The (wo)man behind the child


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Category: Children/Teenagers Date: 23 Jul 00

The thing about July and August is that you see children everywhere you turn: swarming like bees, (sweet, sticky and likely to sting in many little ways) around the streets, the malls, the yards, the homes. They trail behind grown-ups - bored, excited, fidgety, high-spirited, sometimes uncontrollable. Behind every group of children is a shouting adult.


They provide high entertainment with their peculiar grammar and their gullible faith; they believe in everything and that anything is possible. They are delightful and selfish, impetuous, compulsive, and impulsive, cruel, clever and curious and can surprise you with unexpected acts of kindness and compassion.


Most people, especially those with children, are moved by the sight of the children who sell oranges by the highway, who never go to school, and have been hustled out of babyhood into the harsh adult world. We look at them with a catch in our throats and we know we live in a world where some people are more equal than others. Always will be. They are the ones who fell through the safety gap, the living proof of the inevitable poverty statistics, victims of the fall-out factor in a free-market economy.


But the ones who are getting to me these summer days are the ones who come from middle-class and privileged homes. The ones who will one day take over businesses and Government offices, from their fathers and mothers.


Why, I thought, walking out of a mall the other day, are so many children from comfortable homes, fat?  Why, I thought, is the sight of a child reading in a park, or queue, home or doctor’s office as unlikely a vision as a UFO? Why, I asked myself are so many of these children mindlessly glued to a Nintendo game, first thing in the morning? Why, I asked myself when I saw a frustrated mother actually telling her child to watch TV, are these children so unable to entertain themselves? Why, I asked myself, are so many of these children so inarticulate? Why, I wondered, when they are articulate but obnoxious, is their rudeness palmed off as intelligence, precocious?


And finally, why does one get irritated with a child who wasn’t able to say please or thank you, hello or goodbye, or stand up to offer a chair to an elderly relative so confidently able to ask for a glass of coke, or something to eat, or an electronic game?


I began to rage, shuddering over what these kids would grow up to be; thinking childhood can excuse a lot, but as adults, these children would be obnoxious, spoilt brats.


There are hundreds of complicated books on how children turn out to be the way they are. Some say they are formed primarily by their genes; others say by their peers, still others say its to do with opportunity, others social circumstances. Yet, each child has a unique personality. Children brought up in the same home could be as different as chalk and cheese. But most say children repeat the cycle started by their parents - girls ape mothers and boys, their fathers. Ambitious women breed ambitious girls and men who abuse their wives breed sons who do the same. Who knows?


So dear reader, I stopped grinding my teeth at the plethora of brats that have appeared in our rainy “summer,” and did what most writers do - became a shameless maco to test the parent theory.


I Spied


In the grocery, I spied a fat kid. I shadowed his parents and their shopping cart. The cart was filled with junk: chocolate, cookies, ice-cream, fatty processed meats and soft-drinks; guaranteed to hype up the child and give him bad eating habits which will lead to life-long medical problems. No wonder we live in a country ranked among the highest rates of strokes, heart disease and diabetes per capita in the world.  OK that explains the fat kids. Not their fault.


Here I want to make the point I once read on a T-shirt. “Sloppy thinking gets worse over time.” If you are sloppy about your body then you will be like that over your work, and your relationships, and your life.


Atrophy is easy because it is like a kind of giving up, giving into gravity and decay. Much harder to walk uphill, and abstain a bit so you can live longer, healthier, and fuller lives.


Then it was time to maco some homes. Oh, there were some classy ones, and could be easily featured in homes and gardens magazines. They had swimming pools and Jacuzzis, gardens and pretty patios with wicker, chandeliers, and crystal, and velvet curtains, but no library. The children of many of these homes never saw their parents open a book. The parents did the cocktail circuit and travelled once a year but did they read on the plane, while waiting for flights, or on a Sunday afternoon? No. That’s why their children never read, and would always come across as a bit rough, a little vulgar and not quite at ease in the real world.


Because it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got, at the end of the day, as everyone knows the only real wealth any man is judged by is the kind he carries around in his head.


As to why some parents today tell their children to watch TV, occasionally its because we are products of our time. Why would these kids start building tree houses and go-carts, make a kite from scratch, sketch or read when they can receive instant gratification and excitement from TV or a Nintendo game?


And the rudeness? One aphorism rings in my ears when I think of children: “when the small courtesies go, the big ones will go.” That dictum has been proven to me time and time again. It is tiring, exhausting, boring, because it takes years, even decades to civilise children because they are blank slates who need to be given perimeters until they are grown up. You have to remind them say “please” and  “thank you” and “excuse me,” and “sorry” till you’re hoarse, and till it becomes a habit in them. When they’re old enough they understand why. Because good manners are about empathy and respect, about acknowledging somebody’s little kindness, or agony, about building friendships.


If you don’t immediately pounce on every bit of childish insolence because it’s cute, it grows and creates a monster. One day a two-year-old hits you because he can’t get a toy and when he turns 16 he is threatening to beat you up because you won’t get him a motorbike.




Indulgence: It’s the greatest injustice you can do your child and will ultimately break your heart. You create obnoxious spoilt adults who are disliked. They won’t value hard work or excellence, or the high of achieving something for themselves because everything has been handed to them in a platter at home. They become insecure under achievers.


Indulgence: The world becomes stale very quickly. There is no enjoyment from buying a treasured toy after working for it, going to a nice restaurant as a reward for striving for and achieving some goal. They are forever discontented because they expect the bag of tricks and treats from home to be bottomless. And when it dries up they are angry.

They will never appreciate you as your parents. They will never want to give back to you or the society they live in.


“Summer” holidays are lazy days for children to play and get up late, a time to relax from the rules. But for us, the parents, although we laugh, play and bond with our kids, it cannot be a holiday. We need to work overtime because we know these long stretches of freedom, without the routine of a classroom create a void for the children, is a trial run for their entry into the real world. We need to reward them for striving towards excellence, encourage them to fill in long hours with books and activities that stretch their minds; help in the home, hold back and correct them when they are selfish, indolent or rude.


We need to let them know adults are people, too, with feelings, and lives, not just machines that supply endless goods and services to satisfy their desires. Summer days like these remind us, ultimately, we need to look at ourselves critically, since our children reflect us. And if our children turn out to be losers rather than winners in the game of life whose fault is that?


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur