A STATE OF INNOCENCE
Alan Challoner MA (Phil) MChS There is a period in a child’s life beyond infancy and the attachment period but before adolescence. It has been referred to as the latency period; a point in a child’s journey towards adulthood where, hopefully, it has acquired the beginnings of a conscience, is aware of some of the demands of society, and awaits quietly and comfortably the beginnings of puberty and the climb towards maturity. At this time in its life a child should dwell in a state of innocence. This state has been described as being one of moral purity. There is here an assumption that a child of this age will be free of guile and artifice. This once in a lifetime period should be one of happiness and freedom from anxiety and pain. It is a time when learning needs to go on gently at the child’s own pace, and during which they find out how to socialise and be comfortable with their peers. That picture is one that in many places seems to be disappearing. Time and again we hear of and experience stories and events that bring us out in a cold sweat. Children who behave as if they were adults, but who do not have the understanding of why they are responding as they do. Children who have passed through this age of innocence, without the guidance that they should have been given and are grasping the adult world with inadequate hands, and with minds that have not served the apprenticeship necessary for them to know what it is that they are doing. Such children are being brought before the courts and are being treated as if they were the adults that they are mimicking. It has been said before and I repeat it for emphasis, if children seriously offend it is because they have been seriously offended against. Not only can this be a sin of commission, but often – more often I would suggest – it is due to a sin of omission. Parents can be, to some extent, in a catch-22 situation here. If they don’t strive effectively then their children suffer as a result of poverty and environmental deficiency. If they strive too hard they end-up working all the hours of the clock and their children suffer because they loose that important connection and become lonely in a world full of people. A child’s needs from birth are straightforward; they require attention, love and nurturing by their mother (at least) and preferably by their father too. During the first five years of their life, at least, the important society to them is the family. So called ‘quality time’ is not enough. Part-time parents cultivate part-time children. Sixty years ago and before, the extended family was available to most children. Nowadays not only will grandparents not live in the same house or town, they will often not even live in the same state or country. There is no satisfactory substitute for the family at this stage of a child’s life. Its physical needs may seem to be provided by another, but its emotional and spiritual needs can only be provided in a real way by its parents.
If this doesn’t happen then there is a tendency for children to jump towards independence prematurely. They will seek attachment relationships from amongst their peers – many of whom will have already trodden the road of inadequate parenting. This tends to bring out a type of behaviour that was illustrated very well in Golding’s, The Lord of the Flies. Children who are given too much responsibility for governing their own lives will act inappropriately, and will respond out of fear rather than from understanding. Before it is too late – some would say that time has passed—we need to be aware of the potential catastrophe that our societies face. Once we have a world that is populated by children who have grown-up this way we will have the potential for self-annihilation. We have to ensure that parents are taken to task for inadequate parenting; that they, and not their children, are punished for incidents of juvenile crime. When families are split by reason of care orders, a child should not have to spend years in a variety of care- or foster-homes before they are adopted. It is a child’s right to be looked after carefully and well. If its own parents cannot accomplish this then others must do it without delay.
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