A weekend report that the Principal of Cheltenham Ladies College was considering ending homework to help reduce depression in children underlines the seriousness of a problem recognised by many. I’m not sure that the Head’s idea of ending homework will prove a solution but there’s no doubt there is a problem. A recent report found that whereas the peak of depressive illness used to be in the late 20s, it is now in the teens.
With conflicting pressures and distractions of social media, internet chat lines and other peer pressures it’s perhaps harder than ever for young people to distinguish between the trivial and the important in their own attitudes to life. Calls on young people are very real and can at times be overwhelming.
It’s a challenge for all of us; parents too have difficulty juggling with priorities – 2 wage earners in a household can mean less time available – no wage earners brings other stresses. Parents separating, can also have a devastating effect on children.
Similar challenges in deciding underlying priorities for balanced and responsible living existed in the less frenetic times of Guru Nanak some 500 years ago with the need for balance frequently giving way to extremes. Some saw their goal in life as a single-mindedly amassing of wealth, while others would live by begging in a search for spiritual wisdom.
Guru Nanak taught that the key to a balanced life was to live by three golden rules. The first of these is to establish priorities through reflecting on scriptural guidance to help us all distinguish between the meaningful, and trivial obsessions which can dominate our thinking. The second golden rule is earnest effort in all we do. The third and most important rule is the need to look outwards, to the needs of others.
This can take many forms such as the Sikh institution of langar; food for all served at our gurdwaras. Then there’s the importance of giving time to the needs of the vulnerable. Today, coming back to the pressures faced by the young, there is a particular need to give time to our children and, in line with a common teaching of our different religions, provide a stable and supportive family life. It’s now more important than ever to help the young distinguish between false and fleeting priorities, and the genuine challenges and responsibilities that lead to a contented and fulfilling life.