Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stress? At Seven?

Last week alone, three school children committed suicide in Bombay because of studies related stress. All three were under 12, and one was as young as 7.

Seven????!!!! That is as old as many of the kids in my older one's class. That's an age where you are tentatively dipping a toe in carry over addition waters. An age where you should be learning to read and spell. An age where you are starting primary school, and getting used to this whole idea of education. At that age, how can anyone even think of taking their own life because they cannot cope with the education system?

When I first read about it, I was certain I read wrong. How could a child that young be under so much stress. But then, I remembered some of the parents I encountered in the last few years, and toned down my surprise. The mother who slapped her son in front of his entire class because she did not approve of how he had drawn a picture of a child brushing his teeth. My neighbour who has a tutor for her seven year old Second Grader, not because she can't monitor his homework, but because she feels he needs the discipline of three additional hours of schoolwork in a non-home setting. The mother who argued long and hard with her child's class teacher because she felt the child should have been given a grade higher than she had actually been given.

I realised I was wrong. Each of those kids is under a tremendous lot of stress to perform. When parents have unrealistic expectations, as they seem to, what is surprising is not that a seven year old child takes his life. What is actually surprising is that so few of them do.

I wonder if, after the recent incidents of suicide, people will start toning down their expectations? When only one child can top in a class, does it make sense to drive a child to do so and risk branding him a failure in his own eyes? When schools refuse to conduct examinations at the primary level, isn't it counterproductive to try and determine a rank by comparing grades with the others in the class? Does how your child perfoms academically at this age in any way in any way determine how well he will perform in his school leaving exams. And even if it does, isn't it better have a child who doesn't match up to your expectations than to not have a child at all?

As for me, I have discovered that leading by example works much better than lecturing. I prefer to read a book than watch TV- after his favourite show gets over, my older one cuddles up next to me with a book without my having to ask him to. Two months back, I replaced telling my son about his untidy handwriting, with giving him a cuddle when his work was neat. This weekend, he came home with a note from his teacher - "What happened? Looks like someone threw a magic spell on you. Excellent handwriting. Keep it up."

To me, that means much more than a report card telling me he's topped in class. But what matters most of all is the knowledge that he still considers me his best friend. When he is upset, he tells me so. I don't have to assume, like others do, that all is well even if it isn't. If more parents realised that, our kids may have it a lot easier.


Ron said...

Thanks to Facebook I have gotten back in touch with a whole bunch of classmates from school. What I noticed is that every last one of those girls are independant and doing very well in their chosen careers. Including the girls that our school labelled "poor students" and didnt have too many expectations from. In fact some of them are doing way better than me. And I was one of the "good students". I wonder when people will realize academic performance has so little to do with a successful life.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ron: academic performance does not mean success in life. It just means that kids are living their parents' dreams and not their own.

I expect my kids to come home from school nice and dirty after having played...

Jan Morrison said...

yep, I'm with you all. Expectations are a big stress on kids, especially adolescents and it is hard to find that fine line of concerned interest which falls between ridiculous expectations and a total lack of attention at all. It is tough being a kid, being a teacher, being a parent. All love to all of these.

Watery Tart said...

Natasha-that seems baffling to me that kids are pushed so hard--I mean I know kids who are in the states, but they are the exceptions. I wonder what drives that culture-wide competitiveness (I know it happens in Japan, too, as I have a friend who teaches there).

I think you do a tremendous job, and when your sons are older, they will be successful, as many will, but they will also be HAPPY, which I think is more ellusive.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I sometimes wonder if these parents did poorly themselves and are wanting their kids to make up for it. I want my children to do as well as they can, but I've a fairly good idea what grades they should be getting. I had a friend when I was in school who was under constant pressure from her parents to do well. Witnessing my friend was enough for me never to do that to my own children.


Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Ron - exactly my experience too. There were so many kids labelled 'poor students' in school (and rightly too, because they didn't really perform well academically), but they are doing pretty well these days. Success is more about attitudes than studies.

@ Fiona - quite. A dirty kid is much better than a studious one. Because the dirty kid is an inquisitive kid, and what can be better than that.

@ Jan - it is such a difficult balance, isn't it? Specially in the teen years when, sometimes, you do have to put your foot down at times.

@ Tami - it is cultural. In India, success is defined as academic success, and how a kid performs determines the status of the parent. So unless you are supremely confident of yourself, it is hard to escape driving kids to extremes.

@ Elspeth - I tend to agree with you. I did once ask one of those mothers if she had topped in all subjects all the time, and got a glare as my reply. I think they are living themselves through their kids.


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