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Rat race and burnt-out children-where are we headed?
Shreyasi | 17 Feb 2011

The children of today are under so much stress to perform more than they can manage that they are suffering from health-related issues at a very tender age. But the parents are not entirely responsible for this problem. Our education system and social str

Remember the celluloid magic where a certain buck-toothed scrawny eight-year-old who, like all normal eight year olds, loved painting and spending hours in his own world of make believe where he is a flying superhero out to save the world, stole our hearts? Who had to constantly endure barbs about his steadily falling grades in school along with constant comparisons with his overachieving brother?
 
Remember the scene where his angry father complains to his teacher that the underperforming boy has no hope, no future…” Kya banega bada hoke, puri zindagi kya main ise khilata rahunga“. ( What’d he do when he grows up? Do you expect me to feed him forever?). To this the teacher with whom the kid bonded like no other replies…” “Har bache ki apni khoobi hoti hai, Har bacha ki apni kabiliyat hoti hai, Har bacha apne anusar bhar uthata hai”. ( Every kid has his/her own abilities and different capacities for handling stress)
 
Of course in an Aamir Khan film, like any other Bollywood mainstream film, you can expect to see the protagonists emerging victorious from the battle. Ishaan Avasti’s parents gradually woke up to the realization that their child is gifted in his own way and deserves to be treated with the same respect and love that they shower on their talented firstborn.
 
When my aunt had first watched the film, she, like other mothers, was moved to tears. Little Ishaan’s sufferings, the inability of his parents to understand his problems and their somewhat deliberate indifference towards it struck a chord with parents across the nation as they discovered their own lost childhood and developed some genuine empathy for their overworked children’s sufferings.
 
But sadly enough, this empathy was proved to be short-lived. Very soon my aunt went right back to shouting at her son for playing cricket or painting fishes and stars instead of solving mundane time and distance problems.
 
A sense of déjà vu had zoomed into overdrive as I watched the film and reflected on my own childhood. I started questioning-why do parents keep piling pressure on their already overworked children when they can clearly see that it’s not working; the kids are not acing any test in school; they are not anything like the high IQ students of health drink ads-every Indian parent’s fantasy child.
 
According to my mother, the pressure to raise perfect children is too high for parents to ignore and thus they have no other option but to start pushing their kids to achieve more and more. There is a social status to maintain, a prestige in boasting about your child’s achievements in social gatherings, a certain sense of victorious satisfaction in watching a shade of jealousy reflected on Mrs. X’s face who’s son couldn’t make it to a prestigious institute or has got poor grades in school.
 
Is it that every parent secretly believes that his/her child is or can be better than his/her peers? Is that why they constantly compare them to other children till the latter out of constant guilt trips work so hard that they slowly start teetering on the edge of nervous breakdown, or worse? Why is there a silent battle of constant comparison and strive to attain perfection which clearly takes a toll on the children’s health and peace of mind?
 
Our system of education and culture is obsessed with achievement. If you make it to a prestigious engineering college or a medical college, you are treated as an equal amongst successful people; you’d be looked upon with respect for making a substantial contribution towards the progress and welfare of this country. Now the philosophy that defines this progress is somewhat questionable. If you are a burnt-out engineer with no real passion for the subject and are just working as a corporate slave for the money and the prestige that it offers, then what good are you doing for the society? If you’re a doctor who refuses to treat people who can’t cough up a hefty fee, then are you at all doing your bid for your country? But if individual prosperity is a yardstick for measuring the progress of the country, then the philosophy stands correct.
 
If you have watched 3 Idiots, then I am not going to discuss much about the negative effects of ill-advised career decisions on students’ lives. Children are suffering from stress-induced diseases, depression, eating disorders, perennial exhaustion which the teachers and the parents tend to overlook or underestimate. Sometimes out of sheer frustration, they indulge in binge drinking, sexual promiscuity, do drugs; as a result their performances at schools continue to dip. But the parents remain oblivious or dismissive about this rampant problem. Fear of falling behind and overt parental criticism drive the children to overtax their brains. They lack in creativity, positive thinking and thinking out of the box.
 
The parents are not to be blamed entirely for this epidemic. It is the society which has stated a very narrow definition for success that includes bank balance and other such measurables. I am not against working hard to achieve something; but that achievement must not come at the cost of your health or happiness. Our children deserve to retain their innocence and enjoy their childhood without us constantly irritating them or making unfair demands from them. They deserve a right to happiness, to pursue their passion, to make their dreams come true. As Aamir Khan puts it aptly:
 
Agar Lata Mangeshkar ke baap ne usko bola hota ki Fast Bowler ban jaa……( If Lata Mangeshkar’s father had told her to become a fast bowler..”
 
Imagine the travesty!