance the lives of young people. A happy child will be a confident adult. By putting children first we can hope for a bright future.