Monday, 22 July 2013

On Grooming plus sixteen teenagers for life

When my Pastor came  to my home for  a thanksgiving function which included a prayer on the occasion of my daughter turning sixteen, he addressed  all those gathered and said that when children in western countries turn sixteen, they become eligible to apply for a driving license. This statement set me thinking about how teenagers in India become eligible to apply for a driving license only after they reaching eighteen. The significance of giving a driving license to a child who has turned sixteen lies in the assumption that the child has become mature enough to drive a car. While for many this might seem to be not a big deal, for others there are serious implications in allowing a sixteen year old to do so. Well that is because for many parents it is difficult to believe that their son or daughter has grown up!
The decision to allow teenagers to hold  a license to drive on roads stems from the results of many  research projects conducted all over the world. The big question however is whether parents allow children to be responsible enough to drive a car on busy roads. In India, where parents tend to be overprotective, (although for that effect they might neglect their children in cases where both parents work), often taking decisions for their children till late twenties, it seems as if teenagers might not be trained in the skills of thinking for themselves or even making intelligent choices in life! From the cognitive point of view, the child is mature enough by sixteen to know where his duties and responsibilities lie.
In a country which is still grounded in a sound cultural belief in respect for elders, children are often viewed as children by parents even when they reach middle age! Being overprotective towards one’s child might rob the child of important decision making skills. This can be seen when parents impose their failed ambitions on children. There is pressure on teenagers to take up the science stream in grade eleven because parents believe that engineering or medicine is a more paying job and any way more trendy and popular. The main bone of contention lies in allowing a teenager to make his or her own choices regarding the stream and career options for  later life. If a child of sixteen can be issued a driving license in the West, then it means that he or she can be responsible enough to make his or her own choices. So then, why do parents impose their own goals and ambitions and goals on to their children? Is it a let down that only  teenagers who reach the age of eighteen in India can be issued a driving license, or is it a pointer to the fact that unlike teenagers in the west, teenagers in India are not mature enough by the age of sixteen to drive a car?
In a country that believes in strong culture of respect for adults, elders, parents, uncles and aunts, there is a need to accept teenagers as future adults who will be called upon to make intelligent choices in life. While the purpose of this article is in no way about adopting a laissez faire attitude towards the upbringing of teenager, it is mainly about training them to make intelligent choices in life. It is all about weaning children, training them to be  independent thinkers, problem solvers and decision makers. The issuing of a driving license at the age of sixteen is the result of the acceptance of the fact that a teenager is by the age of sixteen mature enough and wise enough to take up the responsibility of sitting behind the wheel and driving a car on busy roads! 
It has  been seen that parents in India often make choices for their children beyond sixteen years, and this includes the choice of marriage partners in adult life. Often career choices are made by parents. The choice of clothes, the choice of friends, and even the choice of clothes are made by parents which often kills initiative and a desire to explore options in children. There is a strong insistence in India that the child should follow the profession of his or her parents. The child of Doctors will be expected to take up medicine as a career, while the child of teachers will be expected to take up the profession of teaching. There seems to be a vey strong trend which suggests that a God-given lineage should be followed very strictly.
A teenager in the country is eligible to apply for a driving license only after he or she attains an age of eighteen. Does this mean that the teenager is not mature enough to drive responsibly on busy roads by the age of Sixteen, or is it that we, as adults do not consider the same teenager mature enough to do so? I guess this is the crux of the matter. We as grown ups don’t want to let go of our teenagers, and we always tend to view them as infants who have never grown up! This conclusion suggests that we need to train our children act as responsible teenagers by the age of  sixteen. Responsible parenting should include allowing teenagers to make their own decisions-being able to make intelligent choices in matters which will affect their future lives. A teenager of sixteen should know about the need to plan their studies, develop a working strategy for achieving their career goals, and the need to lead a well organised life style. The main idea is to let teenagers develop their potential. Each child is a unique individual and needs to grow according to their capabilities. To let the child drive a car by sixteen means accepting that the child is mature enough to do so. Perhaps it is about parents being themselves mature enough to allow their children to make their own choices and decisions.
A society which is overprotective towards its teenager might in fact be destroying initiative in them, it might even lead to lack of mental maturity in teenagers which would include inability take their own decisions an inability to make good choices, and an inability to realise what is really good or bad. Adults might unknowingly be imposing their ideas in the form of advice on to their children robbing them of the ability to be problem solvers or even independent thinkers. I have come across a mother who continues to fuss over her middle aged children about what they eat, the clothes they wear and perhaps even giving an introductory preamble at parties extolling the virtues of her children. This is perhaps the worst that can happen in the process of parenting.
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