South of the River – God bless the child

Compass-SouthComment logo 2Apparently it was Whitney Houston who said “I believe the children are our future”. Actually she probably sang it and although it’s a bit trite, it’s something to bear in mind.

It seems too often that we don’t believe in our children, but prefer to blame them or to fear them. By our children I mean as a community, although I suspect some of us would wish our own, biological, children would shut up once in a while. I’ve been lucky enough to be in the company of children twice recently. On both occasions they did their generation proud.

The first event was a ‘Selection Day’ for a charity I’m involved with called Children’s International Summer Villages or CISV. The charity runs a number of programmes that bring children and young people from different countries together to discuss issues of social justice and have fun together. Our strapline is ‘Building global friendship’.

The Village programme is for 11 year olds and involves going away, sometimes to the other side of the world, for four weeks. It’s not for everyone and we try to ensure that the right children go, hence Selection Day. Don’t worry, it’s not a battery of psychological tests. CISV’s practice is based on experiential learning, learning through doing. In fact mostly learning through play. So the children played games for a few hours in a church hall.

The eleven year olds were pretty impressive. Most of them didn’t know others in the room, but got stuck in, learned names, played games. What was really impressive was the two young people, 16 year olds, that ran all the activities through the day. By comparison, my job as an adult was easy – to observe and make decisions at the end of the day.

One of the things I most admire about CISV is how it builds children’s confidence. As they get older, the children are expected to take on more responsibility within each programme. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m always impressed at how they rise to this challenge.

The second event was the Child Friendly Leeds Awards ceremony at the City Varieties. I’d gone along wearing two hats. Firstly as a governor at New Bewerley Community School, whose School Council were shortlisted for an award. And secondly as your reporter hoping to report awards for the two or three other shortlisted candidates from South Leeds.

Well, as you may know, we came away empty handed, but what a great night! The whole show was put together and presented by a team of young people. It may not have been as slick as the Oscars, but it more than made up for that in energy and invention. The performers were terrific too, I was particularly struck by the magic act performed by two primary school children.

So obviously not all children are angels, but what should our approach to them be? How do we help them to act in sensible and responsible ways?

It seems to me that there are too approaches. We can start by telling children what they can’t do, what they mustn’t do – don’t run in the corridors, etc. Or we can encourage good behaviour – respect other pupils when you’re moving around the school.

It’s not just about saying yes to whatever children want. Children need (and want) clear boundaries. But again, in imposing those boundaries we can do it in a positive or negative manner. We’ve got a young puppy and I know how tempting it is to reach for the negative response, but I also know that it’s much more effective to praise her when she gets things right.

My children are grown up now. I don’t think I was a perfect parent, but they’ve turned out as charming, responsible young adults, so I must have been doing something right. But I don’t believe my responsibility to children stops with my own kids. I go with the African proverb: ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. We are all responsible and we all need to take a positive approach treat the children we come into contact with respect.

If we get that right, then we’ll have a Child Friendly Leeds.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.