“The 21st Century child is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma!”

“The 21st Century child is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma!”

Children today are global citizens of a fast-paced society with almost everything being automated or transformed with ongoing advancements in technology.

Thanks to globalization, children all over the world share common traits, trends and mannerisms. The challenges faced by parents in the current environment too are identical irrespective of race, creed or ethnic background. Childhood and parenting have radically changed in the past few decades, to the point where far more children today struggle to manage their behavior.

We, parents and educators need to make a conscious effort to solve this riddle by unwrapping the mystery surrounding the enigma of modern childhood. There is a question as to how we can raise responsible and productive citizens in a global village in which information remains at the fingertips of those who are interested. We face a crisis of self-regulation, and parents and teachers struggle daily with difficult behavior from the children in their lives.

The social structure has changed drastically in the past few decades. Even as it is evolving, we continue to witness the decadence of moral values and an erosion of traditional beliefs. The ‘new-gen’ parents are forced to raise their children in an environment where there are so many competing forces.

The question is, how does one strike the balance without placing a child at a disadvantage?
The question is, how does one strike the balance without placing a child at a disadvantage?Pixabay

The prognosis may not be difficult as it appears because some things never change. Irrespective of technological advances or changes in social and moral norms, fundamentals of raising a human child remain the same. Teaching a child certain characteristic like the difference between right and wrong, respect for elders and the value of self-respect, reverence for life as well as regard for others’ property can never be substituted or swapped out for electronic gadgets or cyberspace. The generational shifts cannot negate the role of character, as the foundation for building strong communities and nations. Let us examine why so many children today have trouble managing their behavior.

Children today are burdened with emotional baggage. Let me narrate a simple classroom incident. While teaching the difference between, ‘a home and a house’, a student stood up and said that his house was not a home. On further probing he said there were constant fights at his house, it’s unkempt and chaotic. While listening to him I realized why the boy was restless and distracted in class. How can two warring parents ever instill any morals in their child? This may be the scenario in many houses today as we live in compartments. We gave up the traditional family values and morals along with the joint family system like the old saying goes, “We threw away the baby along with the bath water.”

Three decisive factors, have contributed mightily to this crisis. First, where, how and how much kids are allowed to play has changed. Second, their third parent, the technology, has overtaken their first two parents (biological parents and teachers). Finally, children today are too free, they are "unemployed." The term is a big tent, and it includes household jobs that can help even toddlers build confidence and a sense of community. Today children get everything done for them. They're not asked to do anything, to contribute to a neighborhood or family or community, and that really erodes their sense of self-worth. The net-gen parents are very enterprising and ambitious. They keep their children occupied through a number of coaching classes and activities. To get A1 in all subjects, be athletic superstars, gifted dancers, musicians and artists are all fine goals, but they are long-term. They don't have that sense of contribution and belonging in a family the way that a simple household chore does, like helping a parent prepare a meal, running errands for the family or neighbours, washing their own personal clothing etc.

Here are a few simple strategies that we, parents and facilitators, can adopt to bring back the innocent childhood amongst our growing children.

So, how can we resolve this issue?
So, how can we resolve this issue? Pixabay

· Let them play: Play is not a luxury, it’s a necessity:

Let children play and roam around the neighborhood in mixed-age groups, unsupervised or lightly supervised by adults, like we did a few decades ago; playing all kinds odd games, most of them quite silly but none of them very serious. During this free play time they will use their creativity to the fullest to create games, write songs, narrate tall tales, take decisions, set up a play house, create a classroom scenario etc. They will learn to resolve disputes, for which they will have a strong motivation to because they want to keep playing. They will also learn to plan their time and manage their games. They will have a lot of autonomy, which will also feed self-esteem and mental health. Play is an an integral part of childhood and by not giving the opportunity to play we’re cutting off a major portion from childhood.

· Empower them: Instruct kids that NOTHING is too hard for them if they are willing to put in more time.

Constantly widen the circle of things that children are in charge of, shrinking your own responsibility. They love power. So, give them as much power as you can stand and try to save your direction for the things they can’t do. Teach them simple life skills early in life like putting on their shoes, buttoning their shirt, packing their bags, cleaning their room, preparing simple meals, etc. It may take time for them to master these things but eventually they will learn. Give them enough time to do these things without nagging or threatening them. It takes a leap of faith, but it really works.

· Know your child: Help them unleash their latent talents.

Teach children their talents are a gift, and to not leave any one of them in the box. Once children are aware of what they are capable of and what they can excel in, they’ll grow up into confident adults with a strong self-esteem.

· No Rewards: Rewards dilute the pure joy that comes from success itself.”

It’s tempting to use rewards to get children to do things like giving them extra screen time for doing their homework, dressing up, waking up on time etc. But the research on rewards is pretty powerful, and it suggests that the more we reward behavior, the less desirable that behavior becomes to children and adults alike. The desire to do anything when it stems from a child’s intrinsic interest will motivate him to take charge as the onus of doing it is on him. The adult doling out rewards is really counterproductive in the long term — even though they may seem to work in the short term. The way parents or teachers discover this is that they stop working. At some point, the kid says, "I don't really care about your reward. I'm going to do what I want." And then we have no tools. Instead, let’s use strategies that are built on mutual respect and a mutual desire to get through the day smoothly. Remember, what actually stood between the carrot and the stick was, of course, a jackass.

· No Punishments: Confront misbehavior with consequences not punishments:

Don’t confront misbehavior with punishments. It's important to avoid power struggles and to win the kid's cooperation. Exercising the four R’s will keep a consequence from becoming a punishment. They are: Any consequence should be revealed in advance, respectful, related to the decision the child has made, and reasonable in scope. Every misbehavior doesn't need an immediate consequence. In the heat of the moment it’s OK to just mumble and walk away. This is when you try talking sense into you child and he’s not doing what you want him to do and then you don’t know what to do. Just walk away from the scene pretending you have some work instead of yelling or punishing the child. This will give both of you some cool off time and just a little space to gather your thoughts and maybe calm down a little bit so you can respond to the child’s behavior from the best place in you — from your best intentions as a parent.

· Lend them your ears: Spend quality time with your children.

Children may one day forget your expensive gifts, but they will always cherish the quality time you spent with them. Always keep the communications channels open. Children should feel free to come to you with their fears, aspirations, frustrations and infatuations. Lend them your ears without being judgmental. Hear them out. If you’re too busy during the weekdays, keep aside your weekends only for the family. Have at least one meal together. Once in a week the family can sleep together in the same room sharing stories, anecdotes and singing songs. Tell them moral stories, share your own childhood stories. Children will always remember the stories you have told them. During my childhood my father used to gather us around his prayer mat and narrate stories from various scriptures. Those stories have had a profound impact on my thinking, personality and behaviour. I still use many of them in my classrooms. Many behavioral issues can be tackled through such positive interactions with children.

“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” - Franklin D Roosevelt
“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” - Franklin D RooseveltPixabay

Together let’s nurture strong willed children who will grow up to be strong willed adults thereby creating a stronger world. Let’s remove their fears and give them back their smiles and cheers!


Muneera Mammikutty is the Head of the Department of English (Primary) in Bharatitya Vidya Bhavan, Kuwait. She is a Post-Graduate in English Literature with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Teaching of English. She has 31 years of experience in teaching, and in administration and management of school activities. She has trained teachers in Creative Teaching, Multiple Intelligences, Experiential Learning and Computer Aided Teaching.

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