Childhood matters!

Groomed to chase goals coupled with the fear of failure, Gen Z is either living someone else’s dream or is confused. Just let them be, suggests Lakshmi Palecanda in this Children’s Day special feature

kids

Children these days …
“Oh, they are very smart, very difficult, tech-savvy, loners, totally gadget-driven, obstinate, easily distracted, fantasy-seeking … They don’t know the value of money, family and relationships, they waste their time on social media, they don’t obey their parents, they don’t take advice …” The complaints keep pouring in.

Well, here is a challenge: try being a child in today’s world. Seriously, it is not easy to be a child these days. From the moment of birth, children are
‘groomed’ to become uber successful. From the moment they wake up to the moment their eyes close in exhaustion, they are working towards a goal.
But childhood should not be about chasing goals, should it?

It should be about play and learning through play. It should be about having fun without knowing that one is having fun. In the past, we hung out with neighbours, stayed with grandparents and other relatives, played
cricket endlessly on hot afternoons, floated paper boats on rainy days. To put it succinctly, we spent our childhood being carefree. But today’s children cannot do anything spontaneously without adult supervision or having a well-defined objective or schedule. They can’t even walk
barefoot, play in mud or tickle each other.

It’s a goal

“These days, there are no longer any children,” says the principal of an eminent school. “There are only young adults.”

Mention this to any parent, and you’ll get an earful. “Today’s children have endless opportunities and facilities available to them, something we never had,” gripes Chitra (name changed), a mother of two. Unfortunately, this is precisely the problem. Every child absolutely has to succeed; she has no excuse not to. If she doesn’t make ‘it’, whatever the ‘it’ may be, the parent is going to demand an explanation. She spent good money on finding the opportunities and giving the facilities, so why couldn’t the child make good? 

But what is success, anyway? Just two decades ago, success meant a stable job, enough money in the bank for retirement, a home and a family with two kids. These days, there is no such thing as a stable job, and we can barely make ends meet this month, let alone prepare for retirement. Real estate is a roller-coaster, and marriage has become a game of Russian roulette.

Success vs failure

So success has become a mirage, and there is no clarity on what is expected. Naturally, children are as clueless as a monkey in a hall of mirrors. In fact, they are more to be pitied than pilloried. Children are told that failures are stepping stones to success. But they never really
encounter failure in school or on the playing field since everybody is afraid to use the word ‘fail’.

So where are the stepping stones? There is only a slippery slope! “In our day …” is the beginning of many a lecture parents give children. “In our day, we used to walk three km to school,” they say, herding them into the car. “Our parents used to punish us if we didn’t do chores around the house,” they grouse as they rush about cleaning the house. “We had three new outfits a year and that was it,” they grumble as they fork over big bucks every weekend for shopping trips.

FYI, abstract concepts like independence, responsibility and frugality cannot be learnt from mere lecture sessions. Unless children themselves struggle with problems of money, work and physical hardship, they’re never going to get the point. Anyway, the children revert to the mobile phone mode after the first
minute of the harangue…

Love-hate relationship

Which brings us to the things that everyone loves to hate— electronic gadgets (not that anybody is not buying them, using them or bragging about them). Being a child’s gateway to social media, gadgets get blamed for everything from disobedience and disrespect to performance in exams to health problems.

Gadgets do cause a lot of problems and children do overuse them, but you cannot blame children entirely. “I got my son a cell phone to keep track of his assignments. But he uses it constantly, for everything but studying,” complains Shwetha. Hello, Shwetha, you didn’t just get him a gadget, you got him a magic lamp with a million genies in it. Can you blame him if he’s
enthralled by it? Did you really expect that he would make only two calls a week and talk only about the homework?

However, the major problem children have are not gadgets; it is the parents. Today’s parents are a confused lot themselves. With a high level of disposable income, they are just overgrown children who have been let loose in the candy store. It is natural that parents yearn to give their children all the luxuries that they themselves craved in their
childhood. But when they raise their children without teaching them the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’, they are actually doing their children a disfavor.

Children are growing up thinking that having a Xiomi versus an iphone means deprivation, and buying the generic product is tantamount to going without. As a result, they know the price of everything, but the
value of nothing. 

Rooted

Children have no idea of their rich culture and heritage either. “My child knows only English,” claims Namitha proudly. She, and many other parents, actively forbid their children to speak their native language, cutting off the last link to their identity and setting them adrift in a lonely world. Also, permissive parenting is at the root of a lot of behaviours that children exhibit, rue educationists everywhere.

When a cute child throws a tantrum at age two to be allowed to watch a song on the mobile phone, the doting parent gives in, even boasting about it to friends and family. Now, fast forward to age 14.

What are the chances that the not-so-cute-now child is going to follow the ‘new’ rule of not watching songs on the phone?

But the worst is that parents use their children as ‘trophy kids’. Vacations, schools, gifts, birthday parties … parents use these opportunities to show off how much they possess.

Kids who are talented are made exhibits that are dragged around contests and reality shows to bring reflected glory. Being so objectified by their own parents ruins their self-esteem, leaving them prey to other exploiters as well.

Our education system fails the children as well. Schools charge exorbitant fees, advertising their facilities more than the quality of the education they provide. And contrary to expectations, parents are paying up, nay, queuing up to pay such ridiculous sums.

“Our standard rate for kindergarten is Rs 2 lakh,” says the administrator of a ‘prestigious’ institution unblushingly. Now, is it any wonder if parents consider such ‘education’ an actual investment? And the dividends on this investment? The child’s marks.

Yes, it is the children and the teachers who pay the price ultimately. Parents want marks — after all, they paid for them. Teachers teach the best they can, and children perform to the best of their ability, but marks are only commensurate with intellectual levels. When ‘Junior’ or ‘Princess’ doesn’t bring home marks equivalent to the amount paid, parents get upset. Here, the real sufferers are the children, who end up with feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

Furthermore, parents forget that their children are going to resemble them. When a child brings home 50% in Math, the irate parents punish the child. Meanwhile, daddy has conveniently lost his own school report card and mummy has hidden hers behind the tamarind dabba in the kitchen. Might as well plant a jasmine creeper and look for roses on it!

A second chance

In truth, many parents see children as their second chance at life. They dust off their own youthful expectations and dreams and tailor them to fit their child. And when that child rebels for the right to choose his own path in life, they heap guilt on his head.

So what can parents do to make children’s lives better? Well, they can begin by being honest with themselves and their intentions, and
open in their interactions with their young ones. They can give children roots in a rapidly-changing world by imparting family values through word and deed.

Above all, parents can stop linking their children’s lives to their own ego. In
the words of Khalil Gibran, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you, yet, they belong not to you.”

For those parents who wonder how their children will face the challenges of
the future, fear not. In much the same manner as we found our way from a rotary phone to the latest smartphone, our children too will find a way from the smartphone to working with … people with natural intelligence as well as robots with artificial intelligence.

Happy Children’s Day to all!

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