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     Volume 5 Issue 79 | January 20, 2006 |


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Straight Talk

Setting Boundaries

Nadia Kabir Barb

Sitting in the waiting room of a doctor's surgery is never fun. So to pass my time I picked up one of the magazines strewn on the coffee table and flicked through its glossy pages. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a photograph of a 16 year old boy spread across two pages. Well, it is a magazine, what is so unusual about seeing a photo of a teenage boy, you may ask. Well this particular boy had caused quite a stir last year when he made it into the papers due to his misdemeanours in school. In fact it got to a stage where the school in question requested him to leave (a nice way of saying expelled). His father then took the school to court to challenge their decision to expel him. He subsequently lost the case. Maybe I am missing the point here but since when do we start rewarding children with celebrity status for behaving badly?

The boy in the photograph did not look like he had a care in the world. Rhys Gray definitely did not give the impression of someone who had recently been expelled from one of the most famous and prestigious public schools, Marlborough College, in the UK. I remember reading about Rhys's father Russell Gray trying to seek an injunction preventing Marlborough from excluding his son Rhys from the sixth form. He claimed that the school was taking this action to protect its standing in the league tables rather than for his son's best interests.

I may have felt some sympathy for his plight were it not for the fact that the reason for the school taking this action seemed justified, at least to me it did. According to the representative of the school, Rhys "had the worst disciplinary record in the school that anyone can recollect". He had managed to rack up a staggering number of "chits" for different misdemeanours. I think my jaw must have hit the floor when I read that it was almost 400! Many of these seemed to be relatively harmless such as chewing gum or arriving at a lesson without the required text book etc. but the judge residing over the case quite correctly stated that though he acknowledged that many of the incidents the teenager had been involved in were minor, "The cumulative effect shows an almost total disregard for school rules and the failure to understand the effect this behaviour would have on others."

I am all in favour of parents being supportive towards their children but when the behaviour and actions of a child become out of hand, some sort of discipline is necessary. However there are many parents who are unwilling to acknowledge the faults of their offspring and feel the blame always lies somewhere else. I think it is important for children to be aware of the need to respect authority whether it is in the home, school or any other place. Also if they feel it is "no big deal" to disregard rules and regulations from an early age then it does not seem to bode well for the future. The decision of Mr. Gray seemed to me to allow his son to give a proverbial shrug of his shoulders and not take responsibility for his actions. This does not mean that children like Rhys are "bad" or "evil", but disruptive and disorderly behaviour is not really something that should be applauded and by seeing his photo splashed across the magazine made me feel that the media was doing just that.

Another concern that I had was exactly what kind of signal this would send to other teenagers or school going children. Rhys had had his fifteen minutes of fame and was a mini celebrity thanks to his notoriety. It is almost inevitable that many teenagers will decide to make someone like Rhys into their role model as he fulfils the role of a typical rebel defying authority and basically not giving a damn. You would not want your child thinking that this kind of antisocial behaviour would make them "cool" or earn the respect of their peers. But if the media is glorifying the bad boy image then it becomes a difficult task for a parent to teach their children otherwise.

It is very difficult to know how to discipline a child as there is a fine balance to be maintained between being too harsh or too lenient. Having read a few books when my eldest daughter was much younger, we tried various methods stated in the books. One was to have a "time out" when your child misbehaved or was naughty. You could do this by sending the child to a corner for a few minutes. Initially this seemed to work until one day my daughter did something she was not supposed to and asked without any prompting whether she should go and stand in the corner! So from that day the "time out" method was dropped. It really is different from child to child and from parent to parent on how best to deal with the concept of discipline. But the main thing is that children should know where the boundaries are.

I wonder to myself where Rhys will be in 10 years time. Will the whole affair have taught him a lesson in life or will the fact that his father rather than taking him in hand decided to take the school to task, affect his behaviour negatively in the future. Only time can tell…

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