When did we forget to gaze at the moon, the stars or take a walk in the park? Our parents did their part. They sent us out in the sun to play, they baked cakes at home for our birthday parties, allowed us to watch ‘Chitrahaar’ once a week and if nothing worked, sent us to boarding school. We turned out just fine.
I recently met a mother on her way to shop for an iPhone cover. Nothing unusual in that, except it was for her seven-year-old daughter’s new phone. At an age where children should be reading an Enid Blyton or two (and not on Kindle), we have them brandishing the latest mobile phones, as if they were born to expect and we, to give in. They also seem to be in a hurry and tech savvy enough to bypass restrictions like those on Facebook by inflating their age to become a part of the dangerous world of the social media. Go to a mall and chances are you will see most kids with their heads down, some intently playing a game on a phone, others watching something on an iPad. They could be as young as two years.
Why are we letting our children grow up in such a sanitised environment? The blame is increasingly ours. As more families delay becoming parents, patience becomes the casualty in trying to strike a balance between age, parenting and work. We give in to the easy and the less fussy, which sometimes translates into marathon television sessions for our children, or a non-stop ‘temple game run’ on the iPad. The great outdoors remains out. Not only have we turned our back on nature, we are guilty of not fostering any love for it from our children.
A brave friend tried to buckle the trend at her child’s birthday party by re-creating her memories. She insisted that kids should be just running outside and playing musical chairs. Next year, she installed one of the biggest bouncy castles. How does one deal with peer pressure, not just for the children but also their parents? Planning a birthday party is no less than a mini wedding now. The return presents are costlier than the gifts the birthday child gets, although I do know of at least one five-year-old who was gifted an iPad. Birthday cakes are a piece of art and even a two-year-old’s party is now being organised by event managers.
The expectations and exposure of today’s child is way beyond a family trip in the summer to Dalhousie, when you stared out of your car for six hours straight, learnt to identify the pine trees, look out for the monkeys or just count the number of cars on the road. Now even a half-an-hour car ride is ‘boring’, unless there is a gadget in hand. Many children have never even seen a train, let alone travelled in one. It is a daily grind to balance the right thing with what generation next thinks is the right thing.
Study after study shows that restraining your kids from any gadget for just a few days will improve their social skills and increase their attention span. In today’s environment where technology is omnipresent, it isn’t that easy, forcing some parents to take a more drastic step. Not only have they taken the mobile phones away, they have also sent their child to boarding school. With our CBSE hardened syllabus that barely lets you come up for air perhaps this isn’t a bad choice for those who can afford it. But, it is only a matter of time before India adapts the western concepts, that include teaching on tablets. There is only that far one can escape. It is ironical though that there are some schools in the Silicon Valley that are reverting to teaching the old fashioned way with paper and pen.
I think we were fifteen or sixteen when our bedroom walls started filling up with posters of bands like ‘Take That.’ Today they are barely eight years old and the only time they use their imagination is when they are writing paeans to Zayn Malik begging him to return to the band One Direction. Ask them about the President of the country and they will probably be no better than Alia Bhatt in Koffee with Karan! They are more interested in imitating Kim Kardashian on Instagram than in following Saina Nehwal in badminton. Only the rarest have the determination or the inclination. Sometimes it is hard to believe that these are just teenagers.
Steve Jobs once agreed that he revolutionised our world, but had reservations about his own children using it. He never allowed them the iPad and strictly monitored how much time they spent on gadgets at home. Jobs reasoning, he knew first hand the dangers of this world. Who could argue with that? As technology advances by the day, children as young as barely a year old know how to switch on a touchscreen phone. It is scary to think they will probably be searching ‘keypad’ in the archives section. Pediatricians the world over can keep appealing to parents to not even allow their child in front of the television till they turn at least two.
We are perhaps the last generation that played outdoors and enjoyed doing nothing in the garden. Today’s children will probably just google a garden or search on Youtube and carry on clicking selfies. In trying to make our lives easier, we have encouraged a culture that has no discipline and no creativity.
There may still be time. All we need to do is let them get bored.