This blog post has been originally written for ParentEdge, a leading Parenting magazine in India. It has been re-produced on the Author’s blog with permission.
As our children grow, we look around and observe society undergoing irreversible changes. Every time we experience something positive or negative as a community, we are bound to brood upon societal and external influences, and what we can do to ensure that our children grow into a healthy society. It is vital to remember that the society, after all, is us, a collection of people like us coming together. So if we want a healthy society for our children, the first question we need to ask ourselves is, are we ensuring a healthy growth for our child, for him to develop and take up his responsibility in building a healthy society?
A lot has been spoken about social consequences of stress, changing work environments, nuclear families and the like. Let’s now think about probable social consequences of our current parenting styles.
1) Outsourcing early childhood
Children either go to daycare as early as six months of age or are raised by nannies at home under an elder’s supervision. So what have we done here? We have replaced the mother by many others who divide her job into mini-jobs. The day-care systems are no-doubt very professional; most day care center heads are very caring and loving and parents are in dire need of such a support system. However if we were to keep the child at the center of it all, what is best for the child? When a child has just awakened to the sounds, smells, sights and touches of the world, he needs a nurturing and guiding light to help him understand all of it. Imagine the bombarding of images, signs, smells and unknown touches that haunt the world of the little ones. Who is best as per our natural instincts to help children? Will these finer aspects of a child’s growth ever be focused on when we decide to invite strangers into our lives to handle our children?
2) Mother Absentia
What I am about to mention is not intended to hurt any fathers or grandparents. Their relationship is sacrosanct when it comes to them loving their children. However, the connect that the mother naturally and biologically has with the child can be considered to be spiritual. You must have observed how the child naturally recognizes his mother, traces her through smell and follows her with his eyes. The child’s psychological need to be held by his mother is as simple as his need for food, air, and poop. In absentia, nobody can replace what she can give. The child obviously copes and learns to adapt to the changes in the environment. But what are the changes that happen inside him when he has to undergo this “adaptation” routine early in their life? We will never be able to quantify it. His ability to trust might go down? And, therefore growing up into a society, where trust should be the foundation of all relationships, he might not be able to put his faith in people around him for the simplest of his needs. We can already see that happening in our lives.
3) Emotional needs fulfillment
From the minute a child is born to ages above 7, the child is learning. There is a whole lot of non-verbal communication that the child needs at the very beginning of his life. As early as three months the child announces his need for being held, touched and loved by recognizing his mother and her gestures. A strong sense of security, belonging and well-being is developed when he is engulfed in her arms. As they learn to speak, verbal communication begins and this leads to more understanding of the surroundings. Earlier, only the tone of voice would help communicate, but now, the words matter too. Our choice of words goes deep with our children. Spending time in our workplaces we have little bandwidth to think and we rarely question ourselves on what words we use to communicate with our little ones at home. Communication is a basic need of every child. If he does not get adequate time in school from his teachers, he will not be able to form a bond there. Same goes for home. Surrounded by nannies, he knows his questions will not get answered. Can he restrict his stream of questions to that one hour “quality time” that you spend with him? Probably not. What happens long-term when children do not get answers to the questions they want to ask? We need to collectively understand how our children will behave after growing up when they do not get the right amount of intelligent attention during their early years. Will their emotional needs be fulfilled in such situations?
4) Building Character Strength
We all want our children to grow up learning values like respect, love, and sharing. We also want our children to imbibe characters strengthening qualities such as grit, resilience, patience and empathy. Caregivers are responsible for creating structures and situations that reinforce these character strengths in our children. Which means that they need time, energy and a bit of creativity to a) Understand their child b) Understand his main mode of comprehension (visual, audio) c) List character strengths that the parent would like to see in her child d) Build macro and micro structures that strengthen these characteristics in children. Without these character strengths, will our society become what we want it to be for our children? Probably not.
To help our children build and develop into a healthy society, we need to dedicate time, energy, and effort and rope in a bit of creativity as well. Be there to work with them as they explore the world and guide them through the confusion of good and bad. Help them grow inside-out rather than learn by comparison. All this will effectively help our society when they grow up and become responsible citizens of our country.