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A few years ago on one of our vacations we ran into one of our colleagues who was travelling with his children. As we were staying in the same hotel, inevitably, we met up over drinks and dinner. During one of these conversations, we were informed that they did not have a TV connection. No one in the house watched TV so that their daughter (and son) had no distractions and could concentrate on their studies and other co-curricular activites. In fact, the children (the daughter is the same age as mine and the son is a bit younger) did not have any TV habits. They did not care if the hotel room had TV and had no idea what "Suits" were. They did not cry because the hottest guy died on some hospital show or grieve that the other guy was gay. What could I say? I looked at this man aghast and refused to meet my husband's eye. Another notch on my "failure" belt! Whatever happened to the good old baby sitter at home?
I remember days when there was no maid and I turned on the TV and plonked the kids in front of it just so I could get some work done! The maids came and went, the TV programs changed, Teletubbies became Bob the Builder who grew into the Winx Club to Pikachu and Raichu and Someothershitchu and finally evolved into pretty adult serials like "the Fosters" and "two and Half Men", so much so that sometimes when I am passing through the living room , I have to cover my ears!!! So in reality, when I complain that my children are glued to the TV and have roots growing out of their backsides into the sofa in the living room, it is actually my fault. I am the one who taught them to watch TV. It is something I admit to, rather guiltily. True, I personally do not watch much TV, but I have been known to watch movies on occasion and have even sometimes devoured "Spooks" and "The Game of Thrones"!!!
So can you imagine my consternation at this parent? I retreated guiltily, certain I had ruined my children's lives. My husband tried to start a discussion on the topic but I successfully pretended to be asleep. Later the discussion was much watered down and I muttered something about "not practical" and "too late". But can you imagine the pile of stress I was under?
Much later, quite recently, in fact, one day I was talking to my girls. I was, as usual, hyper-ventilating about the fact that they do not study enough and have too many distractions. As on earlier numerous occasions, I confiscated their phones and removed the digital card from the TV. Let me clarify, when I am angry, "distractions" include the TV, the DVD player, the computer, the lap-top, the cell phone, Whattsapp, any other app or game they are using, the land-line where their friends continually call, the MacDonald's App, the i-Pad, gazing out of the window, chatting with cousins/friends/relatives/grandmothers/me and any other school activity not designed for academic pursuit! I was pretty certain they would not get into any college of their choice as they would they fail to produce the cut-off marks and amount to nothing. "And I will NOT marry you off just because you have nothing better to do," I ended with a flourish!
For once my daughters did not react. We did not end up in a slanging match with doors banging and tears falling. In any case I suspect they imitate me and laugh behind my back when I am not around. They started talking to me. Yes, they understood. Yes, there were distractions. But did I think that removal of the distraction would make them study? "In fact," said the younger one, "why would I study if I knew I would get punished anyway? When you take these away I want to study even less." I still haven't seen her logic.
But yes, I remember another girl, about thirty odd years ago. Another girl who did not bother to study just because no matter what she did she was not considered "good enough" by a parent. In my mind I can still hear that rebellious teenager as she sobbed into her pillow, feel her rage as she felt frustrated and thwarted …. by the growing-up pangs. I often wish I could reach out to that teen-ager I was, wish I could soothe her and tell her that everything was going to work out just fine and she never had to look at others to measure her self-worth, but I can't. That child had to grow up and learn alone. Just as my children do. I can only walk with them for a while, I cannot live their lives.
I have stopped removing the distractions since then. The younger one who has her ICSE next month and is currently undergoing the rigors of her Rehearsal exams can be seen studying at her desk. Her phone is next to her and sometimes I hear giggles and notes read out loud. While eating, she watches some TV. But she also sits up late into the night with her book next to her, she makes notes and uses a high-lighter pen to mark through her books. Frankly speaking, if you ask me, I am mortified. She is studying, true, but is that good enough? I won't know until her results come through but at least I can see she is trying. This is more that I can say about her a month ago.
The older one herself surrendered her phone to me a month before her ICSE last year. "Too distracting," she said. She has her Class XI finals next month and keeps telling me she has to do well in the exams. I tell her that just saying she has to do well does not translate into good results, she has to work at it and she gives me a cold stare and says she knows! I have seen her studying now and then, her phone remains with her and she continues to exchange voice notes with her friends! (BTW this voice note thing is the latest craze. First she records a voice note. Then she listens to it on repeat till you want to scream. Then she makes you listen to it and tell her if she sounds happy or sad or serious and she actually expects a reaction…. I tell you, madness!!!)
Anyway, coming back to where I was. What works for one child may not work for one. I've said it before, each child is unique and different… each has his or her own way of dealing with life. What may be a distraction for one may be a life support system for another.
How do we know what's best? We don't. It's up to us to decide when and how to let go. When to trust our gut instincts and let them follow theirs. The rest, as they say, is up to them and what the stars have in store.
Let me end my tirade here today with best wishes for the exam season: may your days and nights be stress-free and happy. I know, many parents need it more than the children!