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June 01, 2018 Friday 12:17:59 PM IST

THE RIVER OF CHANGE

Cover Story

Parenting may be defined not only as the art of bringing up children but also understanding them and ourselves at once. It means understanding their developmental needs, working out solutions to attitudinal or behavioural issues and practices that hinder our own or our child’s development as a physically and mentally healthy individual. It also involves being able to do the right thing for him/her at the right time even if it might cause some displeasure for the time being.

 

Parenting, today, has become the sole preserve of the ‘nuclearised’ parents. Some of us were fortunate to have had grandparents and other family members at hand to share familial responsibilities. As we speak, many families depend on older siblings, day-care centres, pre-school teachers, and peers at different stages of the infant– child– adolescent life cycle. Therefore, the influence they exert on the physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development of children and the resulting nurturing and caring relationship between human beings, whatever their age or kinship, can be regarded as parenting.

 


PARENTING AWARENESS

 

The importance of promoting parental awareness and parenting skills cannot be emphasised enough, especially because of the breakdown of the traditional joint family. In the joint family, everyone had a place and space. The responsibility of parenting was a joint one — that of parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and even maids.

 


Children grew up in a space where roles were clearly defined. While mothers were in charge of child-rearing, cooking, and housekeeping, fathers were the wage-earners and disciplinarians. Everybody played a distinct role. Any omissions or commissions by parents were corrected or supplemented by other members of the family.

 

Today, things are different and difficult for parents. With nuclear families being the norm, mothers and fathers are forced to play dual roles. The mother is not only a nurturer and caregiver, but also a wage earner. In fact, motherhood is becoming more and more an issue of choice for the present generation. Women, rightfully, now like to have some time and space for themselves.

 


Men, too, are under stress. They are unable to either understand or accept the change that has taken place in women’s role. They are now ‘expected’ to give a helping hand in rearing their children. So, these are things that are contrary to what men were programmed to as boys in their childhood.

 

On the flip side is another narrative. Most of us have had grandparents, or grandmothers to be specific, who would tell us stories and recite rhymes and folk songs. Sadly, today, most of them are glued to television soap operas. With that organic, inter-generational ritual of story-telling all but gone, present day toddlers and children are losing out on the curiosity of learning and imagination. There is far less meaningful communication within the family as well. The exponential rise in developmental communication disorders paediatricians observe today is probably a result of these factors.

 


With the invasion of our leisure time by satellite channels, e-mails, internet, and social media, the traditional social relationships have shrunk and become superficial. Moreover, it is not uncommon for parents to copy what is portrayed in the media without understanding or filtering what is good for them and their children. In fact, the chances of learning from examples of rearing children are almost absent today. In an earlier era, with many members in the family, learning by adjusting, sharing, and sacrificing was the way of life.

 

Now with families shrinking in size, parental responsibility has increased, bringing with it great amounts of anxiety, possessiveness, and expectations. Once upon a time we were happy with whatever little we could make in our lives, but, today, children are taught to settle for nothing less than the best. As life is not always a bed of roses, these children tend to shrink away in the face of the slightest disappointment or frustration.

 


BEHAVIOUR DEVELOPMENT

 

Parenthood brings with it the opportunity to influence a young person’s behaviour in life from a very early stage and set the youngster on the path to a positive and productive adulthood. Parenting also brings with it both pains and gains. The debate surrounding “Nature vs Nurture” continues to engage both laypersons and psychologists as to how much of one’s personality is determined by genetic traits and how much can be influenced by the environment, including the family.

 


A quick summary of some of the key functions of parenting will not be out of place: a) providing love and security; b) spending quality time with children; c) being a role model and developing good habits in children; d) communicating with children; e) instilling confidence and promoting self-esteem; and, f) disciplining and reprimanding wherever necessary.

 

MEDIA

 


There is a growing body of literature on the impact of excessive exposure to media on children’s attention, memory, executive functions, linguistic abilities, communication skills, visual-spatial processing, reasoning, and social and emotional functioning. The impact depends on the children’s age and the content of media. Media can be effectively used as a teaching tool, but it depends entirely on how teachers make use of it.

 

Children learn through observation. Infants and toddlers need direct experience and interaction with real people to develop cognitively.

 


Online media can also influence social behaviour, knowledge, and understanding positively. But often its negative effects, such as its ability to engender aggression, learning disorders, violence, and unhealthy or dangerous encounters with deviant strangers to name a few, outweigh the positives.

 

THE WAY FORWARD

 


The following could give parents, teachers, and children themselves some guideposts:

 

1.    ACCEPTING FAILURE: Children should be trained to accept or experience failure and disappointment so that they become confident enough to face and overcome adversities and difficulties at different phases of their lives. Through group play, children can learn to experience failure and build strategies to overcome it. As the saying goes “you got to lose to know how to win”.

 


2.    BIG CHANGE: Adolescents undergo a lot of changes, physically, mentally, and hormonally. It is a difficult phase for them and parents should be able to guide them through these tumultuous times with positive re-enforcements, healthy behaviour, and by acting as role models. Peer pressure is one aspect which has gained much attention in recent times. Each child is different and parents should encourage their children to build on their strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses. It is equally advisable to avoid comparisons with their peers.


3.    COMMUNICATION AND SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE: Children should be trained to voice their opinion confidently, be able to speak publicly, and be able to act as responsible citizens.

 


4.    LIFE SKILLS: Girls often get trained in household skills, such as cooking, washing clothes, and doing the dishes. Boys need to be necessarily trained to acquire these skills.

 

5.    TOLERANCE AND TEAMWORK: In order to help develop a good working environment and be fair and just, children need to be trained to achieve a common goal where the team is more important than the individual.

 


6.    OVERALL DEVELOPMENT: Overall development of the child rather than academic excellence alone is of the essence. Children have to be taught the importance of leading a healthy life, including maintaining a regime of regular exercise, balanced diet, restricted TV viewing, and extracurricular activities.


Dr. Vivin Abraham

The writer is a Consultant Paediatrician, Medical Trust Hospital, Kochi.)

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