Father George Romanenko is the prior of a church in the village of Borisovo in Moscow region. He is also a well-known children’s psychiatrist. We have met him to discuss the problems of children’s mentality.
- Yes, a lot, but I don’t treat them, I only provide some medical consultation and sort of social counseling, and then direct them further: send some to physicians, some to hospital and others to visit shrines.
- Are children’s mental illnesses wide-spread nowadays?
- If we take into account boundary conditions, then many people can be called unwell. The percent of people with serious illnesses, for example, schizophrenia, does not vary, but the number of neuroses grows every year. By pubescent, that is, teen age by 90% of children have mental problems, either in a light or serious form.
- And what causes it?
- Firstly, it is linked with heredity and the state of health of parents- and our gene pool was undermined. Secondly, it has to do with raising the children. And thirdly, the environment, such as offensive and low level TV culture, all those scary cartoons along with meaningless tellytubbies etc, discos…it aggravates the condition of those who are unwell.
- What illnesses are most frequent and most serious?
- You can’t classify them serious or light, they all are serious. One child has terrors, another has habit spasms and someone else has emotional disturbances. A car broke down, and it doesn’t matter whether it can’t ride because the engine failed or tyres flattened, you still can’t use it. By pubescent age the illness gets worse, and the person is already mature enough to produce a new ill generation.
- Terrible picture. Does it mean that every year things get worse? Mentally unhealthy people can’t give life to healthy children?
- They can be born physically healthy, but the threshold of their excitability gets lower, they find it harder to resist an irritating environment, and their break-downs occur faster.
- According to statistics, most of the children are sick, but the parents can often be unaware of it, because, judging by what you tell us, illness can often take a hidden form. How could one tell the signs of abnormality, what should parents pay attention to?
- We should look out for fears, hyperactivity, absent-mindedness, especial irritability, fussiness, children’s sadism, strange behaviour (for example, a child passionately loves only one toy or constantly draws the same object). For example: a boy tortured a dog, a cat, and then decided to revenge his friends who offended him. He took a stick, hammered nails into it and tried to gouge out their eyes. What to do? Shall we decide that it was just a childish prank and forget about it? Or should we be alarmed and try to find out how to prevent that kind of incidents in the future? You should pay attention if a child is simply constantly misbehaving. Maybe you have problems establishing contact with your child, or maybe he or she has intracranial pressure due to, say, complicated birth. If you feel that there are problems in communication between you and your child, turn to a psychologist for a start, and if he recommends – to a psychiatrist or children’s psychoneurologist. You would be provided medical prescription if needed and would get recommendations on the best regime for your child.
- What can we do to prevent children’s mental illnesses?
- The only way is raising the child properly.
- If a teenager gets whimsical, aggressive, does not behave, gets oversensitive and contact with him is broken, but everyone around tells parents that it’s alright, they shouldn’t take it to heart, everyone used to be like that themselves…Can you trust such advice?
- No, we didn’t use to be like that. Mental state of people of each new generation, including, certainly, teenagers, worsens. John Chrysostom used to say that age is the most difficult, no one can definitely say what kind of adult a child will turn into. Only God knows. You should remember that at that stage you shouldn’t irritate your kids, but you shouldn’t do whatever they want either. There is a golden rule: to bring the kids up strictly but in love. Total control is unacceptable, the child is a free personality being loved by God. Parents should learn to be humble, patient, bear the difficulties in communication with love, but if a child’s behaviour goes beyond boundaries, a punishment, and severe, is called for.
- Opinions divide on the subject of punishing the children, some suggest that a child should never be beaten.
- You should, and even must punish your child, so that the child would not get used to being bad. If his behaviour is too bad, he spits, swears at his mother and father, is careless with icons, you should explain to him that such behaviour is unacceptable, and if he continues to behave like that, he would be punished. You should punish a child like that: put his head between your knees, then take a belt and hit him real hard on the bottom. Hit hard, but just a few times, quickly. Because if you spank him lightly, just pretending you are hitting, he will grow up a masochist. You should do it quick and hard, from the heart. Let him scream, cry, don’t talk to him, and later, when he’s calmed down, explain to the child that you have to do it because you love him. Never say ‘oh forgive me it just happened’. If the child doesn’t want to change anyway, take him to a psychiatrist. Sometimes the children can’t control themselves at all, they are already sick.
- What should we avoid raising children?
Don’t go extreme. For instance, I once walked down the street and was startled by a woman bawling. I thought somebody was killed or something and ran towards her. Turned out it was a young mother ‘‘talking’’ to her two-year old child who was waddling in the puddle. Poor children, whose mothers spend their whole days shouting: don’t, don’t, don’t!!
A child doesn’t belong to his parents, he belongs to God. It is a separate and unique personality. And you should treat a child and bring him up as an unique personality, in the spirit of love and freedom. The gift of freedom, according to Holy Fathers, is even higher, than the gift of love. Raising a child, we should more than ever remember that we have an image and likeness of God in front of us. And punishing or encouraging the child we should remember that. Let us raise our children with love, patience, humbleness and gentleness, and not humiliating, offending, provoking and tempting them.
- Thus, excessive supervision is bad for children?
