Why The Future Is Bleak For Kids In Ireland
Many weeks and months roll by as a personal trainer where you love your job.
You love helping people lift weights, get stronger, fitter and tone up.
You love to see how exercise can breathe confidence and happiness into their life as they feel better in themselves.
And as the months roll by, you see the smile on their face as they wear those sexy clothes that make them feel awesome.
But every once in a while, something will catch you off guard.
It will make you step back and question where we are going as a nation, or as humanity.
And that happened to me this week.
A Trip Back Down Memory Lane
A few months ago, a lady had enquired about joining up to the gym.
Primarily, she wanted to bring along her 12 year old son.
Now like anything, life gets in the way and family commitments can limit time for the gym.
But this week, they got to join up.
So on Tuesday, they called in and got up and running.
Well, not exactly running, more like Squatting, Lunging and the likes.
Like anyone joining, I like to get to know them more and find out exactly what brought them to joining a gym, particularly a kid.
And the unfortunate reality is that he has become self-conscious, low on confidence and has quit sports because of gaining a little weight.
School is a place he no longer enjoys and with secondary school soon looming, it has heightened the social anxieties surrounding how we look and what number is showing up on a scales.
I won’t lie, it hit me a bit harder than normal.
As his mother spoke, my mind drifted back to my own childhood.
And a moment of fear hit me.
I was him.
I was that kid who carried weight throughout childhood.
The one who slowly drifted away from sports, social occasions and any situation that might cause someone to catch a glimpse of my belly.
I was the one who relied on food as an emotional fix into my late teens, soon to be replaced by cans of cider at weekends.
The social anxieties surrounding your weight and appearance get worse too once you hit secondary school and college.
You want to feel socially included because you’re a nice person, not excluded based on how you look.
And the thoughts of a girl seeing you naked strikes as much fear into you as John Delaney being told he’s getting audited by Revenue!
While the self-consciousness and lack of confidence gets worse over the years, you lean even heavier onto the things that give you a moment of happiness.
But without realising it, you’ve withdrawn yourself from so many fun activities and the typical messing and jig-acting you should be at as a young man.
So here stood a pure gentleman of a kid, polite, friendly and not a bit of bother (well his mother might say different when they’re at home).
A kid who shouldn’t be feeling any pressure, who should be out playing, having fun and being care free.
But here he is, in a gym looking to reclaim that childhood confidence and fun.
So it begs the question, how have we created a society where social pressure are now descending upon younger kids?
The Shortening Of Childhood
With such an influx of social media, primarily the image driven Instragram and TV shows, it’s possible that we are shortening the childhood years.
From younger ages, kids have access to all forms of media.
And everywhere you look now, you’re exposed to images of super fit bodies.
This can lead to issues among impressionable youth.
You suddenly feel like you need to look a certain way.
And if you fail to do so, you may begin to feel less of yourself as you’re not meeting the ‘social’ standards.
It’s not just online either, you look at football players, GAA players, movie stars etc.
The physical transformation over the last 15 years has been drastic.
I remember Ryan Giggs scoring that peach of a solo goal in 1999.
He whipped off the top in celebration as he revealed what can only be described as a fine Persian Rug of chest hair.
Nowadays, you’ve Cristiano Ronaldo who’s topless, shredded and flexing at every opportunity.
Sure go back and look at the original Superman and then go look at the latest one.
Our culture has moved towards the aesthetically pleasing characteristics in all walks of life.
And these are people/characters who are held in massively high esteem to younger lads.
Now displaying athletic bodies isn’t an issue and not something I take offence against.
But I like to question if it can somehow exacerbate the already fragile mindset of someone who is low on self-worth.
Does it possibly cause them to view themselves negatively?
In a way, it may be a case where those childhood years are now being shortened.
Children are adopting adult characteristics at a much younger age.
When I was a teenager, I dreamed of becoming an adult so I could drive a car, buy alcohol and grow facial hair in other places apart from my upper lip.
My fashion sense consisted of whatever passed the ‘smell test’.
And tea time was cancelled if we ran out of Birdseye potato waffles.
Let’s not forget the fact that you only knew when to be home based on sunlight or your mother ringing 7 different houses to find you.
Nowadays they just check your Snapchat map.
But nowadays, teenagers are rocking designer labels while Instagramming smashed avocado on toast for breakfast.
In a way, the innocence of youth is slowly eroding.
Summers spent jumping on a bike and going off on an adventure every Saturday with your friends has been replaced by talking into a headset whilst playing Fortnite.
Children spend hours watching some kid on YouTube opening presents instead of being outside digging holes to bury your Action Man.
(I just want to clarify that I am actually only 31, although I may sound like a reminiscent, grumpy 81 year old).
