Of self-respect and other things


R was called a loser by his best friend today. I was standing right there. I instinctively told the friend (nicely) that it wasn't a nice thing to say. The friend looked embarrassed and mumbled something. I let it go. It kept playing at the back of my mind, though. My son showed no signs of having felt bad but when I later spoke to him about the incident, he confessed that he did not like it. Why did he not, then, take offense? I asked. He simply shrugged.

How do I even begin teaching an eight-year-old about self-respect? I wondered. In many ways, I realized, he is like me when I was his age. Or perhaps, many kids this age are like this-holding friends in high esteem, eager to please and anxious to enter their good books. Even at the cost of getting hurt, literally and otherwise. He might eventually learn, without my intervention, that this is not the best thing to do and that his self-respect should always come first.

"Stand up for yourself," I sermonized to the boy who was now looking keenly at me. In my mind, several voices spoke out. "Am I over-reacting? They are after all just a bunch of 8 and 9-year-olds," said one voice. "Whether you're eight or eighty, you cannot have anybody trampling your dignity and self-respect," spoke another, aghast at the first. Call it a mother's heart, I felt a need to sensitize R towards his feelings. I realized the key to it came from within you. For, even before you learned to take a dignified stand or fight back as the situation demanded, you needed to identify the red flag situations.

I softened my words to convey that no matter how important the friend may be in his life, he/she had no right to say mean things or make him feel small and inadequate. When that happens, it's a clear indication to put his foot down even if that meant letting go of a friendship. I resisted the urge to add that not just in friendships, you should always find the courage to walk away from people and situations who do not value you. But, some lessons would have to wait. Others could be taught only by life.

R did not look too convinced. Perhaps, the last bit of having to forgo a cherished friendship bothered him or maybe the whole conversation didn't make too much sense, as yet. I had to contend with letting it go at this stage. I'd have to, in all likelihood, revisit this lesson many times in future. Some kids are equipped with sensors to effectively deal with threatening situations. Others, like mine, need extra fittings because they are too eager to please.

I've been, of late, a witness to many a disturbing trend amongst kids. Conversations are always about being one up on the other. Sample this:

"Know what? I'm reading 'A' book." says one with obvious pride in his voice.

"Oh, what's the big deal? I already finished that one last grade! The boy in the end...." replies the friend squeezing all the emotions out of the first and also spoiling the book without remorse.

"So, do you know what happens to this character in this movie?" asks another gloating over the fact that he had watched a movie that wasn't exactly meant for kids.

"Ya, of course, it's...." says the second not wanting to be left behind.

"Dude, you know nothing. It's nothing like that. I don't think you even watched it!" the boy smirks and laughs aloud.

Tender feelings are unceremoniously hurt by one, the victim then generously passes on the baton to another. For, that's how they all learn it. Meanness is more contagious than goodness. Kids being mean and forming cliques is age-old. But, this is something else. Even a silly tete-a-tete about the activities at school results in mindless debates about who has it better.

I can't even begin to wrap my head around the general obnoxious bragging about brands and gadgets. Who's teaching them the difference between a Mac and a Windows 10? How do they know about owning an iPhone is considered high amongst other status symbols? We do not discuss gadgets at home or own anything fancy other than a mid-end smartphone. I suspect (although I reckon that the peer education system is far more effective and up-to-date) R has no clue about a Mac or the latest high-end smartphone in the market.

I sometimes feel like the world has leaped two generations ahead when I was not looking.



6 comments:

  1. I find Kanna in similar situations at times, Uma. Like yesterday he told me that he could eat only one bite of his lunch as his two other friends finished all the rest of it. He stayed hungry. I was upset hearing this. They finished their lunch before finishing off his. And these two were girls and his close friends. He told me that he told on them to the lunch lady. So at least there’s that. Still I felt that kids need to be taught to be more understanding. How can you be friends with someone when that someone lets you go hungry without a care. All of them are almost 8. As you said at some point kids will learn their self worth and will stand up for themselves. I too had many such friends back in the day. About bragging and showing off, that they sure learns from home and later pass it on to peers. Three years ago when we were in India, one of our nephews who was 6 at the time was showing us his toys with pride saying that this is from Singapore, this is from Lulu mall, etc. I was surprised because to my kid they are just toys, the place where they come from doesn’t matter even today. It’s up to us parents, we should stop boasting, most of the times kids are merely imitating us.
    R might not understand your points completely now, but it would definitely help him in the future.

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    1. It's heartbreaking at time, Vinitha, no? I know these are life skills and our kids are smart enough to stand up for themselves one day. But, until then, it's up to us to steer them with confidence in the right direction. It's too much exposure to information and the nonchalance of certain parents to their child's irksome behaviour that bothers me.

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  2. Thought provoking post Uma. As for the competition, our schooling system instills it from day 1! Grading, celebrating ones who are 'better'. That each one has his own pace has become an almost alien concept to us. So I guess, this seeps into every arena of a child s life. The 'being one up' syndrome.
    I have even heard conversations about square foot measurements of houses from children at the park :(

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    1. I haven't yet seen R's school perpetuating this attitude of mindless competition thus far (thank Goodness for that). Urgh on the sq.ft comparisons!
      It's really bewildering, no? Considering, most families are well to-do and most children are at par, socially. I shudder to think about how close these kids are to heading a path bereft of kindness and empathy!

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  3. Yes...its so disgusting...Srishti's friends along with their mother, ate pani puri and didnt offer her a bite at the shop. She stood there all along with them and then came home crying. Yes, we have such friends who are only interested in getting things from others and call her names if she doesnt give. While I fret and fume, what I admire is how she forgets all of it the very next moment!!!

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  4. Very well written, Uma. You have brought out certain aspects of kids growing up in this generation so well. Though S is yet to reach the stage you are talking about in this post, I feel scared already how I am going to handle such day-to-day challenges relating to child psychology and behaviour. Kids in this generation are turning into spoilt brats as they are getting each wish fulfilled and each demand satisfied satisfied easily just by throwing tantrums. I am shocked to see my own kid turn stubborn and develop certain ego at the raw age of 3! It really drives me crazy. You have nailed it in your concluding line - the emotion I totally relate to - I feel as if kids in this generation are way too fast and furious beyond my comfort.
    Being one up over the other is a thing being observed very often nowadays as you have rightly pointed out. How are kids developing such behaviour when in fact they are from well educated and well to do families. Lack of consideration for other's feelings at this age may hamper their development in the long run. I really am concerned if kids in this generation are not empathetic and kind, how will they manage to develop effective relationships when they grow up?

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