Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Are we producing a generation of nerds and wimps?

It is amazing how teachers and parents bandy some of the most technical terms to describe the students they teach! It is somehow as if the term “problem child”, a blanket term used to describe a wide variety of problems in children has let loose a veritable barrage of technical terms borrowed from Psychology to describe each problem more distinctly! The arsenal of terms, more often than not, verbiage are used with impunity to describe problems which in the past would have been solved through a face to face talk, or even a pep talk. It is common to see  parents hiring counsellors to come home and counsel their children, and they are ready to use some of the most technical and often controversial terms to describe the problems faced by their children.
The fact of the matter is that today more than ever, parents are spending less  quality time with their children with the result that a sense of alienation has started creeping into relationships creating gaps that parents think can be plugged through counselling. Parents are fussing around their children, trying to remove the thorns and bumps that might be affecting their lives, and it is this rather exaggerated concern for their children that is making them a generation of rather delicate and fragile children. Added to this is the use of  a rather half baked knowledge of Child psychology to diagnose and treat ailments that might be as common as a mere hiccup or a bout of flue! An obsession for cleaning gels, hand sanitizers, and counselling sessions, are all indicative of parental hyper concern. Add to this concern,  the readiness with which parents and teachers readily use terms such as ADHD, depression,and anxiety, terms which if heard by the child could begin to be manifested in the child through a process of auto-suggestion!
Are we, then as good parents and teachers  to take on the role of Psychiatrists and begin treating our own children at home for disorders that they might not even be suffering from? What would happen to the properly trained professionals? Sure, they would have nothing more to do than to doze off a lean afternoon! No. What is expected from good parenting is the sharing of quality time with children, talking to them, going to their schools on PTMs., knowing more about their friends, sometimes even playing with them, going to the park with them. Parents who are not able to spend enough time with their children might be afflicted with a sense of guilt which might rub off on to their children. Often when parents visit schools on PTMs and talk to the teachers they are ready to share their concerns about their children, often complaining that their child is an introvert, or often depressed! The teacher might reply with another word, probably to show that he or she knows her psychology by suggesting that the child might be slightly “neurotic” to which the “concerned” Parent might nod in affirmation!
Is this  hyped up concern for the mental well being of children and students by parents and teachers really helping them today? Are we not building a society of nerds, wimps and delicate, fragile children today who cannot cope with challenges and competition? What about the scrapes and scratches that children of yesteryears experienced in the past? What about allowing children to mess up in play grounds? What about allowing children to play out door games with friends rather than on the Tablet? How about allowing children to play in the mid day sun instead of dozing in the cool environs provided by the technology of air-conditioning? And when children fight with each other, should we always try to mediate or should we let our children work out differences amongst themselves? Till what age should we babysit (when we have the time) our children? As teachers, should we deal with verbiage to describe common problems affecting students?  Case studies of students being promoted to higher classes which include rather technical data meant for school councillors should not be  read by teachers. Imagine a situation in which a new teacher in a new school shuffling through reports of the previous class is impressed by  an “exhaustive, well-written—and obviously costly—one on behalf of a girl who was already proving among the most competent of his ninth-graders. "She's somewhat neurotic," he confides, "but she is bright, organized and conscientious—the type who'd get to school to turn in a paper on time, even if she were dying of stomach flu." He finally found the disability he was to make allowances for: difficulty with Gestalt thinking. The 13-year-old "couldn't see the big picture." That cleverly devised defect (what 13-year-old can construct the big picture?) would allow her to take all her tests untimed, especially the big one at the end of the rainbow, the college-worthy SAT.”- Psychology Today: Here to Help.
Many of the students studying in some of the up-scale schools in town seem to live in a rather protected world, a bubble waiting to burst. These are students who live in a rather sanitised world, protected from disappointments, difficulties, ups and downs of a real world. Many of these students do not even know what poverty, hunger or suffering means because many of them come from affluent families and have never had to do anything themselves. Parental protectionism seems to have reached an alarming levels of proportion often degenerating into the comic. Many of these parents believe that their child is perfect and without any defects, ideally the most charming and talented children in the world!  What children really need is to mix with other children, so that they might know that there are others who are better than them. For teachers too, it is a matter of importance to ensure that the students participate inter school competitions so that they are pitted against some of the best students in the area and not just within the the school. Many of my students are overconfident about their prowess, and knowledge in different subjects, and it is this overconfidence that seems to be rather frightening! A lack of healthy interaction with students of other schools has probably robbed them of foreknowledge of the challenges they would be facing in the real world, once they step out of school!
Many of the problems that  children and students face today are the result of excess interference by parents and teachers. Today more than ever, parents and educationists have begun to neglect the importance of play in children. Role playing and playing with other children helps greatly in the mental growth of children. Children who play with other children have better coping strategies, and aside from exceptions, most are better adjusted to live a social life than those who have no friends and those who do not play with other children of their age. Parents who believe that play is a waste of time and would like their children to stay at home and study often cajole their children to do so by gifting them computers, PlayStations, tablets and laptops with the result that their children spend lesser time on studies and more on games and chatting on the internet. Many parents will not accept the accusation that they have not given their children sufficient time to play with friends, and they will readily use some of the most sophisticated jargon from Psychology to defend their stance on their children. And the Children,well they are happy the way they are!  While no doubt no one would advocate a free for all competition to fulfil the tenets of “survival of the fittest” but still it is important that we allow our children and students to mess up in play ground, and anyway we should let children be children and not force them into adulthood much before their time! Unfortunately, "Life is planned out for us," says Elise Kramer, a Cornell University junior. "But we don't know what to want." As Elkind puts it, "Parents and schools are no longer geared toward child development, they're geared to academic achievement." (David Elkind has been a Professor of Child Psychology at Tufts University)-Psychology Today: Here to Help. Today parents have very high expectations from their children, the primary expectation is in the form of passing with very high grades and getting admission in one of the highly prized courses (Engineering, Medicine, Chartered Accountancy, M.B.A. Architecture) from one of the world acclaimed college or University. Today it is not enough to seek admission in Delhi University, rather the students and their parents have their sights set on Harvard, Oxford, or  Cambridge, or Cornell, and nothing else will do! What makes things even worse for children who have lived a protected life is that when they step out of school into the big wide world, they are pitted against better, well equipped rivals vying for limited seats in an institution.
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