“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”—Frederick Douglass, American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman.
Nelson Mandela was so right when he opined that there could be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children. We usually tend to think that children, especially very young ones, can make no sense of what the grown-ups are doing or saying but as aptly warned by Robert Fulghum, a noted American author on the subject of spiritualism: “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”
Before child psychology emerged as an important branch of social sciences, it was popularly believed during the medieval times, and still so in many segments of our society that children are little adult versions and should conduct themselves as well as be treated in the same manner. When Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget proclaimed that children think differently from adults, Albert Einstein remarked that the discovery was “so simple that only a genius could have thought of it.” Today there is complete awareness of the fact that childhood is a very formidable period when even minor events can have a significant influence on adult life.
Amazingly, when we become adults, we forget that we were once children and had to go through what our own sons and daughters are experiencing yet our behavior towards the little ones, whether one’s offspring, nieces and nephews or for that matter anyone, is at times, devoid of sensitivity. Without realizing how hurtful it can be, many adults do not refrain from hurling abuse, making sarcastic comments, twisting arms, pulling ears, beating, slapping, kicking or even starving children. This attitude is even more painful when it is discriminatory i.e. good behavior with one’s own kids and maltreating others. The victims in this scenario are bound to harbor malice towards such adults or in some cases retaliate with even greater ferocity. Deviant acts in later years are sometimes the result of a disturbed childhood.
One can think of a sapling which, when planted in an open and free space is more likely to grow into a huge strong tree capable of providing fruit and shade. No doubt, it may be susceptible to inroads by outsiders but its strength and magnitude would prevent any substantial damage unless it is totally cut down. On the other hand if it is subjected to a small pot and is frequently trimmed, a stunted bonsai will come into existence which may be excellent material for a showcase but is incapacitated from benefitting anyone. Similarly, children also require a well-monitored freedom within the precincts of discipline wherein their hidden talents come to surface and they are able to explore their God-gifted attributes. Excessive conditions, forceful imposition of one’s own wishes, continuous nagging and undesirable home environment can leave them with under-developed personalities and a discontented life. They may grow up to become financially successful but their souls may lack the buoyancy that comes from pursuing their own desires.
Grown-ups take it for granted that children do not have the experience or the intelligence to decide their own future. Consequently, they thrust their own will upon them. A lawyer and doctor, for example would want their children to adopt their professions so they can leave their office/clinic and clients/patients as legacy. On the same pattern, industrialists and traders would prefer that their kids follow in their footsteps so that there is continuity of businesses established by them. Keeping good intentions aside, is there not a streak of selfishness apparent in these aspirations?
What if a child is least interested in legal jargons preferring to spend his time in literary pursuits? What if the doctor’s son is more attracted to fine arts and has no inclination to study biology? What if the daughter wants to become a pilot but the parents want to marry her off knowing very well that she has no aptitude for domestic chores? What if the trader’s child is desirous of taking up teaching as a profession rather than do shop-keeping? Due to social pressures a number of children might sacrifice their own ambitions on the altar of their parents’ wishes but not without an uneasiness that would remain like a thorn in their hearts. Conversely, there are chances that they may rebel, leave their families or worse, escape into the world of drugs and make-believe. Those who do not have the courage to do either can end up in asylums.
Not everyone is born with a silver spoon so opportunities for families of low socio-economic status maybe fewer but a conscious sense of enriched social relationship, warmth, love and support can be fruitful in correcting this imbalance. It has been observed that many children from such backgrounds, who are blessed with thoughtful parents, excel in their chosen fields of expertise. In order to make one’s children responsible adults, a few things need to be considered.
Children cannot be raised in isolation from society. Thus trust, fear, confidence, pride, relationship, friendship, are actually a mix of social-emotional state and in turn, closely interlinked to the physical and cognitive sides of human development. Therefore, rearing means not just physical but emotional well-being too. Parents must understand that their children will progress stage by stage reaching different milestones of growth hence every level should be closely monitored, checking normalcy and avoiding extraordinary expectations.
Every child is blessed with special gifts and talents which do not necessarily entail expenses. A little attention, some family time together spent in playing board games, outdoor activities, singing, dancing or merely having a debate on a topical issue, can bring out the latent abilities which can be polished to achieve excellence. Instead of mocking children on their thoughts or acts, it is advisable to lend an ear and listen with seriousness even if it means suppressing one’s giggle. A few words of applause and encouragement from parents can do wonders which the best and most expensive tuitions cannot. Says Michele Borba, an educational psychologist: “Above all, keep in mind that the grade is not what motivates a top student to succeed—it’s his inner drive for learning.”
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)