SPEAKING PERSONALLY: Sheona Small

Sheona Small
Sheona Small

LAST month the Dalai Lama said the root cause of last year’s London riots was a generation of young people being brought up to believe that life is easy.

Life is not easy, the spiritual leader says – and he should know - and expecting it to be can only lead to anger and frustration.

His words of wisdom remind me of a set of ‘life rules’ that do the rounds now and again on the internet. Aimed at high school kids, they are usually attributed wrongly to billionaire Bill Gates but they’re still little nuggets of common sense, especially when viewed through the lens of life experience.

Number one is “Life is not fair – get used to it” and others include “The world won’t care about your self-esteem and will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself”, “Your school may have done away with winners and losers but life has not” and, my particular favourite, “If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss”.

There are at least a couple of local nurseries and playgroups who now have ‘graduation’ ceremonies – what a load of tosh. Do we really want to start instilling in children as young as three and four that they can get a pat on the back for doing nothing other than turning up, which, let’s face it, they don’t have much say in? And since when did leaving primary school for high school become such a huge life achievement that it needs to be celebrated with a ‘prom’, for which parents fork out hundreds of pounds on outfits and hiring limos? Talk about setting expectations from an early age of getting it handed to you on a plate.

As parents, we instinctively do all we can to protect our children physically and emotionally, whether that’s from cruel words in the playground or failing to make the grade in whatever they’re trying to do. But we can go too far in sheltering them from some harsh, and, yes, sometimes hurtful, realities. We’ve created a culture where everyone is meant to have the potential to be a winner and failure has become the new ‘F’ word.

But failing is a valuable life lesson in itself, forcing you to pick yourself up and try harder, take a new approach or even toughen up and take it on the chin. If our children can’t learn this at school, they’re in for a big shock when they try to find their way in a world that doesn’t owe them a living.

However, we shouldn’t get too smug and lay it all at the door of an education system that insists there are no losers. Home is the biggest influence on development and can we really blame today’s young people for thinking life is going to be a breeze if that’s the way that we have brought them up?

Youth unemployment in Scotland is at an all time high. These aren’t scroungers, happy to live on the dole, but young people, out of school, college or university, desperate to put their skills to use, live independent lives and pay their own way.

Instead, they’re finding out the hard way that life definitely isn’t easy. And if, as the Dalai Lama says, this leads to anger and frustration, we can only hope that more of them use it as motivation to bring about change through activism and the ballot box than the blazing trails of destruction through our cities.