Children need more support, less guidance

Getting up early, having breakfast, being careful of traffic, keeping one’s temper, and of course, not smoking or overeating are the simple rules of professor and Athens Academy member Nikolaos Matsaniotis for staying healthy. But he believes it is a myth that human beings put their children and their children’s health first. Parents only become concerned when a child’s health breaks down, he claims. «As long as a child seems healthy, people ignore it and do nothing to keep him or her in good health.» Sharp and heretical in this interview with Kathimerini, where the subjects discussed ranged from child care to the iniquities of the medical system, the distinguished pediatrician was also quick to castigate the anonymity of relations between patients and doctors, «which feeds insecurity… leading to more visits to doctors, more medicines, more medical tests.» And he called the large number of doctors in Greece «a blight» on the country. Analyzing the latest research on giving birth in Greece, which showed an unjustifiable increase in Caesareans, the doctor renders unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Though many are done just to make the doctor’s life easier, one in four take place after the mother has agreed. In the parents’ shadow With Kathimerini, he spoke chiefly about children’s upbringing. Upon being asked whether he thought that the Greek family was still child-centered, he replied: «Child-centered? Was it ever?» and went on to declare the single child to be «a crime of the modern family.» The emotional ties thus formed around an only child escape the bounds of what is normal and desirable, said Matsaniotis. «What parents invest in a child is often not what a child needs, which is less guidance, more freedom, more support. The child is in its parents’ shadows to an extreme degree.» At the same time, he points out, an only child makes for looser bonds and greater friction between parents. «Many people, directly or indirectly, say they have just one child so it ‘can have everything.’ First of all, it is a big question if this is an advantage or disadvantage. Secondly, it can easily be rephrased – ‘so that we can have everything.’» Keeping children uninfluenced by gratuitous violence and commercialized art is difficult, he admitted, and probably impossible with such a large number of influences from the social environment. «I have the Third Program [a radio station which plays classical music] on all the time. Yesterday my little granddaughter came in, all of four-and-a-half and after four to five minutes, she told me, ‘I don’t like this music.’ Before I could reply, her brother, two years older, jumped in with ‘Alexandra only wants to listen to Anna Vissi.’» Only personal example, said Matsaniotis, can instill in children what the parents think is right, as long as they practice it and consistently express it on a daily basis. ‘Shoulds’ Children should not be burdened with «shoulds» but should instead be set conditions that do not resemble orders. «I played Monopoly with my grandson who is six-and-a-half and has been at school for just three months. I imagine that his great skill at addition is due not only to school but to Monopoly.» But children who are a problem to their families and themselves are those who have been left without any proper supervision. «They may seem to have everything, but, in reality, they have received little from those who bore them. They have received neither attention nor love.» Children should be aware that their parents are devoting time and attention to them. And parents should give more support than guidance. The child must know «it has someone to lean on in time of difficulty.» On their own two feet This does not mean giving children readymade solutions. «There are parents who learn things quite literally, swallow a motto and regurgitate it again. It is a sure way of castrating the spirit of a child.» The child will then always expect somebody to solve his or her problems. «In the old days, this was central to parental guidance. Rapid recourse to syrups, pills and the like for trivial health problems of sleep or irritability became a subconscious lesson for the child that there was an easy solution to every difficulty.» The professor added there was a basis for thinking that it was one of chief causes of children abusing drugs. At the same time, «the hardest working and most oppressed person within a family is the child. He is always on the go. But does the result justify this? If I ask a child of 10- to 11-years-old what the last book they read outside class was, in nine out of 10 cases, they can’t answer or don’t remember. And the children don’t know how to spell. They are slow at learning spelling.» Schools and parents are to blame, with the heavy pressure on the child to enter university. «Only success counts.» Everyone is aware that state schools fall short of contemporary demands. «Of course, despite the difficulties, a satisfactory number of young people today are superlatively well-educated and have bright prospects.»

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