Even if most of us can’t point to many specific memories from the first few years of childhood, increasingly there’s acceptance that they’re hugely significant in shaping the rest of our lives. From pregnancy to the age of five, our brains develop at an astonishing rate – faster than at any other period. Interactions and experiences in these years affect how we build social connections, manage our emotions and develop a sense of self. The consequences can take a lifetime to shake.
With so much upheaval, I became an angry child who acted out. I wouldn’t eat and could become aggressive. Teachers flagged I was a bully in primary school. Looking back, I can see I craved attention, which I got by kicking off. Thankfully, I was able to channel that anger into music. That’s not to say the impact was over. To this day, it affects who I am.
It’s hard to measure how people turn out and why. I know my path could have been hugely different. There were plenty of characters looking to take advantage of that desire for guidance and support, whether in gangs, drugs or elsewhere. I was lucky to find music, and have adults enter my life who helped me find a way through.
At a council-funded weekend music school where I learned classical guitar, a teacher gave me a classical concert guitar worth thousands because he saw my potential and wanted me to have a better instrument. A secondary school teacher asked me to help with the purchasing of music kit for classes and let me take some home to practice with.
There’ve been people like them throughout my life who cared enough to go the extra mile. They had no obligation. Much like the more difficult experiences, these acts of care and kindness also shaped my world. Still I see the impact of my early years in my approach to music. It’s a creative outlet but coupled with obsession. Making music that’s commercially successful is the validation I so deeply desire.
As much as I can, I now try to support younger people. Through my record label I have a hands-on relationship with the artists we sign: I try to look out for our artists how I wish I’d been looked after in my first years in the industry. When young DJs get in touch, I’ll always offer advice.
Then I met the [current] Prince and Princess of Wales at the Queen’s Jubilee last year at Buckingham Palace, all this came up in conversation. Their Shaping Us campaign is about raising awareness about the importance of the early years, and we agreed to work together when the moment came.
We can’t change our own childhoods, but we can shape those of the next generation. As a father trying to correct how things are done in my family structure, with no real blueprint, I’ve had to do a lot of the reading and research myself.
Doing so isn’t always easy. As I learned, I found myself fixating on how I wished my own early years were different. Knowing so much created a burden – I felt a real weight on my shoulders to do better, to get things right.
The pressure on parents is greater than ever. With the cost of living crisis, support services and arts budgets cut and school resources stretching further and further, for many it’s a constant struggle. It impacts relationships at home.
Parents under stress have less time and money to support their children. It’s hard to think about the future when so much energy is spent on surviving the here and now. All that needs to change, and fast. At the same time, though, our behaviour also matters. Parent or not, every interaction with young children counts.
Life is messy, it’s not always easy. But when so much of who we become is determined by our early years, even the smallest acts of kindness, generosity, care and guidance can shine a light for decades to come.
Find out more about the Shaping Us campaign here
Jax Jones’s new single, Need You Now with DOD, is out now
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