Let Children Think for Themselves


In our rush to be overprotective and give our children the best opportunities we can, we streamline and censor a lot of what they get access to. We select what they should read and eat and watch in the name of good parenting, and justify this in the name of restraining their ‘freedom’ to engage in bad behaviour. We assume that they cannot decide for themselves, due to which most of our reward and punishment cycles revolve around moralising behaviour. We categorise some factors as good and others as bad, ingraining values we consider morally sound and socially productive. It is believed that children are soft clay getting moulded according to the impressions they receive. But, to what extent should parental control be exercised over children? It is evident that comparisons with other animal species’ early release of their young ones from their homes to learn to fend for themselves cannot be compared as an absolute parallel with human society. Even within human society, different socio-cultural, political and economic contexts define childhoods. For instance, a privileged upper class child would define freedom differently from a rag-picker orphan child. So, does the exposure of children to absolute morality limit their horizons before they can begin to understand the same?

When we look at values like honesty, achievement, competition, creativity etc., and evaluate all of them, we realize that many of them are mutually exclusive. This is perhaps why children start identifying grey areas by moving beyond their ‘black and white’ visions. They understand that class achievement can sometimes happen through dishonesty, because only the end result will matter. Or that competing with someone else for grades might not allow for kindness and generosity. When many roads diverge into yellow woods, which one should children take? Our emphasis on didactic teaching is evident through the children’s books we prescribe to young readers. We read success as an English-speaking, economically advancing, socially mobile, and politically powerful entity. Thus, we consciously or unconsciously choose books we think will benefit our children, not necessarily ones they will like reading. This prevents them from coming across diverse work in different languages, steeped in rich cultures, and portraying real children in real situations rather than demigods with superpowers. Not only does the free-flow of overwhelmingly Eurocentric protagonists and storylines in books (remember the countless Enid Blyton series), break identification with one’s own social history and communal memory, it also produces a disjunction between our own reality and the magical realities of these worlds. Furthermore, when we examine books for children that directly deal with conflict, there is an overpowering urge to shield our children from violence. This is why children’s books about Kashmir or the Syrian crisis have been criticized by concerned parents. But, little do they realize that violence is not only restricted to sites of conflict. Bullying, name-calling and teasing, corporal punishment, scolding, punishing, etc. are forms of verbal and physical violence children participate in as victims or perpetrators as part of their everyday existence. Many also suffer from sexual abuse within the home environment because the absence of safe spaces and awareness makes them vulnerable to the same. So, are parents shirking responsibility by keeping their children ignorant?

By accepting that violence is a system that is not only located outside the home and school, but also within it, will parents or guardians take effective measures to equip their children to deal with it. This is why the incident of the murder of the young school child at Ryan International School, Delhi, created such a furore—no one had expected a school to be the site of such grim violence. Children can also be cruel to each other because of factors like observing role models and imitating their behaviour, understanding that as an acceptable way of behaving, or releasing their frustrations as per their desires. Thus, explaining sexuality (through sex education and parental conversations), teaching them the importance of co-existence and diversity, substituting the capitalistic focus on achievement with kindness and generosity etc. to them before it is too late, is extremely essential. Many children’s books about other children experiencing violence can teach them important life lessons about overcoming problems. It is high team we gave our children the right books to read, and the right stories to imagine. And this ‘rightness’ should be a negotiation between the parent and child, not merely an exercise of domination by the parent. How long will they keep imagining themselves in fairy tales.

– Contributed by Tript

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