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    Volume 9 Issue 29| July 16, 2010|

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Caged Existence

Farhana Urmee

She has been sitting silently for the last one hour; leaning her head against her right hand she stares vacantly on the computer screen. Every attempt to make her speak is met with monosyllabic replies.

Hiya, an English medium student of class II, is just an example of how today's youngsters are brought up in a congested city devoid of open space. She has been visiting her mother's workplace. She sits at a computer while her mother and her colleagues go on working.

“I do my homework,” Hiya answers when one of her mother's colleagues asks her what she does during her free time.

After the fifth time the colleague tries to draw her into a conversation but gets no response. Hiya gets off from her seat and begins to walk around the office room. She has the aura of a grown up girl who is smart enough to carry make up in her tiny pink purse that she uses from time to time.

Children nowadays miss the chance of playing outside as life is confined within apartments. They occupy themselves with unexciting tasks indoors, be it at school or at home.

“What these children miss is their childhood,” says writer Dr Mohammad Zafar Iqbal, famous for his science fictions and novels for children. He comments he cannot really foretell what will happen to these children, saying it will only be known when they grow up. Several lakh children are heading towards this unknown future in our big cities, where a child has to go to the rooftop to see the open sky.

At home Hiya spends time alone, sometimes attempting to draw lines on blank papers to make cartoon characters from TV, her companions. This is how the eight-year-old girl spends her time daily, as her parents are busy at work. It is not until 9:00 pm when Hiya has the chance to have a conversation with them, unable to strike lengthy conversations with the maid and her two-year-old brother all day. Over the years, Hiya has learned to talk less and less and live with her own company.

At home, children are hooked to televisions and computers, engaging in one-sided interactions. They are becoming mere receivers with no opportunity to actively communicate. “Thus they are stuck so in formulas,” says educationist Dr Syed Manzoorul Islam.

Children nowadays miss the chance of playing outside as life is confined within apartments.

“Often I fall asleep before my mum's return. She doesn't wake me up and I'm not bothered about it,” says Hiya. Urban children grow, used to not seeing their parents for long stretches of time.

Hiya hardly has any friends in the apartment where she lives. The concrete building offers facilities like security and comfort, which may otherwise be longed for by some children.

Apparently, Hiya has no complaints. She is reconciled with her personal computer, television, funky toys and, above all, her lonely and caged existence. After coming home from school she spends the rest of the day inside four walls.

“A child grows up with the opportunity to 'Explore and Experience' and through exploring and experiencing she gets to learn,” says Dr Shaheen Islam who teaches Developmental Psychology at Dhaka University.

Today's children, being greatly tied-down to harshly structured routines and activities, cannot adapt to new things and eventually lack the experience of learning from exploring. “And their range of imagination gets narrower,” says Dr Islam.

“Some of the kids from our apartment play in our ground floor after school but I am not allowed to go downstairs,” Hiya says and does not seem to mind her imprisonment.

“After being caged into such a life, it so happens in many cases a child can only adapt to the life that her parents set for them; and after a certain period of time some children might get deviant and want to break the rules,” Dr Shaheen Islam says.

Islam explains that in extreme cases such children can develop suicidal and aggressive tendencies, or become victims of drug addiction and substance abuse.

“But while the former group usually survive in certain structured environments, the structure can tamper with their capability to think, limit their potentials, restrict their ability to express themselves and make them self-centered,” Shaheen Islam says.

“Parental supervision should be modified and parents must make opportunities for their children so that they can interact with people, especially their peers, to facilitate their growth as social-beings,” says Dr Mohammad Zafar Iqbal.

The congested life in the capital restricts the world for children so extensively that they cannot even express their wish to do different things.

Hiya enjoys a day out with her parents and younger brother, but this rarely happens with her parents having different work schedules. Does she love outdoor games? She says, “How am I supposed to know? In school we are supposed to play on the playground hardly twice a week.” The thought of having a playground in her neighbourhood probably never occurs to her.

The congested life in the capital restricts the world for children so extensively that they cannot even express their wish to do different things.

Terming a child's life as a “caged life”, Dr Syed Manzoorul Islam says, “Children living in high rise buildings hardly get an opportunity to play in open spaces which ultimately give them the impression of having a closed-life.”

The horizon of a child's thoughts is constrained in today's high-tech world. Not only are they detached from reality, the decline in reading habits among children means even their imagination is not being used.

“Today's children are served by the audio-visual media that requires no imaginative power, which eventually closes their mind's eye,” he says.

Dr Syed M. Islam recommends a concentrated effort from parents and the community to save the children from an impending disaster.

Children can be taken to playgrounds or a community-paid service centre can take the initiative to do so and schools can introduce a game period.

Children should be given interesting books rather than inanimate toys or gadgets. Again they should not be overloaded with textbooks, which eventually make them lose interest in reading.

Dr Mohammad Zafar Iqbal says, “As today's parents are suffering from the guilt of not providing their children with quality time, they try to give them anything that they demand, and in this way children are being deceived from the real world. This attitude often creates problems for children when they grow up discovering a different reality.”

Parents should take their children to the real world from their tech-equipped rooms, help them to engage with people and let them play outdoors under the blue sky on the green field, which a child desperately needs for a happy, healthy upbringing.

Photos: Zahedul I Khan

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