We all make choices everyday – some are easy, some difficult, some we remain happy about, others cause guilt and regrets. But, to make choices which are right for us and in society, we need information – without which choices are mere ‘guesses’ or ‘needs’. We should be prepared to learn and change our decisions if necessary as situations alter.
My childhood was in England during the Second World War and my teenage years were during the years of rationing. Besides the parental boundaries for our behaviour, we had other boundaries - from circumstances. We had hardly any material possessions – no personal radios, no mobile phones, no TV, few toys, few books, no money, no central heating, buses for transport, no antibiotics, clothes were rationed so we had only essentials, and no computers. But also no drugs and no access to alcohol for teenagers and no access to effective contraception.
Virtually all children ate school dinners - very gratefully. T here was no junk food, no fast food, all had to walk a lot and very few were fat. We had little choice in many areas of life. But, as for every generation and mortal on this planet – then and now, we had choice in how we behaved.
We shall all be judged, eventually, by our behaviour, not our beliefs.
My grandmother lived down the road and I visited her as often as I could – usually daily. I loved her dearly. She was never cross, never moaned, always busy – slowly, as she had had a mild stroke and made special little loaves of bread for me. She always made me feel she was pleased to see me. But, she was sad and seldom smiled. Why?
In a time before family planning, she had ten children. Her choice had been to marry the man she loved. She lost five babies to asthma and respiratory infections, and, at the time of my childhood, four of her remaining children were in service in the war – one son in Ceylon (as it was called then), one in Burma, one in the Azores and a daughter in the ATS – somewhere in England. She had little reason to smile. Yet, there were no hysterics, no treatment for stress, no drug or alcohol taken, and she carried on with daily life with gentleness and kindness. She could not tell the future – she did not know if they would return, as very many died on the fields of battle.
In my family we were fortunate. We had our parents and those members of grandma’s family (uncles and aunt) all returned safely. For us, and families all over the country, material belongings seemed of little importance in that context. People abhorred and were frightened of debt and women cooked wholesome food from raw ingredients, baked with powdered egg – and grew whatever they could in small gardens.
But in a society that had nothing, and many choices had been taken away, then values were different and behaviour was different. There was respect – for parents and teachers, more obedience, sobriety, endurance and determination in young people in general.
I was ill a great deal in my childhood and adolescence – not my choice. I never thought I would live long enough to be loved, married and have children. But, I did and I have always cherished those I was able to call ‘mine’ and valued my good fortune. Despite the long illnesses, I had worked hard, gained a scholarship from school, gone to University and gained my medical degree. I could have earned a good salary during those times, but I put a career aside for the seven years my children were at home, and then worked part time, thereafter to fit in with school hours. That was my choice and I never had any regrets at that decision. It wasn’t a sacrifice, it was a privilege.
But in those years I did work some evenings per week, when my husband was with the children. I chose to work in Family Planning to help women to have choice. I opened three clinics –in different parts of the country as we moved with my husband’s job. In one town my nurse and I were not allowed to advertise the clinic and the notice was removed from the library. Such was the climate of opinion about our work. But we carried on.
During those years, the oral contraceptive was first brought onto the scene – offering an extra and effective option for preventing unwanted pregnancies. The aim of the doctors working in the clinics was to free women and to stop all the ‘back street’ abortions - which were very painful, dangerous and often fatal. Unwanted pregnancies generally resulted in the babies being adopted. This was a heart- wrenching trauma for the women concerned. So, we worked to give women freedom from such events, and to allow them to enjoy their lives and marriages without the fear or burden of more children than they wanted or could happily care for.
But, in this subject - what choices have been made in recent years?
Young women get pregnant without using the effective measures available. Abortions take place in large numbers in hospitals and in many cases girls may have more than one – choosing to use this as a method of birth control.
This scenario never entered our heads – none of us thought something so useful would be ignored. We sort of assumed, naively, that all young women would continue to value themselves and life and use what was now available. How wrong we were.
When I worked in psychiatry (for 35 yrs), I often saw depressed and grieving women who were suffering the after effects of an abortion – often from many years previously. Most had had ‘no choice’ regarding contraception or some had been in the situation when their attempts at contraception had failed and a pregnancy was impossible to contemplate for various reasons. Their reactions were normal – a loss causes grief - with depression. Or, it should do - in women who have normal feelings.
