Before we get started, let me state that this discussion is not about any single religion. The practice of fasting is not unique to any one religion as they all practice it in their own way.
I recently attended a dinner party where some old friends looked rather bulky around the mid section. Jokingly, one of them suggested that we (yes, I am also a member of the mid section masters club) should all go on a fast. As soon as that was mentioned, we began to discuss the topic of whether children should also fast.
As I’m sure you all know, fasting (sacrifice of food and water) is a practise that has been going on for generations. Some fasts are for hours, days and even weeks. Some ‘A’ list celebrities swear by it and use it as a detoxing tool. You’ve probably heard famous religious figures around the world talk about how fasting is an intensely spiritual experience and allows for you to reflect on your life.
Doctors and scientists around the globe are always conflicted between the apparent benefits that fasting gives your mind and body and the potential health issues that fasting can cause, or even speed up potential health issues.
Where ever you stand on this, you cannot deny how difficult it must be to systematically deprive your body of food and water for a period of time. Those living in hot climates face and even bigger challenge.
As an adult, we are able to cope a little better with sudden changes in our lives. Its not so much of a shock to the system and lets face it, some of us could probably go a few weeks without eating and not notice it!
But what about children?
Do they have an opinion?
Are they allowed an opinion?
Are parents expecting too much from their children when it comes to religious beliefs and customs?
A few of our friends are/ were fasting for Ramadan. We also have friends whom fast on special occasions, based on the Hindu religious calendar – so I have first hand experience of being around those you dedicate themselves to the practise of fasting for different periods of time.
They do not allow, let or force their children (mixed ages between 7 and 19) to undertake any fasting, even for a few hours! “We are adults, we can handle it” is the most common reply when asked why.
Not all parents are this way inclined. Others will ensure that their children follow the parents customs and religious beliefs to the T. Children going to school in the morning on an empty stomach, not having lunch with their friends nor able to quench their thirst with a mouthful of water, to me, is a tall order for any child.
We all have our faiths and beliefs and we are completely entitled too have them. Not providing reasonable access to food and water to a child borders, if not crosses, in to child cruelty in my opinion. Now, some of you may be foaming at the mouth, but hear me out first.
There is a clear difference between what you choose to do and what you think should be done. It is all too easy to get caught up with the family and friends hype regarding fasting. You can ask 20 different people and you will get lots of conflicting replies about what fasting is and means.
I am fortunate to have many friends – many friends from all corners of the earth. A real mix of cultures, religions and drastically diverse backgrounds. Having these people in my life is a blessing!
A child for whom food and water is a source of energy for their brains and playground antics, should be kept away from practising fasting. Should they be of an age where they are able to make up their own minds, without being influenced by external social factors and are old enough to know when to stop a fast (feeling unwell), then fair-play to them for their commitment and mature approach. A child is less likely to know when they are going to be ill and could harm themselves without knowing.
On a side note – my friend actually gave up smoking during a fasting period last year during Navratri – a special Hindu time of the year which lasts around a fortnight. He used the two week period to remove himself of all the things he enjoyed. He also managed to give up chocolate! Perhaps I need to try it then?
I still believe that we owe it to our children to ensure they are safe from harm, adequately fed and are able to function at normal, hyper levels!
So, which do you choose?
1) Resentment from your child and their negative memories of religion-and culture?
2) Respecting your child’s needs and allowing them to develop as individuals?
Thanks for reading and looking forward to reading your thoughts on the subject.