Maggie Hamilton at the Sydney Children's Festival
I will admit to being one of those over-enthusiastic gay uncles who takes Auntie Mame as his role model.
So when I discovered that Maggie Hamilton was speaking at the Sydney Children's Festival I instantly booked tickets for my sister and I to go along and hear her.
Maggie is the author most recently of What's Happening to Our Boys? and she gave us the most wonderful and fascinating hour-long seminar on some of the issues faced by young people today and what we can do as a society to make the world a better place for them. And, as always with Maggie, it was packed with useful and practical information, and a goodly dose of hope and inspiration to boot.
Here are some of the intersting things I learned:
Our education system has become too geared towards career goals.
There is a desperate need for a broader education that encompasses life skills, media literacy and the more general kind of liberal education that was once the goal of all teaching institutions. Through studying literature, history and languages children acquire all kinds of valuable life information.
Instead of just banning kids from doing things we don't like, we should be encouraging their other interests.
On-line gaming seems to be the principal concern here. Most parents are extremely ambivalent about the amount of time spent playing electronic games, especially by boys and young men. Maggie says that banning them in the home simply won't work. Instead we should be more sensitive to clues as to other interests and concerns young people might have apart from gaming and encourage and praise growth in these areas.
We need to honour older people in our community.
Young people are less and less exposed to a range of generational contacts, and we as a community should be doing a whole lot more to honour the wisdom and contributions of older people. Maggie talked about the Men's Shed movement, in which older men do practical work for the community where their wisdom, experience and special contribution are honoured. We need to acknowledge once again the sacred role of grandparenting, and how important it is for children.
Encourage the growth of emotional intelligence.
Maggie identifies emotional intelligence as the greatest lack in our culture - not just for young people, but among all of us. We are so switched off from the impact of our emotions, and tuned in instead to our notions of privilege and selfish desire. We have forgotten how to treat each other with respect, even at home.
Stay abreast with technology.
Too many parents are disengaged with technological change, and so have no idea what their children are doing or talking about. I think this is a really big issue, because continued technological engagement is essential across the board - it is one of the major reasons for older people's sense of isolation. It's easy to throw up your hands and say "the world has changed and I can't keep up with it," but we do so at our folly.