The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
This Restless Age
Few novel readers, it may be presumed, have not read "Dodo." [Dodo: A Detail of the Day, by Edward Frederic Benson, 1893]. It has been called one of the novels of its year, and as such has been widely criticized; but Miss Yonge; in her clear, pithy review of it in the "Monthly Packet" for November last, has drawn from it a lesson of great value to those who have the training of children. She likens Dodo herself to the giant in the Norse legend "with no heart in his body"; for Dodo's, she says, was eaten away by the dread of boredom, and in this Miss Yonge finds a great moral lesson, for, as she adds, "impatience of tedium is one of the greatest dangers and temptations of the present day."
Most completely must every thoughtful observer agree with this statement, and also when she goes on boldly to state that this same danger is one that "even our most zealous teachers sedulously increase." A great deal of time and thought is now-a-days taken up in arranging that children should be amused, and the more I see of young folks of all ages, the more also do I see that there are two bad results of the amusement system. Firstly, the terrible curse of restlessness that cling to young men and women alike of the rising generation. Nothing must be "slow"; every day, every hour must be filled up with something that is stimulating and exciting. There must be change, there must be variety, at almost any cost. Secondly, as a bad result, comes the fret and worry to parents, guardians, in fact, all the elders to keep on providing for this ever-increasing demand for amusement.
A very few years ago, twenty at the most, children were not nearly so very much en evidence as now; and yet it can hardly be said with truth, that the mother of today knows more of her child than the mother of that date. To come downstairs and spend a stated time among the "grown-ups" used to mean, for the little people, not only good behaviour, but generally real quietness and an ability to amuse themselves without interrupting conversation, or asking to be entertained. The story book, the Berlin wool work, the drawing, or the quiet game were brought down from the nursery almost as a matter of coutse, and unless good-natured guests chose to tell stories or help with the drawings and puzzles, the little ones were expected to amuse themselves. Now it is no longer considered a treat if the grown up people put aside their own employments when the children come in--it is looked on as a right; "they must be amused," and in consequence children are gradually becoming quite incapable of amusing themselves. The habit of expecting to have all trouble, even in games, taken for them, increases undoubtedly as years go on, and poor Dodo is no exaggerated picture of the woman who, as a child, had never learned what it is to bear, however tedious, a quiet, uneventful hour.
I am far from wishing the days to return when children had to sit absolutely motionless for unheard of periods for no particular purpose, but in all our lives, we know well, times of wearisome and enforced inaction do come, and it would be well if the children could learn while young, to sit patient now and then, even though unamused, and unattended to.
And how are they to learn? It is a necessary lesson, and ought to be mastered, for I repeat, in everyone's experience come times of real dulness, and those periods are just what the young people of the present day seem utterly unable to bear. The cause of their inability is not far to seek, in the trouble that is taken all around them to save them, even when quite little, from having to depend on themselves for their chief pleasures. There is, at all events, an attempt at a short cut to everything, both at lessons and play. Learning made pleasant may be all very well, but have we done wisely in always trying to skirt round the unpleasant?
As for play, to my middle-aged mind, the child of today seems to lose a great deal of what my contemporaries and I would have called the best of the fun, by having all contrived for him, instead of having to contrive for himself, and, unaided to surmount difficulties. Purely imaginative games are rarely to be met with nowadays, because wonderful toys and games with "ready-made" rules have been so multiplied and cheapened. It was with real delight that I recently discovered a brother and sister under the age of eight, who can spend hours, with apparently no "plant" at all, but in reality lost to the outer world in one of their own, where they personate two much admired "grown-ups;" and while to the uninitiated they appear to be only talking together in the garden, they know that they are going for a long ride on two new horses on trial from London! This pair is never dull, never on the look-out for excitement, and yet they are sharp, rather highly strung children with an immense amount of vitality, but they are being brought up to understand that their amusements can only occasionally be provided for them, that they must depend on themselves, and if they get tired of one play, why they must invent something else, and do it without help if mother is busy. To preach "doing nothing" as a virtue seems odd doctrine, but it may be a virtue at times, all the same. What about the habit of quiet thought? I fear very much it is rapidly becoming a lost art; we are always "on the go." It is hard indeed to begin to learn to sit still and think when we are no longer even "young people," and if we allow the little ones to dread nothing so much as being dull, what is to become of them in times of enforced decorous quiet? Will they all flee from us when we are old and invalidish? Shall we have no bright young folks coming in to pay us cheery visit, because our indoor life seems "so slow" to them?
Alas! poor children, are we helping you to slay your hearts?
Dodo did not mean to be cruel to her husband when she went to the ball only three weeks after her baby's death; but she was bored! She could not stand the mourning and retirement any longer. Are we helping to make Dodos? In this age, when the rising generation is made of such very great importance, are we, in the reaction from the dull routine of our grandparents, rushing to an opposite extreme, and making everything so much too pleasant, so much too easy? There is no doubt that the hard fare, infrequent pleasures, the monotonous, uninteresting lessons of a past day had serious drawbacks; but will it not be a terrible result of the present system if we find we have brought up nothing but a set of blasé, restless beings with no resources in themselves? By this I do not mean no pursuits, for these are multiplied a thousandfold to what they were, especially for girls (to whom now-a-days, almost all field sports are open, and many new indoor occupations such as wood carving, brass work, &c.), but I mean exactly what I write, i.e., resources in themselves--the power to sit quite still and think, to bear to wait, to be able, in short, when quite unavoidable, to do nothing.
We cannot save our loved little ones from the possibility of long bodily inaction through illness; we cannot, except partially, save them from a perhaps very uneventful and quiet grown-up life; we cannot save them from what may be a very, very slow and tedious decay in old age; but we can teach them to rely on well-stored, well-balanced minds with which to face a possibly monotonous lot in middle life, and to a "calm decay" at the end, instead of a restless, feverish struggle to be amused and stimulated to the last.
Typed by happi, July 2018; Proofread by LNL, May 2021
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