Teenaged Netra lived in fear of her parents. She believed it was her moral duty to please them by scoring the maximum marks in every subject. Her mother was very strict and often pushed her to excel in everything. She ensured that Netra went through the rigmarole of classical music and dance. But for Netra the experience was so rigorous and severe that it alienated her from the art form. She dreaded the classes and instead of growing to love them she grew to abhor them. But her mother was oblivious to the growing resentment in her daughter. She believed that a girl from their community had to be trained in the arts to be considered well reared. The mother believed in the mould.
Today Netra is a parent of two teenage kids herself, and during the course of one of our conversations, told me that she had read The Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. She could sometimes see her mother and sometimes herself in Amy Chua. She identified with the author and vehemently accepted that she was confused. As an educator, I meet scores of parents. I know that most parents who read the book face the same confusion. The confusion arises from the clash between their own upbringing and how they feel they should deal with their kids.
In trying to keep up pace with the highly competitive world, we want our kids to excel in everything, resulting in unnecessary emotional and social pressure.
The case of extreme parenting as elucidated by Ms. Chua strikes a chord with almost every Indian parent of this generation. Most parents who have teenage kids face a dilemma similar to the one Netra battles with today. In trying to keep up pace with the highly competitive world, we want our kids to excel in everything, resulting in unnecessary emotional and social pressure. Most parents of this generation are, sadly, victims of this scenario themselves. Ask any engineer or doctor today, he/she will tell you how his/her youth was wasted over exams, exams and more exams. Yet as a parent he/ she fears today that if not pushed their kids would not be as successful as they are today.
And here is where I would want each one of you to pause and think. Reflect on your own experiences. How different do you think life would have been if you had followed your heart and given vent to your creative thinking? What is your definition of success? Is success measured only in terms of clearing exams or would you rather measure success in a way that will enhance your child's personality?
The human brain is capable of immense learning. The potential to learn is at its maximum at an early age and it is wise to make the most of this period. But while doing so, one needs to be equally careful of what impact our actions could have on the subconscious mind of the child. A very harsh and authoritarian parent can foster only negativity in the mind of the child towards the task and the taskmaster (the parent or the teacher in question here). Many parents believe that only punishment can rectify. One doesn't "rectify" a child. An able parent will be one who gauges the impact of his or her actions not in the immediate frame of time but with a lifelong perspective.
Children need role models and a parent who says okay to everything is not okay for the child.
Little Roshan in preschool was upset that he made mistakes while writing the alphabets—he knew his errors made his mother angry. He refused to go to school as in his mind Mama was angry with him because of school. We had to speak to Roshan's mama to let her know that he was only learning and it was okay for him to advance at his own speed. He did not have to fit the mould in her mind.
Childhood fears and scars sometimes surface during adulthood. Parents can be really pushy at times, trying to relive their childhood dreams through their children. Reality shows show aggressive child participants and even more aggressive parents. What does the child of a pushy, argumentative parent learn? He learns that one needs to be over-competitive. He never learns to lose with grace. He never learns that failure is not the end; it is in fact a stepping stone to progress.
But that also doesn't mean that a parent acts only to keep his child happy. A permissive parent too doesn't succeed. Children need role models and a parent who says okay to everything is not okay for the child. Children grow up thinking that my parent never thinks about what I do or why I do it. He/she doesn't care about me. A highly unregulated environment could also misguide the child.
Netra now knows that there is no right or wrong style of parenting. What is important is that she makes her children feel cocooned and safe and yet have enough confidence to be adventurous.
Do not make the mould and try to fit them into it. Break the mould. Let them mould themselves.
Also, it cannot be forgotten that each child is different. Ms. Chua imposed certain rules on both her daughters. Her elder one heard her out but these rules held no water for the younger one. The same style of parenting will not necessarily work. Each child is different and demands a different strategy. As much as we would want, it is difficult to treat all our children alike. I feel that we need to differentiate, so as to ensure that we allow each one to develop his or her own strengths. Do we treat all our colleagues in the same way? No, we have different perspectives for each one and decide our strategy based on what his or her personality is.
And this is what we need to do when we deal with our kids too. Each kid is an individual in his or her own right and we need to treat them that way. Nurture as you go along and proudly watch your children find their own way. Do not make the mould and try to fit them into it. Break the mould. Let them mould themselves.