RELEASE DATE: Tuesdays, 8:30 PM / iView
There are few things as challenging as being a parent. I’m not just referring to the monumental task of enabling and encouraging the healthy development of another human being, as the ABC’s new Life At Seven series shows. There’s also our own development to consider.
In parenting children we see so much of ourselves reflected back, including our own need to grow.
Life At Seven is the televisual extension of a massive research project underway in Australia. Seven years ago researchers began the Growing Up In Australia project, a longitudinal study of Australian children that is charting the development of 10, 000 of our littlest citizens. The current series is preceded by Life At One, Life At Three and Life At Five, programs that followed the same group of eleven children from a variety of backgrounds as they developed socially, mentally and physically. This particular two-part edition focuses on the development of personality and peer group pressure.
Life At Seven quickly becomes compelling watching for parents. Not only do you begin to recognize the sorts of problems on display in your own home, you also pick up ways of addressing them that are a lot more helpful than a wooden spoon. For example Professor Stephen Zubrick says it’s important to be aware of the flip side of a child’s skills. A girl who displays commendable persistence completing tasks might also be prone to inflexibility when situations change unexpectedly. Again, a boy who creates the most perfectly detailed painting might find it hard to move on from mistakes. As in so many things, good parenting involves something of a balancing act.
One of the more interesting moments in this series has to be when this collection of seven year olds are asked to arrange a list of values from the least to the most important – being attractive, being rich, being kind etc. What becomes quickly apparent is the profound affect parenting has on the way we come to see the world. Life At Seven emphasizes the innate qualities a child is born with that will provide the basic building blocks for their personalities. However it’s just as important to remember that parenting provides the context in which these qualities will develop. If we give too much weight to ‘nature’ over ‘nurture’ we can begin to behave as though we’re the victims of forces beyond our control, like Declan’s mother:
“He has Patrick and I on eggshells a lot, where the happiness of the family seems to be dictated by the temperament of this seven year old.”
But it’s worth remembering that families don’t begin when children arrive. God’s idea of a family is first and foremost the husband and wife who make a life-long commitment to each other. This is the new unit set up when “… a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Children join a family, they don’t form it, and the best thing a mum and dad can do is help them understand that they’re not the centre of it. Life At Seven underlines that when all of the extracurricular activities end, one of the best things we can do to raise healthy children is to concentrate on having healthy homes.
PS: Don’t be worried if you miss this program going to air. The ABC has put both episodes online at iView, as well as the three original series that preceded it!