July 18, 2005

£12-reward for good behaviour

children like junk food. children play truant from school. children bully. children get bullied. children carry kitchen knives to classes. children rape their own teacher. teenagers go binge drinking. teenagers try illegal drugs.

teachers ask for help. parents get blamed. parents attack teachers.

the rods are spared. the children are spoilt (brats).

let’s face it. children in india are not so difficult.
true, they too can be shaitans at times. i myself have been bullied for years at school. one of my classmates once poked a pencil in the white of my eye (i still have the lead mark). i have a cousin who, in his childhood, used to wait behind the gates of his building along with a friend, and they both would shower a handful (each) of tiny pebbles at the first autowallah driving past (they wanted to see how the pebbles rolled down the sloping rickshaw-windscreen). as children we all have enjoyed our share of ber (berries), saunf (fennel-seed) bunches, jeeragoli (cuminseed sweets), vada pavs and pepsicolas from the sweaty-thelavala outside the school gates.

at some point we all have bunked college or cut classes (though i must be one of those few who didn’t and i still regret it!). i once hid my school-calendar from my father, because the teacher had written a complaint in it that i had not done my homework. she had asked me to get his signature the next day. i was so afraid of my father that i made things worse for myself by trying to forge his signature, clearly without success! i too have ‘tried’ a cigarette (at my workplace, not at school), ‘just to know what it must feel like, the smoke filling the lungs…’

as children in india, our limits are defined. there’s a ‘curfew time’ and ‘playtime’ and ‘comic-book-time’ and ‘homework-time’. there were the home-made lunches in steel or plastic dabbas, with spoons that went rattle-rattle on our backs. parents and teachers discussed children’s reports at first with sombre faces, then breaking into sheepish laughter at how they too were a pain when they were of this age. all the way home the mothers would shake their heads, tch-tch the whole thing and laugh it away saying bachche to bachche (kids will be kids). behind the doors they would teach us our place, even if it meant having to use or simply �wave� the much-feared danda at us with anger.

without the stick, uk’s children are a national problem, even if the bookstores and libraries here have millions of self-help-guides on managing kids and parenting. it is a chicken-and-egg-situation to an extent, but if someone asked me, i too would vote for blame-the-parents.

i�ve seen toddlers in prams, their arms and messy fingers busy with a pack of crisps, fries or cola, sometimes all three, while the mother is busy lighting her cigarette. i�ve seen parents taking their children to shopping centres with a leash strapped around their little waists, so they don�t run away or misbehave. a leash!? and i have not seen children playing outside their own homes. (i know, i know, i’ve mentioned this a hundred times before, but you can see how much that means to me!)

right now, i cannot imagine bringing up children myself, but i do have a few common sense rules about them when it will come to that.

children might be monsters when it comes to bad behaviour, but they are not your dogs. when it comes to meals, a home-cooked �dabba� is the best, even if it means getting up 30 minutes earlier in the morning. children need to play. they need to use up their bubbling energy. children need love; it is the only language they understand when they are born. they need coaxing, explaining, some pampering maybe. there will be times when they need to be spanked. they must learn to fear, only to learn to respect. they must learn to win trust. they must be trusted.

everything said and done, the uk government has now launched yet another initiative to tame the uncontrollable minds. a �12-pound ‘opportunity card’ will give them access to sports and music events, and it can be ‘topped-up’ if they have volunteered for a good cause or done good in their studies. i think it�s not a bad idea at all. and it even may work.

i, for one, will be watching this closely.

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