any parent will tell you, in affluent societies -- or in affluent
segments of a developing country, child rearing has become
a growth industry. People spend millions of dollars on everything
from designer clothes and expensive toys, to lessons in ballet/piano/classical
music/art classes/sports, to birthday parties and fast food
outings, to the inevitable and ubiquitous proliferation of
books on how to bring up children well.
it rather interesting how many of these child raising manuals
discuss how to develop your child's potential (which is undeniably
a good thing), but almost exclusively focus on so-called "creative"
talents, rather than the less exciting, more traditional issues
of good manners and pleasant behaviour. I have a suspicion
that the current preoccupation in some quarters with problems
of child behaviour (or rather, misbehaviour), may not be totally
unrelated to that omission.
numbers of parents earning more money, and having smaller
families (particularly, but not exclusively, in the western
world), children in such families are inevitably growing up
far more privileged. Where such privilege is not balanced
by a degree of healthy discipline and instilling a sense of
decency or ethics in children, you may unsurprisingly end
up with a bunch of spoilt or unruly brats! It continues to
surprise me how many parents seem not to (or choose not to)
realise this, particularly because -- I feel -- that in social
terms, we are storing up a time-bomb for ourselves, the manifestations
of which range from the absurd to the extremely serious.
in Britain, two young boys were arrested for six hours for
"causing distress". The incident involved the boys
brandishing £1 imitation weapons, and running around
on the streets doing "commando rolls" (i.e. imitating
soldiers in war movies and video games), emitting bloodcurdling
yells, with one wearing a Frankenstein mask and the other
Santa hat (admittedly a bizarre combination!). Given the current
fears over gun crime in the UK, and the fact that criminals
have successfully adapted imitation weapons for actual use,
it is perhaps not that strange that the incident created a
disturbance. And no doubt the boys were behaving in a manner
that both alarmed and caused distress to passers-by, but it
has to be some kind of comment on our times, that so many
people were genuinely alarmed by the behaviour of pre-teens,
and sufficiently so for the police to be called in!
the incident may appear bizarre, the kind of fear generated
probably stems from reportage of events such as the death
of the elderly man in the genteel town of San Luis Obispo
(in the US) at the hands of two young teenagers, who bludgeoned
him to death with their skateboards before stealing his car.
Perhaps as disturbing as the event itself was the subsequent
realisation that several of the neighbourhood children had
been to see his corpse lying in a pool of blood, before it
was discovered by the police two days later. The investigation
is now ongoing as to why none of the children reported the
incident in the UK was the recent death of a teenager at the
hands of two older teenagers who deliberately threw him into
the river and watched him drown, fully aware that he was terrified
of water and could not swim. The boys subsequently went home
and confessed to their actions, but stubbornly maintained
that it was just a bit of fun. Other children who witnessed
the event, and tried to save the boy, stated that the bullies
kicked his hands away whenever he tried to get a grip on the
river bank. While these incidents are extreme, there is little
doubt that they occur with far greater frequency than they
did a few decades ago. And not just in western countries,
we too have seen similar instances in Bangladesh, particularly
in terms of the harassment of girls e.g., the young girl who
was driven into a pond by a group of boys who were chasing
her. The girl eventually drowned as they watched.
At a much
lower level of intensity, general anti-social behaviour and
the occasional instance of random violence is evident in the
rise of phenomena such as "Happy-slap TV". This
refers to a particularly obnoxious practice by some youngsters
in London (which has since been clamped down on hard by the
authorities) of unprovoked attacks on strangers in buses,
where one teenager slaps the victim while another takes a
picture of the incident on their mobile phone and sends it
to friends. The fact that these children have cell phone with
a camera gives a hint as to their relatively prosperous backgrounds.
it seems that the authorities are finally learning to fight
back more effectively, albeit sometimes using rather unorthodox
methods. Thus, in some shops and city centres in Britain,
as well as in tube stations (where groups of teenagers tend
to congregate, and occasionally behave badly), it has been
found that changing the content of the music being piped over
the PA system can have interesting effects. Classical music
seems to have spectacularly little appeal for troublesome
youths, and playing Mozart and Pavarotti has been particularly
effective in driving them away! Their lack of familiarity
with this music has been the explanation for this phenomenon.
No doubt Mozart is turning in his grave…
As a preventive
step, the UK Department of Education has a £10 million
plan to improve behaviour at secondary schools by instilling
at an earlier stage basic standards of kindness and thoughtfulness.
The "niceness classes will include 'What am I feeling?'"
quizzes, where children will draw emotional barometers on
which the strength of their feelings will be rated. They will
discuss issues relating to anger, and respect towards others.
A "good friend wall" in which every brick contains
a description of some friendly quality, will be built. Cuddly
toys will be passed around for classroom stroking so that
the advantages of giving praise and compliments can be explored.
not as absurd as it sounds, and not only because of the earlier
incidents mentioned. Given that the London Underground system
has recently had to hand out "Baby on Board" badges
for pregnant women to wear on the Tube in order to encourage
people to give them their seats, some general attempt to improve
manners is obviously in order. You might think that people
would automatically do this, but evidence gathered indicates
that this is clearly not the case for sufficient numbers of
the general public. Perhaps they should have had niceness
classes when they were younger?
(R) thedailystar.net 2005