So with more and more exposure to all the goings on in the world, are we shortening childhood?
Are we adopting adulthood at younger ages?
And have we lost some of the innocence and adventure that was associated with being young and care free?
Why The Future Is Bleak In Ireland
Over the last few years, we appear to be slowly moving into a compensation culture here.
Only just yesterday, I read an article about how kids play centres were closing due to extortionate increases in insurance premiums.
Have a read here:
And there’s also rumours that it’s feeding into the fitness industry too with some gyms reporting quotes 10 times the amount of the previous year.
In recent years, we’ve also heard of schools having to ban activities and games as they live in fear of being sued.
There have been claims made against schools where kids trip and fall.
Some have been successful, others have not.
Then you’ve the claims made by hikers who trip on walkways and put in claims also.
In a short space of time, we’ve become very over-protective.
Schools are now caged in, only certain sports allowed and in some cases running has been banned in schoolyards.
Couple the reduction of activities available along with rising rates of childhood obesity, and we’ve created a recipe for disaster.
In the short-term, we may not see it as an issue.
But in the long-term, we’re potentially doing harm to the future kids of Ireland.
When I speak to teachers, volunteers of Scouts and sport organisations, they speak about the amount of regulations that have come in.
Regulation is good, there should be standards.
But there also has to be some level of common sense.
Because people are slowly walking away from volunteering and running programs for kids.
It’s not just the regulation, it’s the fear of being sued.
Speak to any small business owner, a sudden hike in insurance premiums could be enough to close their doors.
If you look back to your own childhood, we all climbed, ran and cycle.
But we also fell, got cut, broken bones and got up to mischief.
But we did all those and just got on with things, because that’s what children do.
You’re meant to explore and push boundaries, take risks and most of all, have fun.
It’s how you learn skills, overcome fears and seek adventure.
It gives you the platform to explore your creativity and find out what you’re good at.
You learn the most from the falls you take.
And in later life, those falls give you the platform to deal with the hardship that life throws at you.
Because when you fail at something, you’ll think back to the time you came off your bike.
You didn’t suddenly quit and fear the bike.
You dusted yourself off, grabbed the handle bars and got back up on the saddle.
(By the way, has anyone seen roller blades or skateboards in the last 10 years?).
It pays to fail and fall sometimes.
It’s a great learning curve.
But if we continue to wrap ourselves in cotton wool and be in fear of every single movement we make, we’ll limit the risks that can lead to great reward.
We’ll have no stories to tell in years to come about the silly things we done.
Like the time you build a home-made ramp for your bike and ended up almost castrating yourself!
But more worrying, we may be creating an environment that limits our kid’s imagination, creativity, adventure and their personal growth as a little human.
Life lessons start at young ages.
The environment we grow up in will have an impact on our later life.
So promote safety.
But also promote taking calculated risks, seek adventure, fun and make friends in the real world, not just online.
Considerations For The Future
We want to create an environment that encourages growth and self development, regardless of age.
So for both adults and kids, we should look to areas of enhancing health, movement capability, weight management and self development.
We need to seek balance between ensuring safety but also allowing children to explore and develop.
We want to avoid becoming trapped inside the confines of our own homes due to the fear of the odd scratch or cut.
The world has changed, but we can adapt and create new ways to ensure we have an environment that promotes growth.
But first, we need to appreciate the fact that falls and scrapes happen.
Without them, we never learn or explore.
We fail to overcome vital little challenges at a young age that can develop the mindset in later life.
If we continue in such an insulated fashion, what will happen when the great stresses of life hit?
If we always avoid any form of adversity then we never learn how to deal with it, overcome it or learn from it.
My biggest worry for the future is that if we continue pushing opinions, fear and claims onto small business and societies that provide activities for children, then we pose the risk of driving them all away.
And if we do, there’ll be little left for kids to do in years to come.
Because as things stand, more and more kids are quitting sports as they’re no longer enjoying it.
Activity levels have dropped dramatically which can be attributed to both technology and less play time.
It’s not just about exercising your right to opinion, it’s about ensuring that we hold onto the avenues for activity for the kids in Ireland.
Right now, it’s not looking good seeing businesses close and societies fearing running activities.
Sports, play centres and games are a fantastic way for kids to exercise and make friends.
Let’s not limit that.
Because there’s a 12 year old kid there who’s dying to just go have fun and not worry about the stress of the world yet.
Let kids be kids.
Let them play, seek fun and explore.
Think back to your own childhood.
It was fun, wasn’t it?
I sure wish I could go back for one more care-free day of biking, Mr. Freeze’s and skimming stones on a lake.
Thanks for reading.