I am standing at the school library as my 4 year old takes time to select a book for himself. I look around and see a 5 year old showing a book he’s just chosen, to his mother. The book is about a Chef. His mother, without giving it more than a glance, instantly takes away the book from him saying, “No, not this one. This one is good for you (showing him the one she’d selected herself)”. Without waiting for him to respond, she turns around and goes to the librarian. Remember, this is a school library which caters to the Pre-primary level children only. The mother missed to see how the light had disappeared from her son’s eyes at that very moment. But saying nothing, he just followed his mother to the counter.
Parents pride themselves on raising obedient children. A child who accepts his parents’ orders and does not question them is marveled at by others and is quoted as an example for the rest of the children. For generations, we have created this image that the only way for our “salvation” is to follow your parent’s footprints, fulfill their wish-list and be happy about it. Hence, starting early, we raise our children on those lines and through punishments and incentives, we train our child to do as “we say”. What we have, still to date, failed to realize is the extent of damage it is doing to them. It may seem a horrifying insult to all the parents but the idea, does not in any way, imply that the children are to be given limitless freedom. Respect is a permanent core value on which everything else will stand. That said, we still have to rethink and analyze the impact of submission on a child’s personality.
Obedience requires blind following on the part of the child; no questions asked. Instilled from the very beginning, the child makes it successful as long as he keeps believing that only the parents can decide what’s best for him, how things are done, only they know anything and everything. So the easiest, no-conflict way, is to do as he is told. The result of such an upbringing where obedience is expected and demanded (even forcefully) is creating individuals who lack initiative, are forever fearful and in doubt, with minimum capacity to think, analyze and take decisions based on facts. For every crossroad they encounter in their lives, the subconscious perplexes them with the question, “Will my parents be pleased or disappointed if I do this?”
However, even the most obedient children may turn into the worst rivals once they become ‘teenagers’. No longer being the little controllable ones, suddenly seeming to have acquired some power, they start on a mission to contradict and defy anything that’s put in their way for the sake of rebellion itself. Hence, the power struggle begins! At this stage, the children do whatever they want, ‘hurting’ their parents and rendering them helpless, all the while facing blame and accusations from them. Luckily with the next adult phase of their lives, now being married and with children, the guilt begins to set in. And it keeps growing with time, gulping them with the thoughts blaring their minds: “My parents were right; Parents are always right” and from this phase onwards, they assume the responsibility to propagate and implement that thought (now a firm belief) through their own children.
The consequence of offering such individuals to the society is that frustration, disappointment and power-struggle surround us. Even as grown-ups, we exercise and impose our own will upon everyone and anyone we have superiority over, whether in age, designation or even wealth; at home or in the office or anywhere else. Because let’s be realistic, they’re not our parents!
However, as goes with every generalization, there are always exceptions. Those few who break the society’s false standards, fixed strongly over centuries, and do the right thing that they believe with conviction.
So, let’s break the cycle and start by giving your little ones the free will as their birthright, within the basic boundaries applicable to all humans. Allow them their genuine curiosity in a safe environment, which leads to unbound creativity. If your 2 year old wants to poke her finger into the socket or light a match, you’d go running to protect her. No question about it. But if your 3 year old wants to decide whether to wear a frock or jeans, or choose a toy you don’t like the look of, let her! It’s no life or death situation. Safety and guidance should be our main concern, not our ego or our image in front of others. So, the next time your child wants to taste salt, pepper and red chili flakes from the restaurant table, let him taste the first two and give him the ‘why’ behind not letting him taste the third one. Or he wants to bang the spoon on the plate, instead of saying “Put down the spoon”, tell him it will break the plate, he can do it on the table. And a few seconds later, you might (no, definitely you will) want to add, “Please keep it down, it’s too loud for my ears and for the people around”. Even very young children understand a reasonable request. Raise your little ones giving them every chance to question, think and decide for themselves, wherever possible, and you won’t be dreading those ‘difficult’ teenage years to come.
Let us be like those few who guide their children. Who explain to them all the “whys” behind every suggestion, not order. They request, not demand. They expect, not impose. But above all, they leave the final choice with the children and are strong enough to stand back and watch them learn from their own mistakes and grow; and even marvel at the amazing persons that their children turn into!
They are the kind we need in abundance!