“Avoid rush hour” is a common suggestion in cities. It may be easier to evade rush hour, but it is becoming very difficult, though not impossible, to avoid the rapid pace of life in the present technological era. Technological advancement has brought many changes. Some are good, while other bad. On the one hand, it has contributed to faster production of commercial goods and instant information and communication obliterating the constraints of time and space, to say a few. On the other hand, it has increased competition in various fields. The strife to compete and excel has greatly increased the pace at which people are required to accomplish tasks. This rapid pace of life, in turn, is negatively affecting health and families. People are so busy to fulfil their job requirements that they have very little time to spend with their families — their spouses and children. Sometimes work schedules stretch mothers and fathers to the breaking point with little time left for their children.
In many families the economic pressures on parents systematically rob them of time with their children. As a result, television, video games, magazines and peers become children’s constant companions. They grow in a culture determined by technological and economic forces, rather than their parents and grandparents. Consequently their lives are shaped by the worldview and value system promoted by these forces. The glitter of commercials generates impulse shopping. The personal preferences of children in clothing, toys, food and luxuries are very much influenced by the flashy advertisements. Junk food such as pizzas, burgers and soft drinks is popular among them. The advertising images replace parents, grandparents, relatives and neighbours, who the children once looked upto, as role models. Children strive to emulate the MANUFACTURED “perfect” idols of the advertisements. The artificial consumer culture is, thus, being foisted upon children.
The consequences are:
- Increasing violent behaviour in children due to continuous exposure to violent video games and television shows.
To address the question “What is the impact of this new environment on children, and which is the particular effect of images of violence in the media?” UNESCO in 1996 and 1997 conducted the Global Media Violence Survey in which more than 5000 twelve year old students representing a broad variety of cultural, social and economic conditions from 93 countries participated. It found that media content offers an orientation, a frame of reference that determines the direction of children’s behaviour. Even if the child does not necessarily adopt the behaviour portrayed, the media images provide a model, a standard for what may be considered normal and acceptable.
- Distortion in the development of children due to the influence of consumer culture and peer group. Promiscuity, teen pregnancy, adolescent suicide, and drug and alcohol addiction are on the rise. They indicate not only insecurity and a craving for love and happiness, but also fast growth. David Elkind, professor of child study at Tufts University, bemoans that children are missing out on some very important stages of development and the innocence of childhood is becoming a thing of the past. He says that the type of clothing, entertainment and other products marketed are making children in 8-12 years age to become more like teenagers “leaning more and more toward teen styles, teen attitudes and teen behaviour.”
- More self-centered, isolated and depressed, and less tolerant and generous. Take the example of American children (since Indians, in general, ape American consumer culture). They are insecure, depressed and troubled.
An estimated five million of them are being given at least one psychiatric drug. This disturbing trend is growing rapidly. The number of children ages 2-4 for whom stimulant and anti-depressant drugs have been prescribed increased 50 percent between 1991 and 1995. In the following four years, prescriptions for anti-depression drugs rose even more steeply, climbing 151 percent for children in the 7-12 age group, and 580 percent for children six and under.
There have been atleast 91 school shootings in the US during 1991-2011, claiming about 177 lives.
Not an encouraging scenario!
It seems obvious that an increasing materialistic, self-absorbed and morally ambivalent society is failing its children. Can there be any doubt that without family-based moral teaching, anarchy is the natural outcome?
There is unquestionably no substitute for a positive home atmosphere to provide children the best environment to grow with love, happiness, security, emotional support and moral values. In the traditional Indian family there has been a healthy relationship between different age groups and children have the stabilising and character-shaping influence of their parents and grandparents. Children learned to respect elders, and to be sociable and generous.
However, due to globalisation and increasing urbanisation, and the resulting constant mobility and lifestyle changes, extended family system is virtually collapsing, giving way to nuclear family system. This has an adverse effect not only on older people, but also on children’s personality development, conduct, academic performance and attitude towards life and society.
In this scenario the fundamental answer to the healthy development and care of children lies squarely with parents. This requires effort and sacrifice on their part.
Some of the practical suggestions to help parents to grow their children in a healthy environment:
- Recognise that spending time with your children is important
When there is not enough family time, children will miss the stabilising, character-shaping influence of their parents. Therefore, start by recognising the importance of spending time with your children. Be willing to make it a top priority.
In the present fast paced life, time is very precious. One has to be prudent in the use of time. Too many outside activities can cut into family time, which is already scarce. One of the best ways to find time for family is to cut down on the number of outside activities, especially those that take place at the time of family meal. Be sure to set aside some time every day for your children. One of the casualties of busy life is family meal. It is a good tradition to have atleast breakfast and dinner together. Breakfast gives family members a chance to know what each one will be doing on that day. Family dinner reconnects the family members after a long day at school or work. This helps parents to know what is going on with their children, and assures children that their parents are concerned about them.
It is important to have family meal without any disturbance or distraction. See that the television is switched off. Do not take phone calls, unless there is an emergency.
- Know that spending QUALITY time with your children is important
If both parents are working, they often feel tired and stressed that they don’t have any emotional and physical energy left for their children. It is good to relax and rest quietly for a few minutes, instead of switching on television for relaxation.
