Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Tag: children Page 1 of 6

Weekly Column: Judgment prevents us from remembering that everyone carries a story

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday May 13th, 2019.

A few days ago, I read an opinion piece about Mother’s Day. The author, a teacher by profession, argued that less emphasis on the joy of Mother’s Day in the school environment would spare some kids of the heartbreak they experience as they do not have an all around loving and warm mother figure, whether due to social circumstances, medical or any other. The many reminders almost seem cruel, the author pointed out. I nodded in agreement as I read the piece.

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Weekly Column: The Antidote to Internet Challenges Is Presence (The Real Kind)

Like all parents with school-age children, I received the district heads-up letter about the Momo challenge. By now most have are familiar with the strange, creepy face of the Momo character and the internet storm it has created. My eldest had heard about it, while my youngest had not. I passed on the heads-up. They shrugged. There are just so many wacky things out there, my eldest said.

True. The many things that lurk in the virtual darkness of the internet are not reduced to Momo or another challenge. It’s an ongoing thing. There are controversial videos and memes that are inappropriate for kids but they access anyway because they are there; there is pornography (see Katie Neustaeder’s column from last week); there are violent or troublesome-imagery games parents sometimes approve as OK because ‘so many people are doing it so it must be fine’ – which only confuses things.

We can all agree that whoever created Momo has a sick, twisted mind, but then again, that is the category we can (almost) place so many of today’s online happenings, including the addicting features of apps and games. As we know, children respond scarily well to that and get hooked easily.

The reality is, the internet murkiness and disturbing at times content will not go away. I say this with profound sadness. I grew up without the internet and loved it, and I love it even more now, retrospectively. It had all the magic in it a kid could want.

One of the reasons for it was nature: I was outside a lot. Aside from time spent reading, doing homework, or helping my parents with various chores around the house and garden, time was spent outside, rain or shine, with or without other kids, but to be fair, lots of it with kids because that’s what was considered the norm for children.

The challenges of those days had to do with climbing trees, riding bikes up crazy hills, being delegated to do dares as we were all sitting around a fire on a given late summer evening (when you live near a cemetery and the theme of the night is ghosts, you have to conjure a decent amount of courage to overcome the ‘no way I am doing this.’)

Now mind you, we weren’t instructed by my parents on every aspect of safety but given the occasional advice on what is safe and what not, and why. Nor did they have to sign a waiver if we were at somebody’s house climbing trees and building forts (with real tools, by ourselves) because it was part of the picture: kids did real things, and they did a lot of problem solving through various activities. Running into mischief added its own educational quotient.

What made it so darn good? For one, when you are around your significant adults and do various things alongside them, you learn as you go. They’ll stop you from doing this or that, until you learned the safe way to do it, but they would let you try things that were not deadly so you could make mistakes too. Hence the ongoing challenge of learning things. The best two things about that was that you really strived to learn how to do it right, and then it felt pretty good when you could put your skills to work when the situation called for it.

We went up on the hills near my house and we went to the local swimming pool in the summer. Being out and about and learning so many of those ‘invisible’ like skills by osmosis really, was the best and most valuable gift that I was given.

The times have changed and there was nothing any of us could do to stop the evolution. With the good (and the internet has brought a lot of that, everyone agrees,) came the bad, and this, again, no amount of vigilance from parents or responsible adults can stop.

The one thing we can do, and no one can change that, save for our own decision to not do it, is to spend enough time with our kids and teach about balance and healthy challenges, not by preaching to them but by exposing them to situations where they can experience that. Indoors and out.

If adults take time away from the internet and screens in general and instead dedicate it to spending it together with our kids, there is a chance they will get to experience some of that magic that the ‘no internet’ kids once experienced.

Any time spent together inside or outside, be it hard work that brings in both frustration and a sense of accomplishment, or fun times spent having adventures of all kinds, such as camping, hiking, and exploring any given corner or nature – there is a wealth of goodness and magic there waiting to grow. We have the means to challenge our children in a way that helps them grow confident and able to discern. It’s no perfect solution, but it’s something that no one loses anything by trying; on the contrary.

It’s been said many times: you cannot change the world around you but you can change how you react to it.

Now that’s a challenge worth taking.

Weekly Column: Climate Change Challenges Will Never Be Solved With Cat Doors

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on January 7, 2019. 

