Are school children being pushed to the limit by parents?

Oct 17, 2013, 08:52 IST | Fatema Pittalwala

From school, to tuitions and a string of classes, children today have calendars tighter than a working adult's. With parents set on seeing their kids as superheroes, how much are we pushing the little ones to succeed?

Just school is no longer enough. Today, adults are not the onlyones expected to succeed in all spheres of life. School students are pushed to succeed in almost anything they do, be it studies or play. Success is expected in sports, arts and extra-curricular activities. The rivalry between parents to boast of their vicarious one-upmanship means that instead of experiencing and developing ideas, childhood becomes an exercise in resume-building.

Illustration/Amit Bandre

Role of parents
Continuing the family legacy is important for most parents. For example if you come from a family of lawyers, chances are, you may tell you child to pursue law regardless of their abilities and capacity.

Some parents feel that providing their child will make sure they excel in everything. Comparisons amongst parents, ‘if her child can do it, why not mine’, is on a rise. There is a feeling of envy and self doubt that parents today experience, which they unknowingly pass it on to their kids. Some lower income families push their kids to great lengths to succeed, to avoid heavy fees and gain scholarships and grants.

Patience: Mother Tasneem Vasi believes a little pressure is good for kids. Pic/Shadab Khan

“Every parent expects their kids to be superheroes; they want super-sonic kids,’’ says Uma Chaudhary, Principal of Amulakh Amichand Bhimji Vividhlakshi Vidyalaya (Wadala). She continues, “Parents want their kids to be jack of all trades. They want kids to do everything because of which the performance level is low and the stress level is high.

Sometimes, parents tell kids, ‘I have paid so much for your education, I better results’. By saying this, parents don’t realize that unknowingly they put lot of pressure on kids. I see kids in my school, I feel sad for them. They are like factory workers. They have eight hours of school, after which tuition, then coaching classes, then sports and then something else, one class after the other.” 

Crisis: Jayant Jain, President of Forum for Fairness in Education

Low self-confidence
Mother of a 10-year-old Renu Lalwani (35) says, “Success is a very individualistic approach. For me, it all depends on the individual’s ability. I feel a child is successful, if he/she is healthy and active. It doesn’t matter if he is academically average, what matters, is his health. Sadly, today a child’s success is measured through their grades, which is not right. By pushing a child in such a way, we are not only undermining their self-confidence but we are also not encouraging them to create their own legacy. Parents have to learn to set our kids free and Indian parents, don’t so that.”

No perfection required: Principal Uma Chaudhary.Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Talking about the pressure on a child, Lalwani says, “Today kids are under a lot of pressure. They have become bookworms and are not playful. If you see in playgrounds, there are few kids playing today. It is because they are either studying or playing video games. For them, there is pressure from all four sides. I think we are losing out on parent-child relationship altogether.A lot of paranoid parents send their kids to many classes. There is sports, drama, speech, arts, and school tuition, to name a few. It’s great when kids are interested in these classes. But when they are not, I don’t know why parents force them do everything. Why groom a child with so many classes, when their own self-confidence can groom them? I love the movie 3 Idiots, it is an eye-opener. Let the child choose what they want to do. But the competitions amongst parents and kids have increased to such great lengths, its all about push, push and push, until the child breaks!”

Use that knowledge! Motivational speaker Anand Chulani

Merit not counted
Jayant Jain, President Forum for Fairness in Education explains, “Despite scoring a good percentage, my daughter did not get admission in her desired college until the last moment. She was distressed for a long time. Crying every day and checking her name on the waiting list. In that time, she found out that people who scored less than her, have got admissions, because of donations. I feel everything is running on donations and not on the child’s merit.”

He further adds, “If you look at today’s education system, we have around 32 different boards. So for parents to decide under which board a child should study, is itself a big problem. Competition today is fierce. Schools and colleges demand 100 per cent results. Because of excess competition in the higher standards, parents start pushing kids from a younger age. When a child is young, he may not know what ‘pressure’ is in the beginning. But once he understands it, there is very little that he or his parents can do. They have to accept the system.”

Bettter rapport: Professor Nandini Sardesai aims for better student-teacher relationship

Tension headaches
Tasneem Vasi, mother of a 12-year-old boy, says, “A little pressure is good for a child. They learn to be responsible individuals. My son is a slow learner. There was a time when he constantly got migraines and headaches. Initially I thought he was faking it. But after visiting the doctor, we found out that they were tension headaches.