Most of the leisure time is usually spent in sitting before television. Someone said, “We have become a society of watchers.” The domination of our life by the media has enormously contributed to our lack of connectedness to others. Robert Putnam, a political scientist and professor of public policy, bemoans, “We spend hours upon hours looking at screens instead of into faces. Are we doing this because we are too alone? Or are we so alone because we spend too many hours looking at screens? It could be both. By choosing to devote so much of our life to the passive distractions of media, we have isolated ourselves from others. And, in turn, this compensates for the isolation we have unwittingly created by our mobility and our independent lifestyles characterised by striving for success.”
We should remember that children want to spend quality time with their parents. They do not need their mere physical presence. William Doherty, professor of family social science, says, “It’s important to remind yourself that your kids are never going to be young again. Once this time is gone, you can never regain it. We ought to enjoy them for the brief flicker of time we have with them.”
- Be willing to set limits
Parents are leaders of the family and children need to follow that leadership. Discipline is probably one of the most important elements in which a mother and father can lead, guide and direct their children. Setting limits to what a child can do means that you love your child. If you allow your child to do all the things he/she would like to do means that you don’t care much about your child. Do not be afraid to set clear moral standards and guidelines. Be sure to say “no” when it is needed. John Rosemond says, “Give your children regular, daily doses of Vitamin N. This is vital nutrient consists simply of the most character building two-letter word in the English language—“No”…Unfortunately, many, if not most, of today’s children suffer from Vitamin N deficiency. They have been over-indulged by well-meaning parents who have given them far too much of what they WANT and far too little of what they truly NEED.” However, it is important to explain to your child why you are saying “no”.
Set limits to the amount of television watching and internet browsing. Parents should have a say in what their children watch. Encourage them to watch educational programmes. At times parents may join their children in watching a programme and later discuss it. It is always good to have a single television in the living room.
Parents should be able to say “no” if their children watch a programme or wear a dress which they consider inappropriate. Your child may be the only odd person out, and you may be the only parent going against the tide. There may be pressure not only from your children, but also from their peers and peers’ parents. For the sake of your children you should be firm in doing what you think is right for them. Make it clear that you are their parent and your decision is final. Someone said, “Parenting is not a popularity contest.”
In order to understand their children better, parents should be familiar with their world. Know their friends and teachers. If possible, encourage them to bring their friends home occasionally. This helps parents to have a better idea about what kind of influences are there on their children.
One of the important things is to make your children feel comfortable to share anything with you boldly. At the same time they should be conscious that you are their parent. When your child comes to you to talk, stop whatever you are doing to listen. Be a good listener.
- Be united in Parenting
It is important that parents work together in parenting. Because at times a parent forms a coalition with a child/children against the other parent. Parents use children to settle personal scores. This undermines the authority of the other parent and damages the relationship between children and that parent, which in turn causes serious damage to children’s overall development.
Children also often try to play their parents off of each other. So it is important that parents make sure that they are working together and making decisions that are consistent with each other. Except in cases of child abuse, passively not supporting the other parent or actively undermining the authority of the other parent will have adverse effect on children. It is vital that parents support each other in the presence of their children. If parents disagree on parenting issues, they should discuss the issues privately without the children present. Parents should love each other and treat each other with respect. They should not speak belittling each other. Then it becomes easy for parents to instil into the hearts of their children love and respect not only for their parents and elders, but also among children at home.
- Resist the pressure to compete
We live in a very competitive, success-oriented society. Parents want to see their children to be successful. There is nothing wrong to have such a desire as long as “success” is understood holistically. However, one needs to think about overscheduling their children with a lot of “mind-stretching” and “success-ensuring” structured activities. As parents they feel obligated to provide more opportunities for the benefit of their children. They see everyone else’s kids involved in a lot of different activities and that just seems to be the thing to do. Otherwise their children may lag behind others, they think. They also tend to feel guilty of not providing their children better opportunities to succeed.
Also parents have very high expectations of their children. So they push them harder and harder without thinking whether they can cope up with the pressure and stress to deliver the desired results.
If children are continuously occupied with a lot of activities, then they will have very little time left to play and be kids. By overscheduling their children with continuous activities and thus overstrectching their minds, parents may, probably, be doing a great harm to their children by depriving them of their childhood fun and to grow gradually. Playing with their peers, Elkind says, “gives children the opportunity to learn about themselves, to create and to innovate, and to learn how to make independent judgments. They also learn mutual respect and how to work with others.” Doherty adds, “There are developmental ‘tasks’ at different stages of a child’s life. Children have plenty of years ahead of them to face the tasks and developmental challenges of adolescence and adulthood. Childhood is a time to be mastering what they need to master as a child — to learn at school to relate to a peer group, to be part of a family, to learn to be with siblings, and to play…The competitive ‘career pursuit’ role — developmentally (it is) meant to come later, when a person’s brain and body are developed well enough to handle them. But the child’s brain and body are not developed well enough to handle these pressures”
As a result of continuous “overstretching” activities, children may develop stress-related health problems like nervousness, headaches, and eating and sleeping disorders. Overdose is always dangerous and causes side-effects. Children also grow with the idea that “success” is more important than relationships. They will develop success-oriented values with least importance to character.
Instead of forcing their children into a lot of activities, parents may do well if they take time to understand their child’s potential, weaknesses and strengths, and then plan accordingly. Give right amount of dose.
Encapsulating the way children are treated these days, Thomas Szasz said, “In the United States today, there is a pervasive tendency to treat children as adults, and adults as children. The options of children are thus steadily expanded, while those of adults are progressively constricted. The result is unruly children and childish adults.” Aren’t we, Indians, trying to emulate this model?