Jackie French AM

Children’s Week Ambassador

Making a Good mob

When I was a kid we had a secret club. It wasn’t so very secret- every kid in the street was in it, and Julie-Anne’s Mum provided the cordial and biscuits because we met at their place. I’m not sure the club actually did anything, except elect a president, vice president and all other offices, which somehow all went to someone’s older sister.  

I had a book a day habit even back then, but even for a book worm there was always time to join the mob who hunted yabbies or bunya nuts, which was not the same as the group of twenty or so kids who played ‘defence’ on Sunday afternoons, where sitting on an opponent who’d tried to defend the ball by shoving it down his shorts was quite permissible, as was carrying an opponent or dragging her by the hair across the line.

Yet no one got hurt. No one was excluded from any team either, teams didn’t even have equal numbers. Three younger sisters equalled a teenage brother. I think, in fact, we were all nice kids, because if we weren’t fair or our tactics led to tears, not laughter, we’d never be allowed back again by the kids’ ‘mob consensus’ that ruled the game.

The job of a child is to learn to be an adult, not just with information but by absorbing  the social strategies that ensure our survival as a species: cooperation, empathy, compassion, and the ability to turn a mob into an impromptu barbeque cricket match, a dance, or a bushfire brigade.

You don’t learn those with a screen, no matter how well intentioned the game on it is designed to be. You learn it with a mob of other kids, sometimes guided by adults, more often in a game or task inspired by adults, who then leave the kids to do the interacting/learning/playing/ laughing with the sheer joy of being together, as well as  the other thousand skills of being human.

Screen time is the best babysitter and child quietener ever invented, and in these days of working parents and lurking dangers it’s harder to give kids the freedoms we had fifty years ago. But if human society is going to survive another few generations and natural disasters, kids need the time, the opportunity, the inspiration and encouragement to learn how to become ‘a really good mob.’