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Early morning, soon after the day had begun, and as I was making the bed, I found a note below my pillow. Another one…! I opened it already knowing what would be scribbled inside. A frown came over my face. Tanmoy was building up for his birthday gift almost 7 months in advance. An X-box!!
It all started when he visited his school friend Anupam’s birthday party. Anupam’s birthday party was celebrated at his lavish home. His parents, both doctors, showered gifts on him without rhyme or reason. And here on his 10thbirthday was an X-box, a gaming console. It had innumerable digitised games and had the ability to engage kids for hours together. A perfect solution for his inaccessible and travelling parents. But not for Tanmoy. No such mindless addictive machines at this age.
Anupam had all the luxuries of life, yet he was insatiable in his craving for more. He constantly showed indications of being upset and annoyed. Something that had caught my observant eye. Experience told me this was the onset of a bigger problem.
But Tanmoy had me, and I realised I had to intervene before the tantrums of adolescence took over. I also knew a verbal denial would open the floodgates of anger and unhappiness. So I decided to take the smarter route.
I spoke to him over breakfast. I told him I would consider it, and would need to ‘save’ money for it since it is veerrry expensive. He understood that. I then gently introduced the idea that it is possible that he might want to change his mind over time and so it is better to keep the options open. I noticed that he actually considered that it might be possible.
So he had finally loosened up. I now had to work through my next strategy.
Every night I started going over to his room, instead of mine, to read a book. So while he played with his toys, I read my book. However, this time I choose to read books that I would like him to read. Finally, it happened. He asked me, “Ma, what are you reading?”
“Oh.. it’s a story about a thief,” I said casually.
“A thief!! What has he stolen?”
His eyes grew bigger. “From where?” he asked.
“From the carriages of rich men.”
“Because he is a warrior who is fighting to remove poverty.”
“But how can he do that?”
“I suppose he thinks he can do that by looting the rich and giving the poor.”
“It that possible ma?”
“I don’t know? I have to find that out by reading the whole story.”
Next morning, the questions continued. “Ma, is it the right thing to do?”
“Well Tanmoy, that is something we will know and figure out once we have finished reading the book.”
“When will you finish it?”
“May be by the weekend.”
“Will you tell me what happened?”
“Sure I will.”
I was edging closer to my goal. But I did not want to rush it. After all, I wanted him to choose it.
That night as I settled into the chair in his room to read my book, he too treaded carefully.
“So how far have you reached?”
“Just two pages ahead.”
“Have the police caught him?”
And so the questions carried on. The next day, and the next… Patience was the key. Until Friday night, having lost it all Tanmoy said, “Ma, you are such a slow reader. Can’t you read faster?”
I looked at him and said, “Would you like to read with me? Maybe we could enjoy it together.”
“But I can’t read as fast as you can.”
“OK… how about if I read it aloud, and you only hear it.”
“Mmm… I don’t know. Reading is boring.”
“Ok. I’ll read. You do your thing.”
I started reading aloud. Chapter after chapter, I read aloud while Tanmoy kept doing his thing all round the room, except sitting with me. Yet, I knew he was listening to the story. Paying attention to every detail. For every day there would be discussions on either some word that he did not understand, or some idea that he did not approve of, or some character he was thoroughly amused with. Often he would connect some of his routine activities of the day to something similar to a character or event in the story.
Bit by bit, the stories were taking root in his world. He warmed up to the reading sessions and eventually started sitting next to me to read. Before long, there were demands of more books. Some would be read twice or thrice over. But finally the reading bug got to him. And he began reading by himself.
It took a consistent effort on my part, but I achieved the goal of getting him introduced to the colourful and wondrous world of books. One’s best friend, and companion for life. We bonded beautifully during these reading sessions.
His next birthday gift shifted from the ‘X-box’ to a couple of books! And I was ever so delighted to spend on those. Over time, I found opportunities to speak to Anupam’s parents and shared my thoughts on the same.
CHANGE is difficult. Change ‘enforced’ is even more difficult. Because it comes with a feeling of being trapped. It makes one feel that the elders are taking away their freedom. It is uncomfortable and unwelcomed because it also means moving from a comfort zone and stepping into unknown territories.
Not only is it true for children, but also for adults. Yet the biggest difference is that we grown-ups have the ability to identify the advantages as well as the consequences of all that comes our way, and are capable of making evaluated choices.
Children on the other hand are unable to evaluate and choose. They need guidance. However, they also need to feel that they have the freedom to choose. So the challenge is in doing it gently.
This ‘balancing act’, although no rocket science, is a delicate one and calls for immense patience.
It is the responsibility of us grown-up in the child’s life, to help them see the difference. And the smart adults will make it appear to the kids like it is their choice. They will empower the kids with the positive feeling of having decided for themselves, until these children have truly grown up to thoughtfully choose for themselves.
No one knows your child better than you. So use this knowledge for his/her betterment. In a world full of options and choices, help your child make wise choices. Prepare him for the future. And do it 'delicately'. After all parenting is an ‘Art’ in itself. So celebrate this art as well.
After all it is Khuljaye bachpan experience when you liberate your kids from the bondages of digital dependency...!!