He regularly got them before exams. He never mentioned anything and unfortunately we didn’t notice it on time. And during that time, I always told him, ‘you have to study’ or ‘you have to do well in your exam,’ which just triggered it. I have stopped pressurizing him but at the same time, I make sure, he is responsible enough to study on his own.”

She adds, “I have seen many parents who don’t bother to do that. Every day after school, I have heard fellow parents discussing the curriculum and most of them crib about it. But no-one will go ahead and ask for a change.

The teachers are also under pressure to complete the portion in a time-frame. We can’t blame them, if they are rushing the kids. But the curriculum expects too much of a child, or too little. The kids are groomed like robots.

More play? Principal Neena Kalra wants education to be more activity-oriented. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Once a parent asked me about a foreign language class for her daughter who was in the fifth grade! When I asked her why, she said she wanted her to have linguistics as a career option. If you send your child to after-school classes and activities, make sure they are interested in them. Don’t plan their career for them, let the kids do that.”

Forcing the kids
Stating reasons why parents push their kids to achieve success in everything, Jain says, “Frustration is one of the main reasons why parents force their kids to succeed in everything.

They fear donations and to avoid that, they push their kids to succeed. In order to have a ‘perfect’ kid, they have their child enrolled in after school activities like tuition, arts, swimming and so on. They feel, ‘mera bachcha peechhe nahin reh jana chahiye’ (My child should not be left behind). But while enrolling the kids, parents don’t realize the pressure they add on kids.”

Neena Kalra, principal of Swadhyay Bhavan School in Matunga believes that the education system is not the sole reason for pressure on kids today.

She says, “It’s a competitive world and everyone wants to do something. Kids today have so many options which I feel only confuses the kids, rather than, sorting out their problems. Typically all parents want their child to be a doctor, engineer or chartered accountant. It’s all about the marks. We don’t let them do anything as per their ability.

Education should be more activity oriented. As teachers, we need to talk to kids, spend time with them and know them as individuals. Under the pressure to succeed, there is always a fear that a child may loose his identity.”

Shift in mindset
Motivational speaker Anand Chulani, who conducted a session for parents at Oberoi International School (Goregaon) recently, says, “When it comes to a child’s success, it’s about bringing out their potential, empowering to see that even at their age, they have a gift, they can make a difference right now, they can be leaders and they can contribute. We need a shift in mindset away from a grades-focused culture.

Grades just mean that you studied hard and have knowledge. How you use that knowledge is real intelligence. How you learn from failing to use that knowledge is wisdom. It is critical we stop telling and showing our kids that they need to achieve to be happy. Instead, let’s guide them to happily achieve.”

Having been a teacher for 35 years, ex-sociology professor of St Xavier’s College (Mumbai) Nandini Sardesai feels that because of the environment we are living in now, the globalized world, there are multiple factors involved in stress.

“In the past there could be a single reason for stress. Now, there are multiple reasons. Our social ethos has changed, where premium is put on achievement and success. Along with school pressure, kids deal with parental pressure, peer pressure and pressure from society. We live in a highly competitive world, a dog-eat-dog world. The kids are always taught to outdo the other person, be better than the rest and so on.

“Today, children are competing with one another since nursery. The schools interview 200 and select only 20! Since the age of three, a child understands that to get their parent’s attention or praise, they have to excel in something.”

Unrealistic expectations
She continues, “The term ‘excellence’ and its value are misconceived. I feel that whatever my child can do with his ability is fine. I wouldn’t push him beyond his capabilities. Today, I don’t know why, people are very unrealistic about their child’s abilities and weaknesses. Everybody thinks, ‘my kid is the best’. Theteacher-student relationship today is deteriorating.

If you ask a student about their teacher, they make a grim face. Teachers should be more involved and should have a rapport with their students. This will definitely encourage students to excel in everything they do in school.”

Easy steps to manage your child
>> Stop over-scheduling
>> Make play time important
>> Don’t lose out on sleep
>> Teach your kids to listen to their bodies
>> Manage your own stress.
>> Prepare kids to deal with mistakes
>> Understand your child’s ability
>> It’s ok to fail 

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