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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Where to draw the line?

Update : 15 Jul 2013, 04:48 AM

I grew up during the 80s and the 90s. I remember a time when hard work was rewarded with treats. Got a great report card? Wonderful, it’s a trip to the beach. Done all your chores for the day? You get to choose what the family watches on TV tonight. Suffered in honourable silence whilst visiting a much-detested relative’s house? Great, where would you like to go for dinner?!

I remember a time when bedtime was at 10 or 11pm max, when the entire family used to sit down to dinner together, when curfews were mandatory and when children used to actually need permission to go over to a friend’s house.

Even now, after getting so old and having a few gray hair strands myself, whenever I’m venturing out from my parents’ house, I actually ask for permission. Strange, but I guess I’ve become preconditioned.

What’s also strange is how the attitudes of parents seemed to have changed towards their children. Instead of family dinners and special offers, parents now hand out iPhones and PS3s. Should one happen to eavesdrop on some middle-schoolers’ conversation, one would find several references to which ‘app’ is the best to download, what their latest scores were on ‘angry birds’, and so forth.

In fact, the majority of children in the UK, even ones as young as five years old, have been exposed to some form of technology or the other, be it in the form of cell phones, computers or any other multimedia device.

The once treasured pastime of playing a game of football or cricket with the neighborhood gang is now a thing of the past. The number of working mothers has soared drastically and the number of stay-at-home moms is rapidly dwindling.

I find it vaguely disturbing that these very ‘facts’ are now considered the norm. Whilst I fully support working mothers, intending to travel down this route myself, I would be lying if I said that I do not worry about the repercussions which are sure to follow. With both parents working, children often grow up in the shadow of housekeepers, child-minders or, if they are lucky, doting grandparents.

There are two outcomes which follow from this.

One: they become unattached to their parents and will cease to be intimidated by their parents’ inherent authority over them.

Two: doting relatives, especially grandparents, will generally tend to their every whim which will inspire a false sense of entitlement. As the sense of entitlement grows, so does the demand for more state-of-the art possessions and the latest gadgets.

A few days ago I was at a Thai restaurant with some friends. It was a family owned business with the mother of the family standing in as the matriarch. Whilst waiters moved around taking orders and the customers happily digging into their respective feasts, my gaze was suddenly drawn to two children sitting at a table in the corner. They couldn’t have been more that 6 years old, each. They were both concentrating heavily on wide screens on the table and their hands moved frantically on the said screens. My friends glanced over too and for a while we reminisced about how much fun we had during our childhood using the etch-a-sketch. It wasn’t until one of the children held their screen up that we realised – it wasn’t an etch-a-sketch after all, it was an Ipad.

Maybe I am just being old fashioned, but in a time when hundreds (if not thousands) around the world are dying of poverty and hunger every day, surely the money spent extravagantly on that Ipad could have been put to better use?

I don’t have a problem with the Ipad myself - of course not. It’s a handy little gadget that has proved its usefulness time and time again. I just have a problem with the fact that it was given to a 6 year old child to keep him/her ‘entertained’.

Surely, six is nowhere near the ‘acceptable’ age for handing children such gadgets? And let’s not forget the butterfly effect: a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world and an explosion takes place somewhere else, millions of miles away.

When this aforementioned 6-year-old child saunters into school with his hi-tech gadget, can you imagine the ruckus that will ensue? Every single child coming into contact with the Ipad will be returning home with one goal: to acquire one just like that. Ah, but I digress.

The main issue to worry about here is how the parent–child relationship is evolving. We’re moving away from the times when there would be at least one parent staying at home, who would be shaping and guiding the child’s future, and we are moving towards the times when both parents are working and none are home to supervise.

It’s a proven fact that fear instilled at a very early age tends to have long-lasting effects. Not all fear is damaging, some is actually helpful and will gradually be converted to respect. In fact, Asian children are more prone to following directions and guidance, combined with treating the adults in the society with deference and respect – something which is sorely on the brink of extinction in Western culture.

I’m not saying that working parents never discipline their children – they do, or, at the very least, they try to. But it often feels like a standoff when your teenager is dressed for an all-nighter at Radisson on New Year’s Eve, and you’re ordering them to stay at home. Let’s face it, they are hardly going to be predisposed to listen to their parents if they are free to engage in what they wish all year and the parent chooses to put their foot down just once a year.

The million-dollar question is when should the line be drawn and what should it be drawn between? There is no correct answer to that, unfortunately. Ultimately, I suppose, the key is to maintain balance and hope that it brings forth desirable results. Otherwise, I fear we may just be complacent and start accepting the grim realities without making any attempts to change it. And that’s not an option, is it?

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