- Of course, anything excessive is harmful, you must know the limits. It is important not to bully the child, so that he wouldn’t become a drug addict, but you shouldn’t let him manipulate you. How can you find the golden medium? How to understand, when you should punish your child, and when you better not? Dear brothers and sisters, the only compass, the only beacon you have is your love for your child. You will raise him as well as you love him. Your loving heart would let you know when you should punish and when forgive. Many people refer to different books, often providing with contradictory advice. You cannot bring up a child like that. A child is raised by your heart, and regardless of how many pedagogic books you have read, how many useful lectures have attended, if you don’t love your child truly , you cannot bring him up properly.
Parents especially need patience when their kids become teenagers. Try not to nag and control your children without important reason. You should avoid suppressing the teenager too much. 90% of early marriages and leaving home usually are the result of overwhelming parents’ control; especially it is true about mothers. The kids who are suppressed when teenagers grow up inadequate, they do not feel freedom, do not feel God, they turn into a cowed animal. Don’t shout : ‘I don’t want you to ever meet that girl again!’, gently say ‘I don’t like it, I would like you not to do it, but if you insist on seeing her, well, do it in secret, but it would hurt me…I will pray for you’. Pray to God about your children, pray in church, take them with you on pilgrimages. Try to become friends with your child.
We are lucky to belong to our Russian Orthodox Church, we have the Lord, the Absolute, Truth, it is easier for us to bring up a child properly. You can give a child a decent upbringing only in a family of believers, or at least people seeking faith. Because neither psychologists, nor doctors and pedagogues, with all their experience, can grow in the children the spirit of kindness, love, chastity and compassion. Higher values can be imparted only by the Church.
- Father, I know a couple of families, where children have total freedom. They don’t have any duties at home, schoolgirls are allowed to be out late, they plan their days themselves, do their shopping themselves…
- Would you want your son to marry such a girl? I wouldn’t. Who needs a partner, who can only eat, drink and party? What about duties?
- But they study and are good students…
- Being a good student is far from all. Once I worked as a paramedic, and I can tell you a story out of my experience. We were called to a family, where the head of the family, an old man, just died. We were met by his son and daughter, both with higher education, and in general you could see it was a home of a well educated family. So they told us to take away that “corpse’’. We told them that ambulance doesn’t take away dead people, and that they should themselves prepare their father’s body for funeral. ‘We don’t need him here, it is not nice’. – ‘What do you mean, not nice, he is your father?’ Then they asked us, if there were any special cases when an ambulance would take away a corpse. We naively told them that we were obliged to pick up a dead person if the body was found in a public place or factory, etc. So they dragged their father to the landing(where the common stairs of all the apartments are) and said : ‘Now he is in a public area, you’ve got to take him away’. That’s ‘‘bare” education for you. To allow your child everything is a big mistake, sin, because qualities like sympathy and kindness don’t grow in a person on their own. Watch the kids at school, how they call each other offensive names, how aggressive they can be, how cruelly can beat each other. Higher experiences, thoughts and feelings have to be imparted on children. What may come out of a child who grew up totally free? He may grow up a lover of freedom, but without God in his soul. You should fight bad tendences from the very start. A child must know what "no" is, that there is something which could be forbidden to him. No harm in him asking “May I?’ once again.
- What is the best way for a single parent to raise their child?
- In an incomplete family a child is developing incompletely. A woman cannot bring up a child properly, especially a boy, on her own. She can’t raise a man, because she is a woman. It is difficult to raise a daughter without a father as well. How would you give her an idea of a family, of a role of a woman, good relations in the family? Dear women, treasure your family, your husband – the father of your children. Very often a couple breaks up over a worthless argument, matters which could be settled. Make up with your partner for the sake of your children, and God will reward you. If your husband left you, found a new family and doesn’t want to have anything common with you, you should look for a new husband. If you can’t find a husband, spend more time with grandfathers of your children. You should arrange it so that would be some presence of a man in the house, it was not invented by psychiatrists and psychologists, it is God’s will.
- What is the best method to keep good healthy children the way they are?
- First and foremost there must be peace in the family. And the only way to have peace in the family is for somebody in the family to have humility. Secondly, show your child how you believe in God. Take him to Church, read good books with him. Thirdly, both parents and their children should be open with each other, so that the children wouldn’t want to lie to their parents or cajole them. You can achieve it only with your own example. Don’t tell your child that you can’t buy him jeans because you have no money, then spend it on something else. You should honestly tell him that the money you have has to be spend on something more vital, that is why you can’t afford it now. It is very important not to lie in the family.
- Is the number of children in a family important for mental health of a child?.
- Normally only one or two children grow up consumers. Three is a necessary minimum. Children grow up good people if there are many of them in a family. Everything is shared, everything is ours, we are a family. Everyone works, learns to take care of others. Also, if you have many kids, you have more chances of spending your old age with one of them. If you have only one child, there is little chance that you would meet your old age surrounded by love and care. And in general, women are saved by child-bearing.
And you must remember something else which is important: God provides for the children. No families with many kids starve, of course if they are not alcoholics. God wouldn’t abandon the kids. So don’t fear, have more children! A woman I know once called me and told me that she was pregnant with her third baby and her husband wanted her to have an abortion, and her mother was against the baby because of the lack of money. I told her to have her baby and give it away to our parish, we would raise it. Thank God, she had a daughter, named her Mashenka(Maria). The woman’s husband was a driver. As soon as his boss found out that his employer had a third baby, he promoted him to his personal driver, the man’s salary increased, and now they are much better-off, they have a car and a dacha, all thanks to Mashenka, who they thought would make them starve.