Devalued Future in the Eyes of a Child

“I come back from parts of the world where I would never ever romanticised poverty, but I see kids kicking a coke bottle, having more fun than kids with iPods and every electronic gadget here, where there is still connection to land and story and song and celebration.”

– Tim Costello; Innovation, Energy And Climate Change In The Developing World. Listen to the brilliant audio.

I’ve moved on from asserting why I am so confident about science and stumbled quite unexpectedly onto the subject of value. A friend recently passed Brendan Gleeson’s book Lifeboat cities, which has no doubt influenced this as well as has my research for The Human Island series, which has lead me to places, such as TEEB. We’ve become too focused in recent decades on what has a market-based value in our current economic systems. Where the financial value of goods and services is unknown or  undefinable, it’s taken for granted.

The quote above, stood out as an excellent example of this. I know, for instance, that I can much more easily relate to my father’s childhood than that of my own son. My father’s generation wasn’t entertained as children, but had to entertain themselves. This meant grabbing whatever items that you could carry, getting out of the house and letting your imagination fill in the gaps.

Likewise, mine was one of exploration and imagination. I simply cannot tell you just how many jars I had, stuffed with leaves and invertebrates or how often I lied to my parents and told them I was going to my friend’s house down the road and he would do the same so that the two of us could ride all over Morwell. Who knows how many things I pulled apart or rocks I over turned to find out something new?

I stayed at a friend’s farm for a week and got horribly sunburnt, fell on a barb-wire fence and at another time, an electric fence and nearly drowned swimming out deep at a local lake, but I also spent one lazy afternoon by a creek, catching yabbies and have amazing memories of being on a working dairy farm. I wouldn’t change any of it.

The point is, like my father did with his childhood, I made my childhood and without it, I doubt I’d be the scientist I am today or inclined to be as creative as my free time allows.

Sure, we had an Atari 2600 and some bizarre Dick Smith computer, but they barely played a role in my life. It was only in the ’94 that I bought myself a SNES and that was mostly a social device that I used after school with a few mates.

I don’t think my son has ever climbed a tree and I know he’s terrified of Daddy-Long-Legs. I was never a brave kid, but I spent most of my childhood up a tree or collecting spiders. Likewise, he isn’t into sports, rebelled when I enrolled him in our local cubs group and could not adequately described the exterior of our home, for he simply doesn’t go outside (if you push him out the back door he sits and sulks).

However, he is a wizz on the PC (games only), Wii and DS.

When I pick him up from his mother’s place, I hear commentary of games he has played (many of which are above his age bracket) but little on school or friends, regardless of my questions. We try our best to counter all of this in the limited time that we have with him, but it is frustrating when every pick up starts in the same fashion – with only 20% of the time under our influence, we’re clearly at a disadvantage.

Only a few months ago, I picked him up from a friend’s place whose mother informed me that a birthday party I held for my son a few years ago was still commented on by her son.

Apparently, and completely unbeknown to me, children’s birthday parties have become a status symbol – ever larger and more elaborate. Having a child young and denied a proper parental role, I was unaware of this – apart from my own childhood, I’d never since gone to another child’s birthday party. What I did was what I remembered – Pass the Parcel, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Treasure Hunt and various race games etc.

His friend had gone to many parties with all sorts of activities, jumping castles, clowns and petting zoos and yet simple games and challenges remained a highlight to this child years afterward.

Likewise, my own son has said that of all his birthday parties, his favourite was when my parents, sister and her husband and I took him to the Gold Coast. We surprised him by all dressing up as pirates and decorating that flat while he was out with his grandmother. He was the captain and we played a bunch of party games.

The point to all of this is that we clearly devalue many of the aspects of human nature because we cannot equate them in a consumer mindset. Putting aside my particular frustrations, being on the periphery of my son’s life, Tim Costello makes a very poignant observation of the younger generations of the western world – the first of the new millennium. They are unlike any that went before them. Most disturbingly, we seem to be ignorant to the resulting apathy from devaluing non-market based goods and services.

For instance, I spent a few of my teenage years as the local punching bag, much of which was horrible, but it eventually went away. I could not even begin to understand what it must feel like for the equivalent child nowadays who relives the abuse as the children involved also recorded the attack and spread it around the school. Bullying has always occurred, true – but this kind of behaviour is nothing short of a disgusting form of entertainment.

Where, over the coming series, I will look into the value of ecology, this was more of a social disorder and I didn’t feel that I could include it, yet it concerns me deeply. What will these children be like as adults? All they have from childhood is endlessly being entertained, from computer games to clowns and jumping castles, scoreless weekend sports, anxiety of being technologically behind the flock and a growing void that used to be filled by the land (exploring local parks with friends , climbing a tree, digging in the backyard, collecting small creatures etc) and choose-your-own-adventure style imagination.

I cannot see them being creative, having initiative or endurance to see something through. I cannot see how they can have much real self-worth (ie. not based on the items that they own) and self-confidence when things don’t go their way.

In all respects, we are not investing in our future generations. We are not teaching them to think for themselves, accept defeat, to explore and to dream. Instead, TV dramatises it for them. We are not teaching them self-worth, because that they know of it is wrapped around the financial worth of items that surround them and not who they are. We are not teaching them the value of others in our mindless spits of road rage, nasty criticism of others in public and the materialistic treatment of others on the idiot box. We’re not even investing in them financially, with ever increasing personal debt and horrible school funding policies (favouring the “good performers” simply increases disparity).

This must be one of the greatest problems facing our near future, with a great potential to undermine future societies. We need to restructure our understanding of value and invest  greater financial and non-financial wealth in younger generations as much as we need to in food, water and ecological security or we simply leave an obese apathetic and unenthusiastic generation to take the baton when our turn is over.

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