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    Volume 8 Issue 96 | November 27, 2009 |

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Food for Thought

Aspirations to Authority

Farah Ghuznavi

A friend recently described to me how involved her 10-year-old son had become in his school project

Eco-warriors at work!

on saving the environment. The children in his class had been encouraged to think of ways in which to help. For example, by preventing wasteful usage of paper, they could contribute to reducing the number of trees being cut down (since that ultimately leads to deforestation etc with terrible environmental consequences). Anyway, young Max came up with a number of ideas, including reusing old paper for new and innovative purposes e.g. wrapping presents in newspaper, writing on both sides of each sheet and so on. Having taken his brief very seriously indeed, he rallied his entire family and fellow students around the slogan of "Think before you print" - a timely indicator as to the ease with which many of us tend to print out almost any document from our computers without thinking through whether it is actually necessary to have a hard copy of the same.

I was impressed with Max's commitment, and reminded of another incident which would have provided the perfect motivational tool to emphasise the need to conserve our planet's resources for future generations - if only we had filmed it! I was out with some friends when their not quite three-year-old (very cute) son became quite fascinated by the fact that the ice cubes that he had seen just a short time ago in my glass had disappeared. Where was the ice, he kept asking me, as I struggled to explain how ice melted, transforming into water. I have serious doubts about how much of my explanation he was able to grasp, but the end result was an excited little child who ran from adult to adult screaming "The ice is melting!" Meanwhile, the adults smiled indulgently and got on with their business. Just imagine how "on message" that would have been in a climate change commercial: an adorable kid in a panic about melting polar ice caps; very appropriate - not least the striking lack of action response in to his agitation, from those in charge.

We certainly need more kids like Max, but I also have to admit to some amusement upon hearing from another friend's five-year-old, who had an understandably less sophisticated approach to the issue of climate change. When her mother tried to explain to her that global warming was a serious threat to

I decide where the colours go.

Bangladesh, and that it might mean our entire country would go under water, she remained suspiciously calm. Upon being asked what she would do if Bangladesh went under water, the little girl responded by saying that in that case, all of the people in Bangladesh would just have to get on a plane and go to Nepal! Clearly some work remains to be done there, since carbon footprints remain very much part of the problem rather than the solution...

This response did bring home to me yet again that children often have their own take on issues that adults see quite differently. For example, some time ago a friend described how her three daughters (all under the age of five) dealt with each other in styles that varied quite significantly from each to the next. Although the two older children Suha and Nishat are twins, there is little doubt as to whom the alpha female of this particular pack is. While Nishat and her younger sister Samina frequently tend to get into arguments, Suha herself has no hesitation in remaining aloof from the fray. On one occasion, when the other two tried to draw her into a dispute, their mother overheard Suha say, in an imperious tone, "Ami fight kori na ami tomader boro" ("I don't fight - I am older than you two")!

And if Suha has no hesitation in establishing her authority over her siblings (even if one of them is her twin!), there are others who aspire to challenge even higher authorities. Like my friend Britta's four year old son Konrad, who didn't take kindly to his mother's attempts to stop him from colouring all of his toys with the red crayon whose power he had unexpectedly discovered. He was initially allowed to colour the wooden railway track of his train set, but when he ventured further afield, Britta told him it was a bad idea and started to clean off the red smears from the other toys. Konrad accepted her decision without apparent rebellion, but it soon became clear that the tug of war wasn't over. A few days later, during dinnertime, he casually asked his mother who had the right to decide what happened to his toys. The underlying message of course being that if they were his toys, surely he had decision-making power over them. It took Britta a while to make the connection and realise that her authority was already in question!

Sometimes, of course, these challenges to authority are far more direct. My friend Gyri was on holiday in Greece with her three children, when she and her husband had their poolside reverie rudely interrupted by the sound of a loud curse. She said, "I knew without looking that it was my four-year-old son Markus - it was bad enough that he should have picked up such terms in his vocabulary, but even worse that he decided to choose to share it with the world in this very public way! I was particularly mortified because one of the other parents, whose child had been playing with him, clearly decided that they could not allow their little boy to play with this young tearaway. So instead, that boy spent the rest of the holiday playing with my other son, Oliver, whose vocabulary is thankfully not as colourful..."

Nor was Markus easily reined in. When his misbehaviour accelerated during a subsequent car ride, his mother threatened to stop the nearby town and call in the police to deal with him. He turned slightly paler and quietened down, and shortly thereafter the family decided to stop at the town in order to pick up some snacks and groceries. As soon as the car resumed its journey, Markus piped up, "Where are the police then? I thought you said you were going to call the police! Aren't you going to call the police?" He continued to taunt his mother for the rest of the trip, despite the fact that the police threat had in fact scared him - at least initially!

By contrast, Gyri's eldest son Daniel is a soft target. When the 12-year-old came back from school recently, excited about his first school party that was due to take place the following week, his mother couldn't resist teasing him. She said, "Oh, a party, how exciting! But I hope you understand that there will be a lot of dancing. And of course, you will have to hug a lot of girls!"

Poor Daniel, who was already rattled at the prospect of any dancing, responded with alarm - "What do you mean? Why should I have to hug any girls?" "Of course you will," his wicked mother responded firmly, "That's what people do at parties!" For anyone who is shocked that this distinctly un-maternal behaviour, it may reassure you to know that I have since discussed this with her and pointed out that if her son ends up living at home, still unmarried at the age of 45 (no doubt as a result of being terrified at the prospect of hugging girls in his vulnerable pre-teen years) she will have no one but herself to blame for that outcome...


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