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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Treating Kids

I went to a book shop in a hospital recently. As soon as I entered I saw that the lady behind the counter was preparing to close down the shop. Even before I asked (it wasn't lunch hour yet), she told me that her grand daughter is graduating from pre-KG to KG and her daughter had her invited to the graduation party. This reminded me of a line from the movie 'The Incredibles' where Mr.Incredible says "We keep coming up with new ways to celebrate mediocrity" on the occasion of his son's 'move' from the 4th to the 5th grade. I wouldn't go as far as to call it mediocrity; after all there's some effort involved. But call it a graduation party?

I grew up in a drastically different environment in India. I was slapped in school by the teachers, at home by my parents. And I was a good student and quite obedient. The general understanding was that the teachers and the parents wanted to discipline their children and the stick did the trick. And this was normal as almost every kid was treated similarly. Growing up in a lower middle class family, my mom borrowed money for my monthly tuition. I didn't buy those 'group photos' clicked every year with all the students of the class. Most of the time I didn't even bother to inform my parents of it as it would cost them. The family of six slept in 2 rooms and my prized possession of a table lamp came in when I was 13.
The rise of the middle class is not merely in terms of finance but also marks the level of cultural liberty. My 5-year old neighbor goes to a special class for math & reading that costs a little over $200 every month. Her parents sit with her to help her. When she goes wandering they softly but firmly pull her back and ask her to focus. After every mini assignment she's showered with 'good job'. Needless to say, new dresses and toys and restaurant visits are perks of good behavior. And this is not just my neighbor for she is representative of the new normal. Not just the U.S but also in India. As both parents are educated and employed, money is a lesser problem and spending 'quality' time with the kids becomes a priority.

I'm a strong advocate against force, be it verbal or physical towards children. It took some maturity for my emotional bruises to heal and see the love of my parents. But when compliments are used like 'pass the salt', what actually will the child think of itself? By treating every reading session an achievement, aren't we inflating the actual effort involved and thereby boosting the ego of the child? Do they even evaluate if their accomplishment is age-worthy? What would happen to their self-confidence when they're competing with much smarter kids later in life and there's nobody patting their backs?
With the passsage of time, almost every aspect of our culture has become liberal. This has prompted parents presenting a friendly face to their kids (they don't call their dad 'Sir' anymore). But this new degree of freedom shouldn't absolve them of their responsibilities. While every step is progress, I believe kids should be instilled in them a sense of humillty; parents and teachers should show them the long road they need to travel; they should expect no cheerleading just for trying things. As a parent I can understand how protective and over-cautious one can be. But may be it's time to take off those training wheels in the kid's bicycle and let him/her fall once in a while. After all, falling is progress.

1 comment:

Freehit said...

Too many books on "Child psychology" and too many three letter acronyms to categorize what is really bad behavior are probably contributing factors. People got to realize that failure is not always bad and that it provides much deeper lessons.