I can’t help it I guess. I tend to always reflect on Generations Together in the context of schools and the children we teach and look after every day.
We are certainly blessed to see so many of our students thrive and flourish thanks to the wonderful teachers and Chaplains who nurture and guide the children in their care with such patience, compassion and wisdom.
However, we all know that we live in a rather frenetic society and there are young people in our schools who are suffering from a range of mental health issues. Even Primary School students are being diagnosed with complex issues around anxiety and depression.
I read an article recently by Daniel O’Hare and it really made me think.
In addressing the ‘crisis’ of child mental health, there are those that believe we need to work on changing the child. Some are looking at providing more therapy for the students to ‘fix’ them. Others suggest we need to reorganise schools. We can have school staff trained to become mental health first aiders. Our teachers already have a demanding and complex role to play, but the idea is that teachers also develop skills to identify mental health issues and then work with a team to deal with the child.
Daniel OHare suggests a different approach – and I quote directly from his own article! Here is his version of The Parable of the River.
One night villagers were sitting by their river bank about to eat when one villager noticed a young child floating upside down and drifting down the river. Several villagers jumped to their feet, dived in and tried to rescue the child. It was too late.
A short while later, another young child was noticed, coughing and screaming as it struggled to stay afloat. This time, the villagers were luckier and the child, although bruised and battered, lived.
This turn of events continued and the frequency with which the villagers had to attempt to rescue babies and children from the river increased. Sometimes the villagers were successful, but this was not always guaranteed.
Soon the resources and people power of the village were directed at saving as many children as they could. This activity occupied the villagers constantly and other endeavours they had previously pursued had to be forgotten – but this was accepted, as it was a worthy cause.
One day, two villagers began to walk away from the village heading upstream. They were questioned, “Where are you going? We need you here.”
The villagers replied, “We’re going upstream to find out why these children end up in the river.”
In my experience, our schools are committed to caring for each individual student, but problems of mental health and wellbeing cannot rest with school staff alone, no matter how amazing those teachers may be.
In his article, Dr O’Hare referred to Dr Laura Winter who recently explained at the annual Educational Psychology conference that until we stop obsessing with what is going on inside a child’s head and actually start looking at what is happening in society, nothing is likely to substantially change.
Perhaps more focus on bringing generations together to look at the issues that face our children is a better way to ease the pressure on our students. Our children may benefit from more spiritual guidance that could come from an authentic generational accountability and a closer analysis of social justice.
Maybe it is time that, as a community, we look upstream. Embracing the notion of ‘generations together’ may change the way we consider the wellbeing of our students and find a way for our students to thrive.
As we know, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” Matthew 19:14