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Children, parents more distant than ever: professor

Brokenleg urges families to spend more time together

Children and adults are more distant than they’ve ever been, a theology professor recently told an audience at Mount Currie’s Xit’olacw Community School.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Brokenleg, director of native ministries programmes and professor of First Nations Ministry and Theology at the Vancouver School of Theology, said that the average Canadian family is spending 25 per cent less time with their kids nowadays, citing a report from the Globe and Mail .

The average mother, he said, speaks to her kids for three minutes a day, while fathers speak to their kids for an average of 40 seconds each day.

That statistic can be damaging to children, who need a sense of belonging within families or else they’ll turn to alternatives like gangs and drugs, according to Dr. Brokenleg, who spoke at the community school Sept. 12.

“All across Canada, there is a mentality that children and youth are not important,” he said. “Nobody says it out loud, but it’s always at work. Children and youth are not important.”

Dr. Brokenleg illustrated this point by citing the fact that hockey players make more than teachers do. It’s a sign, he said, that children are not important because the ones teaching them are making less than professional athletes.

“Why do we pay hockey players more than teachers?” he asked. “Because teachers are working with kids! And children and youth are not important. And that’s the normal mentality wherever you go.”

In the course of a child’s life there are two kinds of learning: knowledge is first, a form of learning that includes registering things like facts, information and definitions — “teaching the mind” as Dr. Brokenleg tells it.

But “teaching the heart” is another kind of learning altogether. It’s what teaches children about capacities, virtues, formation and character. Learning about these things helps build up a child’s resiliency, what the professor calls “strength on the inside.”

And once a parent has helped build up a child’s resiliency, Dr. Brokenleg said, it becomes that much less difficult to control a child’s behaviour.

“As long as our children are strong from the inside, we don’t have to control them from the outside,” he said. “That’s what we call the fundamental rule of discipline. You control the little one from the outside, but once they can control themselves from the inside, like when they’re 10 or 11, then they don’t have to control them from the outside.”

Teaching the heart, however, can be a careful and complicated process. He said the heart can only be taught with experiences.

“Experiences shape a person’s spirit,” he said. “Number one, we need to know that they are important, that we’re significant. Every human being needs this.

“It doesn’t matter what language you speak, it actually doesn’t even matter what age you are, what language you speak, what religion you practice, what colour your skin is, every human being needs to know that I’m important.”

Dr. Brokenleg’s own parents taught him this by taking their kids wherever they went. That means, as a kid, he was around for all meetings, suppers, movies and trips to town that his parents took. He was thus never away from his parents except in school, until he was 17 years old.

“Wherever our parents went, we went,” he said. “My dad had to go to a meeting, and I knew I had to go.”

He wasn’t, however, trying to tell his audience that all parents need to take their kids wherever they go. He was merely saying that kids develop a sense of belonging by being shown that their parents care about them, rather than just being told.

“You can’t use significance in words,” he said. “But you can teach a person how significant they are by how you treat them.”

Dr. Brokenleg’s talk followed a dinner organized by the Lil’wat Nation as well as songs and dances from the Iswalh Dance Troop. Led by Mount Currie councilor Lois Joseph, the troop performed songs including a “Welcome Song,” a “Loon Song” and a “200-Pound Dance.”