If you want to chuckle, check out the amusing story of how a $2,000 cat door installed in a West Vancouver home can help fight climate change (embedded in the $3 million home it belongs too.) To be fair, the article has some good information on passive houses, or net-zero homes, but you might find yourself jaded by the time you get to the part where the 11-foot windows are described (shipped from Europe, they were.) Carbon footprint applies to the whole product and the processes involved in building it, no?

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Weekly Column: Is Our Justice System Letting Us Down?

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, October 29, 2018. 

Once again, I toss my midweek-written column. I had started writing about the troublesome aspect of our present-day life, which is the excess we have created. Put in the context of the growing mountains of garbage, plastic waste in particular, it seems ridiculous and irresponsible to add more to the pile. But we do, and every weekly flyer is proof to that. I was also mentioning the absurdity of seeing Christmas items already in stores (the story of garbage has many chapters indeed.)

I will save it for another week; nothing will change in the meantime, except for more flyers arriving in the mail tempting us to buy more so we can have more so we can actually have less. Among other things, less gratitude and a lesser sense of responsibility towards our future; our children’s future.

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Weekly Column: Restriction On How We Use Cannabis Have Their Place

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on October 15, 2018. 

October 17 is just around the corner. Cannabis will be legal (and the province expects a hit from the first orders, predicted to come as a huge wave as many want to make history by ordering as soon as cannabis becomes legal,) and many others are bracing for what the legalization brings about.

One of the concerns is driving while under the influence.

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Do We Need To Redefine Adolescence?

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on January 22, 2018. 

When I was 12 or so, I became aware that some elderly people around me, relatives or not, had been married or were forced by various life circumstances to become an ‘adult’ early on, at the age of say 16 or slightly older, but under 20. There were a few stories of people whose fathers died suddenly, which meant that the eldest in the family had to work a lot harder to compensate for the loss.

I kept asking my mom about how someone just a couple of years older than me could know enough to take care of a home, or a family. Her answer was that they likely didn’t, but learned as they went along. It made sense then as it does now. Being around my parents during the times I was not at school, or doing my homework, playing, or reading, I got to learn so much just by spending time with them, watching them do things, asking questions, or being given various tasks.

It takes being there and being present, and having the awareness of time spent that way, something I often wonder about regarding our children and more so, our teenagers, nowadays. We cannot make up our minds on whether they are growing up too fast or if they need some extra time allocated to mature and leave the nest.

Throughout the last decade, there have been many books written about the teenage brain and its mysterious ways. The library of knowledge is growing, yet here we are still scratching our heads and wondering if we understand our teens as much as we thought we did.

As of last week, another stick was thrown in a parent’s rather shoddy (at times) wheel. In an op-ed piece published in the journal Lancet Child & Adolescent Health Journal, Professor Susan Sawyer, Director of the Centre for Adolescent Health in Melbourne, argues that we ought to rethink the definition of adolescence and redefine existing age brackets as to include all our young ones between 10 and 24 years of age. One of the reasons, she says, is that young people do things such as leaving home, gaining financial independence, and starting a family, a lot later than they used to.

One wonders whether calling a 24-year-old a teenager will solve all those issues. If back in the day kids often had no choice but to grow up fast and fill whatever size shoes life threw at them, nowadays most of them (on this side of the world, anyway,) have the luxury of not worrying too much about providing for their families and instead indulging a lot more in what is generally known as ‘chilling’. On the other hand, a ludicrous minimum wage coupled with education-related high debt can lock young people into living with their parents past the age of 20.

There are, indeed, many facets to having teenagers transition from living with their parents to being financially-independent, and affordable secondary education, and a decent minimum wage can make the process a lot smoother without having to expand the teenage years past the actual ‘-teen’ numbers.

Allowing one to not have any responsibilities has never been a recipe for developing resilience or a dependable character, nor has excusing one’s questionable behaviour or downright defending it. The latter has been increasing over the years, according to many teachers who have had to deal not only with their students’ challenging behaviour, but also with the parents’ resentment over their children being disciplined.

Some of the conclusions streaming out of the neuroscience labs point to the teenage years as essential for brain development (as opposed to just early childhood.) Some scientists concluded that activities involving learning (reading, being involved in various tasks that involve both brain power and hands-on projects) help increase teenagers IQ during the ages of 12 and 16.

On the other hand, a substantial body of research points to the teenage brain being easily highjacked by addictive activities such as gaming, drinking, smoking, or using recreational drugs such as pot, all of which can reduce their ability to perform at their highest potential. In other words, they are vulnerable. Not in a ‘let’s bubble-wrap them’, but in a ‘let’s provide what they need such as a listening ear, time spent together, dialogue, and not least, boundaries.’

