By Riad Mahmood
A great education is one that provides children with an opportunity to learn to be discerning. It is like a journey that brings about different exposures, all of which add to and enrich learning. Through this experience children develop the ability to take decisions with a sense of clarity. When they are given information about something they may be able to take informed decisions in time to come. These decisions could be life changing or simply some of the best decisions they have ever taken. Introducing children to something like an activity or subject for the first time is crucial and how we do it and when we do it counts.
A two and a half year old girl was goading her father to take her out to play. She was keen to go to the sandpit; her grandmother had given her a shovel and a bucket and she was eager to put them to good use. All she could think of was the sand and how it would feel as it ran through her fingers.
Her father was busy sending out some emails as well as catching up with friends on Facebook. It was six in the evening and he wanted to get a group together for their Saturday night hangout. People are busy these days and the thought of being stuck at home on a Saturday night isn’t the best feeling on earth. It was also the IPL season and he wanted to watch a few games with his friends.
After some prodding from his daughter he decided to take her out to play but took his new smart phone with him so he could continue his plan-making on WhatsApp. He put her into the sandpit and went about his business. She played for a bit and kept asking him questions; he answered in monosyllables and was a tad bit irritated.
Six months later he and his wife were sitting at home busy with their gadgets and decided to give their daughter an iPad. They showed her how to play a few games and how Facebook works. Very soon she began to enjoy herself and was hooked. Her mother would take pictures of her and together they would post them on social networking sites sharing their meaningful moments with people.
In time the girl began to grow up and would spend lots of time on her own making friends on Facebook. She was isolating herself from her parents and unknowingly they were doing the same from her. This family was prospering financially and getting to be known socially. Their life was going pretty much the way it was planned. One day when this young girl came back from school her dad asked her how her day was and she replied saying that she had posted what she needed to; he could go through it. He was okay with that reply and as time went by all three started to communicate through WhatsApp and did not talk much.
The girl was now ten years old and shared her feelings with people online. Most of them were strangers or people she did not know. She only had a few real friends and the only time they were invited over was on her birthday. Her parents threw a big party for her every year and that was mainly to return invitations she had accepted earlier.
Her dad and some parents at her school insisted that the school should conduct Parent/Teacher Meetings through Skype and not in person as it was more convenient. No one would have to contend with the maddening traffic to go to school. The school too wanted to become more tech savvy and gave into this suggestion however it had to curtail the meetings to only five minutes per parent saying that if not, it would take days to complete the meetings. In ten years these parents had two meetings a year which lasted all of ten minutes put together. 2 x10 (meetings a year) = 20 meetings in ten years. That means only 100 minutes to know how their child was doing at school.
The meetings were more about her performance in class and where she stood as a student. What happened outside the class did not matter much as the parents felt as long as she was okay with her academics she was moving in the right direction. The teacher’s opinion on her emotions and overall well-being did not make the agenda of the meetings as five minutes were all they had. In fact some meetings took a mere three minutes.
This family continued to live their aspirational life and did more than just make ends meet. They went on vacations because they thought it was the thing to do. Three people spending time together in another country without actually realising that they were just physically there and somewhere else in thought. None of them were able to give each other a moment of true value.
When the girl was sixteen years old, she was going for a party with her friends. She was being picked up by a boy who did not even have a driver’s license. Her dad suddenly asked her how this could be and said it was unsafe. Once again it was physical safety that troubled him and not the fact that his daughter was unable to be discerning enough about the decisions she took. She was never provided with food for thought nor was she provided with any information by her parents in the past.
Life was more of a journey that had to be lived and not a journey that was being lived. Every day was about being entertained in some form or the other and not a day spent just enjoying time with each other. Families probably need to fight and parents probably need to be parents and that also means being disliked. This was a family that could not find ways to interact with each other but found ways of interacting without each other. They drifted apart and were reaching a point of no return.
Children grow so fast that it almost feels like you are counting every year or every decade. The only thing is that you realise this when it is too late. This girl grew up in front of her parents without even knowing who they actually were.
Her father realised he was unable to talk to his daughter like a normal father would. He had no connection with her nor did she with him. She was brought up by people who treated her the way they wanted. She never had the parents she so badly needed. That day when her dad tried to stop her from going out she said, “Dad, mail me what you want to tell me and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
He sat back and stared at all the gadgets he had in his home, iPad, iPod, iMac, iTouch and oh yes the iPhone 12. He also looked up his inbox and found all the tickets they had booked and all the invites to all the parties. He went through his Facebook account and all the people he had interacted with over the last sixteen years. They were still there and there were some more people added on. He had two properties in his name and also had the money to send his daughter away for her higher studies. What he realised he did not have was any memories of himself spending any time with his only child, no memories of him laughing with her or being firm with her!
The next morning she posted pictures of herself on her page. She walked past her father and out of the door. The family never really even had a meal together as it was difficult. After all they had other things to do and other people to meet online. The father realised that he could never bring his daughter up again, he could never be her dad again, he could never tell her what he wanted to ten years ago. She would leave for college soon and stay in the hostel and all he could do was to keep following her posts.
He went to her school the year after she graduated to meet her teachers. A few of them were around and he asked them how his daughter actually did and what kind of a person she was. Who were the kind of friends she had and how did she manage herself as a person? They asked him how much time he had to talk or whether he would prefer to skype. One hundred minutes means only one hour and forty minutes to sum up a decade, how would it be possible?
Her real progress report was;
“Rema is a vibrant two and a half year old who is full of curiosity. She is happy to come to school and loves to work. She also enjoys playing with children in her class.”
“Rema is a bright seven year old who seems to be talking a lot about new people she has met on Facebook and says that she spends hours on it. She however needs to spend more time with real friends and less time doing not so age-appropriate activities. She is very bright and is a wonderful painter. She expresses herself beautifully on paper with colours.”
“Rema is doing well in class but seems to be preoccupied and a little distracted. She appears to have concerns that most ten year olds don’t have. At times she isolates herself and needs to be talked to. We have tried doing so but feel we need your help to reach out to her as we do not know how she spends her free time.”
Rema, 9th Grade:
“She is not the young girl she could be. She has been saying that she feels scared and is experiencing some kind of anxiety. She tends to keep quiet in class and has told us that she no longer enjoys her work. She also says that she misses her parents and feels that no one has time for her. She is one year away from her final exams and has the potential to do very well. However, she need not have the concerns mentioned at this point in her life. Kindly meet us in person; we are unable to talk this through online.”
Rema’s father replied by email:
“Thank you for your concerns. We will look into them and get back to you. I am travelling as of now and will be back in three weeks. However we can have a call if possible. Thank you.”
As a parent you sometimes wonder what your role actually is. Are you mainly a provider of sorts or are you a support and a guide? Are you both? It is hard to strike a balance and we so often know time is running out, but yet we are unable to stop and think.
Children’s education begins at home and they start to understand the world through their homes. There are many questions within us that make us think about what our existence is really all about and where we are heading to.
This father realised one little thing – time ran away with his daughter………