can be a tough job, and most modern parents spend considerable
energy working out how to raise their children well. Often
though, their efforts centre around the development of their
child's skills or potential -- hence the bestselling CD/video
series entitled "baby geniuses" (e.g. "Baby
Mozart", aimed at ensuring that your child grows up to
be a musical genius!) In fairness, I should add that one very
down-to-earth friend of mine claims she plays her twins "Baby
Mozart" to keep them occupied (allowing for the occasional
conversation with her husband!), rather than because of any
expectations of emerging genius. In her case, this may well
be true. But I cannot help having a sneaking suspicion that
a good number of parents take these things rather seriously.
And it is hard then, not to be reminded of a Canadian friend,
whose parents invested considerably in ballet, football, violin
lessons, etc, but failed to produce any commensurate outputs,
let alone producing prodigies!
case, children's development must be seen in the context of
their wider environment: the messages they receive from parents
and society about issues such as competition; the behaviour
of their role models; and the influence of media, e.g., television,
movies. All of these (to a greater or lesser extent) inform
their development and shape their behaviour, and it's worth
remembering that it's not only about achievement.
grow up increasingly quickly nowadays. It is natural for them
to learn from emulating adults, and unsurprisingly, they often
want to be more like grownups - not least because of their
(correct) perception that adults have much more freedom. Of
course, they can't be expected to realise that that freedom
comes at a high price. And it is up to adults, who are all
too aware of how much work it is being a grownup, to help
them to enjoy (for as long as possible) the freedom of childhood!
become more adult with the assistance of their indulgent parents,
who think it's cute to listen to them making smart-ass comments
("paka kotha") and playing dress-up. While
this may seem harmless (and up to a point, is harmless enough),
it's surely worth remembering that this is the one time in
their lives that they can and ideally, should, be free of
adult expectations, especially around how they should sound,
look, dress, etc. I am, therefore, a bit disturbed when a
Bangladeshi friend of mine tells me that her three-year-old
daughter regularly accompanies her to the beauty salon and
has her nails done!
attitude goes well beyond a little nail polish. With high-street
shops in the UK selling padded bras to pre-teenage girls,
there is clearly a niche market that has been seized upon
by the ever-alert manufacturers. Recently, the sale of bikini
tops for girl babies was rightly banned on the grounds that
it constituted the unacceptable sexualisation of children.
But it does illustrate the point that this top could only
have been chosen for a child by a parent (since one-year-olds
do not choose their own clothes), and also raises the question
of what kind of messages we are, perhaps unconsciously, sending
out to children.
a particularly disturbing development, given that we live
in a world where children face so much danger from predatory
adults. For example, police raids recently resulted in 19
Spaniards (including teachers, computer engineers, cleaning
staff, civil servants and military officers) being arrested
on charges of child pornography. The fact that this occurred
in Spain is incidental, since child abuse is a global phenomenon.
Furthermore, while it's true that parents cannot protect their
children from everything, there is nonetheless scope to do
quite a lot, e.g., boycotting the "baby bikini".
At a day-to-day level, particularly until their teens, parents
remain the primary influence on most children's lives.
just one example, how parents approach the issue of their
children's learning can be very important. Some wealthy parents
are obsessive about child development, deluging their children
from birth with "suitable" learning aids (e.g.,
Baby Mozart), in an endless search for stimulation. By contrast,
others are so preoccupied with making ends meet, that they
may be unable (or unwilling) to provide even the basic level
of attention necessary to monitor their child's progress.
As a result, some children are so spoilt (or neglected) that
they are raised on a diet of fast food, videogames and mindless
television-viewing, with predictable results. By contrast,
other children (particularly middle-class children), are relentlessly
driven into academic competition, with long study-hours and
neglect or spoiling are clearly bad recipes for child-raising,
excessive preoccupation also has its drawbacks.
or highly competitive parents can ultimately damage their
children, not least through depriving them of the opportunity
to learn for pleasure, or engage in pastimes such as music
or sports for fun rather than achievement. To what absurd
extremes this can go, is evidenced by the case that emerged
some years ago in the US, where the mother of one cheerleader
became involved in the murder of another girl, who was threatening
to outshine her child in some cheerleading competition!
it only the area of academic and extracurricular activities
where children are feeling the relentless pressure of competition.
A recent study of young children in Australia has found that
the majority of the girls aged six are unhappy with their
"body image"! While only a small minority of the
children were overweight or obese, and few of them appeared
to realise what these terms actually signified, the majority
remained unhappy with the shape of their bodies. It is also
telling that when the children came into the school (at the
age of five) most of them did not have any understanding of
these concepts. So worries about this are clearly as a result
of peer pressure, and ultimately based on messages received
from the "adult world".
of the children surveyed also now understood the concept of
"dieting" i.e. the idea of eating less in order
to lose weight. Rather disturbingly, further probing revealed
that they associated thinness with "likeability",
i.e., how thin they were would determine how popular they
were. Since every child longs for acceptance, it is hardly
surprising that this was an issue that concerned them! Clearly,
priorities are being inculcated in children at a very early
age, with potentially unhealthy consequences.
difficult, as an adult, and as someone who grew up in a much
simpler era, to deny that the world that our children grow
up in today is far more complex and fraught. While we cannot
avoid all external influences, we can probably mitigate the
negative effects of some, not least in terms of making children
understand that we love them for who they are, rather than
who we might want them to be i.e. successful, clever, charming.
There are real dangers involved in parents pushing their children
into unnecessary competition (particularly if children feel
parental approval depends on achievement). What children need
most from their parents is unconditional love (with a healthy
dose of discipline). If that is sometimes hard to give, then
perhaps we should just work at it harder…
(R) thedailystar.net 2005