It’s the age of digital tech connectivity and life in the fast lane; fewer and fewer families sit down for meals together, or spend enough time with each other to truly stay connected. While defining life stages and pouring over books discussing behaviour and arguing for this or that is great and a good conversation tool, truth is, what we most need, to know, understand, and connect with our growing children, is time. Also, if we want to be able to count on our teenagers to be dependable and trustworthy, we must provide them with good examples to follow, solid boundaries and enough opportunities to learn to grow.

It may not be the definition from outside bodies that counts the most, but rather empowering our teenagers to see themselves from inside as capable to raise up to challenges, instead of letting their spirit succumb to immaturity, a narrative we are collectively suggesting to them, albeit with the best of intentions.

What About The Kids?

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, September 11, 2017. 

A few years ago, when my sons were still in public school (now homeschooled), we would get a lunch program to peruse and choose from if we wanted to. We chose nothing, not because we’re fussy, but because the options were deplorable.

One of the options was called taco salad. ‘It’s a salad made of tortilla chips, Mom,’ my oldest announced a couple of weeks later, rather bemused, when he got to see the very dish. No matter how you turn it, that is not food.

Feeding children can be a wild adventure at times, given occasional pickiness and all, but that’s no excuse feeding them junk food or low-quality ingredients as part of the school lunches. Not when we live in the middle of a farm-rich country and there is an abundance of fresh, wholesome foods that could be worked into school lunches.

I am willing to say that more parents would sign up for the program if there were healthy options, and would welcome the break from figuring out next day’s lunch. There is a high chance that many kids would learn about healthy food and be better for it. Which could be amplified if students would have a garden to tend to right on school grounds. You see, gardening invites to more than planting and picking, with the occasional weeding in between.

Gardening means learning about soil and all its wondrous components, from chemical compounds to bugs of all sizes that keep it healthy; it opens the door to learning about how liquids travel through soil and how they get absorbed through the roots. It involves delving into the biochemistry of the cell and if you add a microscope to the mix, you can get hours of intense studying, which will be followed by more curiosity. From there, you get to how fruit and veggies grow, and from there on, it moves into the realm of eating good-for-you foods.

Which isn’t anything that I saw in the school district’s lunch program I happened to come across. Chicken bites, chicken burger, chicken nuggets, all served cold, followed by some fruit slices and either juice or chocolate milk or plain milk. Fruit juice is empty calories that do not benefit children or anyone else for that reason. Eating the whole fruit is where it’s at.

Again, this is happening right here where we see ripe fruit that falls on the ground all summer and fall too, from cherries to apricots to plums, apples, and pears. On top of it, we have a farmer’s market so plentiful this time a year, that it would only make sense to use some of that to provide good food for children. Just imagine connecting local farmers to the department that organizes school lunches in the district.

That being said, there will be a chorus telling me that many kids prefer junk food and they would scoff at healthy (deemed boring by some) food options. Be it so, it should be part of a school mandate to educate about healthy food options. In an age where child obesity and chronic health issues starting in childhood are on the rise, that would be a moral duty, to say the least. That’s one of the reasons why I never refer to junk or processed foods as ‘treats’, but call them by their name.

Living a long, healthy life involves no magic.  Eat wholesome meals, mostly veggies, and never until full, get outside, get moving, and connect with people. In a nutshell. To keep with the scope of this piece, I will ask this: how many kids nowadays are doing all or some of the above?

There are too many processed food options (with attractive advertisements), there are devices that make them sit in one place for hours on end, there is the culture of fear where parents do not want/dare to let their kids play outside on their own, and there is, at society level, for the most part, a growing and deeply worrying trend of living life in an isolated, often self-centered way.

Many of our children are anxious, depressed, obese, or plagued by other eating disorders; some are bullied, others are bullying, at war with the world around them. They all start out eager to learn about the world around (healthy foods included,) and then somewhere down the road they become self-conscious, bored, tired, fearful, addicted to screens and drugs. Reclaiming them becomes the hardest task.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Fixing a generation (or more) is no easy thing. As always, one step at a time is where we can start. No drugs can ever fix what healthy food, free play, and time spent together can.

Hippocrates once said, ‘Let food be thy medicine.’ Let’s start with that. Make every bite, treats included, count. As for the rest of the issues, perhaps we should go back to forming the village needed to raise a child. A connected community is where better things happen. When it comes to our children, no effort is too big to make that happen.

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