The gentleness of children is universal. Body cams prove it

This column is an opinion from Dr. Hasan Merali, a pediatric emergency medicine physician and child health researcher at McMaster University. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

It seems like almost daily I read about and watch body camera footage, cell phone videos, or dashcam recordings showing angry people and violence. I find these clips difficult to watch, not only because of what I see, but because of what it says about us, and how we treat others. 

In watching these videos, one thing that is remarkable to me is to note that children are almost always absent, and are never the aggressors. As a researcher, this made me curious as to what body cam videos would show when attached to children. The results were uplifting. It turns out that instead of displays of anger and violence, young children are off being kind to one another.

The world of a child is a different type of world. It is a place filled with strangers who are always assumed to be friendly and ready to play a game. The child code of ethics clearly states that a drooly smile is the way to greet someone every time. Any disagreements are forgotten about in minutes so they can refocus on the goal: building a sandcastle, finger painting, or telling a knock knock joke. 

The need to engage with others in a kind way is innate, as I have seen in my 10-month-old daughter. 

Last month, she learned to wave. Now, as we go for our daily walks, I can see how she brightens everyone’s day with a big, exaggerated hand flap that most people correctly interpret as a wave.

Seeing a smile through a mask

She seems to enjoy waving, not because she can do something new, but because of the reaction she gets from others. She wants to see other people as happy as she is, and is able to see a smile through a mask. Even if the other party does not respond, they still deserve attention — dogs, squirrels, and trees sometimes get the biggest waves. 

As a pediatrician and researcher, not only do I have the privilege of seeing the kindness that all children display, but I also get a balanced view of the world through child health research.  Several studies have now utilized child-mounted body cameras and it is fascinating to see the stark contrast with the footage we have in the adult world. 

The gentleness of children is universal. At their core, they want to work together and help one another. 

In Australia, chest-mounted body cams were worn by primary school children to evaluate outdoor play-based learning. In one task, children were instructed to learn about how wombats live by walking to the river and digging in the sand. The highlight of the day came when, after digging for some time, they found water! The entire group rejoiced at the shared victory. 

Mario was the hero of the day for having done this, and later, in his discussion in the classroom, his response to the question of how he did it was humbling. Instead of taking the credit he deserved, he said, “Finn taught me that when you go down really deep you find water.”

As they further discussed what they had learned in the classroom, more instances of kindness emerged, such as helping their peers sound out challenging words with patience and without judgment.

Friendliness and care for others

Whenever a camera is attached to a child, it will record friendliness and care for others. In Britain, body cams were attached to children as they made their way through a museum. The footage shows children meeting strangers with enthusiastic curiosity, often shouting “boo!” as a playful way to greet new friends. 

In Canada, body cam videos show how children want to protect animals by removing garbage left by adults. 

Body cam footage is helpful in getting to the truth. For a child, their truth is kindness and genuine compassion shown to others.  

What if we were all to wear body cameras? The footage would not be as extreme as what we see in select police videos, but would it show kindness to all strangers and a willingness to help others consistently? Would it show a deep concern for the environment and other living creatures? 

Every time I now see a video in the news depicting a lack of care for others, I balance it with a video of a child engaging in more sensible behaviour. Doing this reminds me of the kindness we still have in the world. Children can instruct and inspire us to be better people, and we have a lot to learn from them.

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