What has caused such irresponsibility and present behaviour? Is it the increased intake of alcohol? Is it that both young men and women have not the same caring or deep feelings for their or another’s worth? I pose the question – not give the answer.
When my mother died, I was sorting her private papers. In a drawer I found some tiny white envelopes with a black line round the edge. I opened one and took out a tiny card, about as big as a business card, which I read in tears. ‘To my beloved Ben’. It was one my dear Grandma’s lost babies.
What would she have done to have been able to keep those children alive, care for them and spend time with them? She loved all her children and her grief lasted her life time.
I am not one to hark back to the ‘good old times’ – not at all. Even in my childhood times were difficult and harsh – and in winter, with no central heating very cold. But we learn experience, good or bad, from the past. But, with all the advantages and choices in the present I feel that, in general, something is missing in those of our young people who drink excessively, have unprotected sex or take drugs . It has nothing to do with wealth or education – it happens across all levels of society.
Those who drink, have sex, or/and take drugs choose to do so.
Choice should be made with information added to feelings – i.e. the brain sorts the information and the ‘heart’ puts the ‘meaning’ into a choice. It appears that, in many, neither the brain nor the heart are being used – and harmful behaviour is being done as some kind reaction to peer pressure or society. The genital area or stomach are dominant in the decision, but neither of these areas have brain cells or can ‘think’.
I ask the question – is it really their choice or has society’s values in the last 20-30 years - of seeking material goods with hedonism rampant - let them down? Have many women lost the bonding with their babies – a bonding which makes separation difficult and their own needs to fade, at least temporarily. A bond, which overrides personal gains and careers and given for as long as is necessary. A bond cannot be broken and which makes ‘boundaries’ to keep their child or teenager safe.
I see teenage behaviour as a commentary on and the result of the care and commitment – or lack of it, of the adults who have looked after them, whether in an affluent society of one of deprivation. Drugs, excess alcohol, criminal behaviour are not the choices young people should make in any situation.
I write, not out of criticism – it is neither my aim nor my right to do so - but from concern at what I see happening. I worked for 35 yrs to help people come to terms with traumas – some of their own making. I am not a judge, but I was a therapist for a long time.
I have written a poetry book for teenagers called ‘Choice for Teenagers’ – to provide non-judgmental, metaphorical and entertaining help and observation at a difficult time of life and in a difficult, present day society. It can be bought on my website – see below. It is an ideal book for ‘general discussion’ groups in secondary schools.
It’s dangerous out alone at night
'It won't happen to me'
The next day a corpse was found
Sadly, a girl had ceased to be
It’s dangerous to smoke cigarettes
'It won't happen to me'
The breathing problems then began
The coffin came from one oak tree
It’s dangerous to have unprotected sex
'It won't happen to me'
'I'm afraid your illness can’t be cured'
' It wasn’t worth it.’ ‘Too bad' - said he
'I don't want a child just yet
It won't happen to me'
‘You cannot turn back the clock
She’ll soon be sitting on your knee’
Taking drugs is dangerous
'It won't happen to me'
‘Your mind has become so damaged
Reality will never now be free’
‘Why did I believe so long
It wouldn't happen to me?’
It’s too late to listen now
The results are here – for all to see
I cannot sit back in my retirement with the knowledge I have gained when I see a possible bleak future looming from the present mores of society. I write from concern for the future of many of the young people today. Choices are individual and everyone needs to decide their own path – but they must also live by those choices or be able to change them before it is too late. Some are going down a road where change will be impossible.
What is also needed is an acceptance in adults that young people do not have the knowledge or experience to make many of the best choices for themselves – if only ! Guidance is not enforcement. It is giving unselfish caring, sharing information, alternatives and support.
Since I was a teenager, most areas of the world have become obsessed with celebrity, money, possessions, greed, envy and waste. Religions detract from the truth and give spurious reason for vicious conflicts where inhumanity prevails. But, the worth of every individual and the right to a healthy happy adult future for each child remains the same as it always was.
Choices need to be made on an individual scale but also on a global scale to bring back that worth and create a positive future.