By Anindita Chakraborty:
The modern lifestyle of the 21st century has impacted children in a lot of ways, especially those from urban metropolises and affluent families, born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Often they go through frequent bouts of stress and anxiety from an early age. They succumb to pressure easily and cannot cope with rejection and failure, be it academically or at a personal front. They are mostly disconnected from their friends and family and spend the larger share of their time in the virtual world, where everything is under their control and a click of the button can give instant gratification.
But things in the real world are entirely different. Children, as young as 10-12 years or even younger, can smartly navigate a smartphone but very few can make their breakfast or do their own laundry. The reason for this is not difficult to see. Most parents do all of their kids’ work or have the house help do it, instead of letting them find ways and means to fend for themselves. Better not to cushion them in a cocoon. Task them to clean their room including the bathroom, water the plants, and lend a helping hand in the kitchen. Importantly, they should learn how to tackle situations of broken dishes or torn clothes while they are at it.
In sharp contrast there are children and youth from underprivileged backgrounds, fighting for survival on a daily basis, who are more content and happy and readily face serious challenges with a big broad smile on their faces. They have excellent skills to deal effectively with the demands and challenges, to manoeuvre themselves through challenging phases of their life. They have a never die approach which gets them going. This nothing-to-lose attitude makes them win the most. There’s always hope and aspiration for a better future.
So how can we prepare our children from affluent families to deal better with this journey called life? Teach them some basic skills that can make them more independent and a positive adult. Skills that enable the child to use humour, to release fears, anger, and stress, and achieve a qualitative life. All these can be achieved only through experiencing situations. Situations where these children are allowed to fail. In “How Children Fail”, a non-fiction book, the author John Holt states that “Children love to learn but hate to be taught.” Let them explore more than what the school curriculum has to offer. The only real failure in life is the failure to try.
They can be part of exchange or volunteer programs where they may work in a community to inculcate a sense of responsibility, learn that even one person’s noble act can make a difference, experience joy from caring and sharing, that there are important things besides themselves and their immediate needs. They can learn to have patience and more tolerance towards people from different social and economic diversities. There’s a lot we can learn from underprivileged children. A little shift in approach from materialism to recycling and reusing, experience in handling relationships, etc will help the urban youth to come out victorious. Children need to understand and appreciate the small joys of life and not restrict themselves to flashy gadgets, non-acceptance of a friend request on Facebook, etc. They should live life to fullest like their counterparts who are the most deprived, sometimes even lacking basic amenities, but are happy to move forward in life. Unlearn to learn is the new ‘Mantra’.
Anindita Chakraborty is the Manager of the No Child in Trash (NCIT) program of Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group. NCIT runs 27 learning centres with 2200 students from underprivileged backgrounds across Delhi. Most students are waste-picker children or children of wastepickers who are provided with access to good education so that they can move from dumpsites and landfills to schools and colleges.