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Another brick in the wall

| September 14, 2018 | 0 Comments

Isn’t it interesting how the parenting pendulum has swung so completely from the typical Victorian indifference to children’s state of wellbeing (as long as they did as they were told) to the modern-day parents’ allconsuming angst about their kids’ happiness?

The treatment of children has moved from misguided parental demands for total obedience to equally misguided parental overconcern that their offspring must be pleased in order to be happy. A single mother came in to see me with her teenage son, whose marks had dropped “because he didn’t like school”. Because he didn’t like school?! Well. Years ago, my response would have been: “Sorry for you. Now get to class. And start working.” But the world has changed. So, together, the mother and I explored the reasons for this sudden school-phobia. Was the son being bullied? Victimised? Stressed? Unstressed? Dis-stressed? Bored? Unstimulated? Overstimulated? Cyberbullied? Cyberaddicted? Cyberwithdrawn? Cyberedout? Apparently not. He said he just wasn’t happy boarding at our monastic school. Which I felt was strange. He did not have too far to go to matric. But the lad said again, he was not happy and wanted to leave. This gave the mother her way in and she jumped all over it: “Darling, I just want you to be happy!” She turned on me: “This school is obviously not fulfilling his needs!” Back to son: “Darling, what do I do to make you happy?” Well. What does one say to that? “Lady, you’ve got this the wrong way round. This is not a holiday camp where everyone is supposed to be happy!” That would have gone down like a lead balloon. But of course, she did have it the wrong way round. Using my best pedagogic voice, I said, “As any thinking person comes to realise, proper happiness is a by-product. It cannot be pursued directly. It happens as the result of working at worthwhile studies, working at relationships, of making sacrifices, of taking on challenges. Longterm rewards via work involving sacrifices result in satisfaction and its twin, happiness, but effort, drive, sacrifices, motivation, perseverance – all those good things – cannot be sidestepped along the way.” Her eyes had glazed over halfway through this diatribe and she merely repeated, but more faintly, “But I just want my boy to be happy…” It occurred to me that there might be something else behind this “leave the school which is not fulfilling his needs” idea. As casually as I could, I asked, “What’s your girlfriend’s name?” He coloured. “What girlfriend?” he said, attempting to be disingenuous. Aha! A typical case of DSB from TO (Disengaged Brain Syndrome from Testosterone Override). After some hedging he came clean. He wanted to leave boarding school to live with her. And he had a photo on his mobile. I looked. Wow! Mother looked. “Mary, Joseph and what’s-hisname!” she cried out involuntarily. “She’s in her 20s! You are 16!” She looked again: “I wanted you to be happy, but not that happy!” She straightened up: “I shall meet with this – this … hussy!” There was the hissing ferocity of the shetiger in the word ‘hussy’. (Oh, to be a fly on the wall at that encounter!) The problem was then quickly solved. Mother (challenged by another woman on her turf ) suddenly reverted to Victorian-like norms. The lad stayed on at our monastic school – minus girl, minus mobile (and with happiness low on the agenda). And so, his objective, critical thought processes were restored. His marks soared. And at his final matric house dinner in his farewell speech, he also showed a marvellous sense of humour, which included a wink to his mother. He expressed gratitude for his academic achievements in tonguein- cheek tearful terms: “I also want to thank my mother for sending me to such a good all-boys’ school. A school without a single member of the opposite sex (sob-sob) – to make me happy… Not one girl! (sob-sob). Thank you, mom, I was so (sobsob) happy…”

Category: Spring 2018

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