Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Outsourcing Parenting

It takes a village to raise a child.
African saying
A chilling figure reached us late last year: 5,871 children committed suicide either upon receiving unsatisfactory academic results or even more pathetically, in anticipation of them, which means their emotional state was so fragile that they couldn& #8217;t bear the thought of either disappointing their parents or working out an alternative plan to the goal that had already been fixed for them. Anything below a certain magic percentage which is the key to a course in higher education and a 16-year-old thinks he is a failure.
In none of these cases did anyone expect these children to equate their lives with their marks. Yet, for at least 10 years that is what they had been led to believe… that they were worth only what they won in a classroom. Nothing about their all-round personalities mattered, whether they were thoughtful children, respectful to elders or compassionate to household staff/ trades people. It meant little or nothing at all how talented they might have been at music, gardening, sketching, fixing things about the house or cooking. Hardly anyone noticed or appreciated those aspects of their unfolding characters. What mattered was only whether they were scoring machines in schoolroom tests or on the playing fields. As these are the reported deaths, we can be sure there were many more. And as for those who did not take their lives, we may be equally sure that most of them live with feelings of defeat, depression and injury: an inflammatory mix.
Who is responsible? A system of intense competition that makes unnatural demands, robs a child of her free time, and is supported by a collaboration of social and familial expectations which together form a human trap.
Now, is there something we don’t know or are we carrying on regardless? For at least a 100 years since psychoanalysis proved it, we have known that an emotionally happy child will grow into a stable adult .Yet how, in the space of just two decades, has the attitude to raising children, and goal-setting for them changed to one of joyless and extreme urgency? Nearly every tender and imaginative space in a child’s life has been invaded and adult anxieties concerning performance bluntly passed on to seven and eight-year-old humans who have not yet grasped the concepts of wealth and success, but can sense their power. Bewildered
In the current pattern of rearing the next generation is hidden the kind of pain that I equate with what I saw on Khader Nawaz Khan Road (Chennai) some time ago: a calf no more than a week old was being driven with a stick to keep up with its anxious, mooing mother who was tied to a moped doing a brisk 10 kmph. The sheer bewilderment and panic in the young creature’s eyes as it wobbled along is reflected in the eyes of our youngsters goaded to get through tests and tricks devised by an adult vision of discipline and attainments deemed right for a child of three in LKG; for a child of four in UKG; for a child of five in class I. This is so the world over. An article in Time magazine (May 2008) described the joy of parents who send their children to learning centres at the age of two. “She can recognise numbers and pictures!” And this at an age when the child is powerless to choose for herself.
What about some time to stand and stare? Not on your sweet life.
On the one hand we recognise and celebrate individuality. On the other, a crowd of four-year-olds is expected to learn to read, write and recite at exactly the same pace, triggering early and sharp competition in the schoolroom. Socialising, and learning to give and live together is considered far less important and in not counselling children that the most vital thing in life is human relationships, we are doing them the injustice of opening the door to loneliness. Seeds of anger
Why will they — these tense, weary children — not grow up into impatient and angry young people if we do not spend enough time with them in their early years? We not only send them out of the safety of the house as soon as we can, but talk about it constantly in their presence as if our goal is to put some distance between them and us. “Come June, she will go off for three hours every day giving me some time for myself!” is something that we hear all the time.
Have we outsourced parenting to schools?
The most valuable thing we can give our children is our time and the continuous confidence of parental presence as they grow at their pace, and from their own inner visions. For, in every child the inner vision of life is brighter than the outer which is dictated by a world which imposes “learning” from the outside. All systems of modern education insist that the world must be understood in certain patterns: mathematically, historically, scientifically. Learning which could be delayed till the infant personality stabilises is applied too rapidly, suppressing the inner vision.
If we push our children away from ourselves and into the world too early in their lives and tell them to overcome everybody else, what kind of emotional equipment will they grow up with? We would do well to remember what Sylvia Ashton-Werner said about orienting children: “War and peace wait in an infant room, wait and vie.”

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