A big part of the childhood of those who grew up before the 2000s was spent in parks or on the roads playing cricket, hop-scotch and many more games. Life was full of endless hours of fun. All the children from the locality would get together for sessions stretching right from the time school got over till sleeping time, interspersed only by the mandatory meal break. Mothers were not summoned for every disagreement between kids; fights between kids remained that way and little cuts and bruises were ignored.
Parents have become paranoid about the safety of their kids. And all these fears are not totally unfounded. With the growing rate of crimes against children, especially girls, they are right to a certain extent about keeping watch over them all the time. Even when the kids do go to the parks to enjoy the swings and slides, each one has a chaperone, discouraging them from mingling with other children. Sonia Kapoor, the mother of a four-year old, says, "There is a park near our house but my daughter is not allowed to go and play there very frequently. All kinds of people visit the park and going by the increasing incidence of kidnapping, I do not feel that it is safe to let her play there. I feel that kids should be protected from the older kids who bully them in the park".
Letting kids be
Is this really how it is? Should kids not be allowed to be on their own once in a while and forge bonds with the kids whose company they enjoy? With parents wanting to monitor every move of their children, it is getting extremely difficult for kids to just be. We should let children deal with their own problems arising during the course of playing with others like them. Only when a kid poses serious problems for other kids, is adult intervention required.
There are many benefits of playing together in community spaces that we as parents overlook. Children learn to get along with others of their age, which is especially important when we consider the growing number of children who are either the only children or who have, at most, one sibling. A kid who is pampered by his parents and goes with a nanny everywhere will not be ready for the real world. Even school, where they will be devoid of the protective shield and have to make friends by sharing and adjusting to group dynamics, will be difficult to negotiate.
Sense of community
Dr. Roopali Virk, a child psychologist and counsellor associated with St. Kabir Public School, Chandigarh, opines that an increasing number of parents are discouraging their children from venturing out of their homes to parks and neighbourhoods. Though the threat that they perceive is very real, with crimes against children going up at an astronomical rate; this has negatively impacted the children. She says, "Earlier the environment was secure and kids would love to mix with the neighbourhood kids. But now, the norm has shifted to over-protectiveness and many families have one or two children and with no or little outside interaction. Children have become individualistic and self-centred, with little sense of empathy. Not only is this bad for the child's future but also has serious implications for the society of tomorrow. They ape their parents who are themselves disconnected from their neighbours and community."
She suggests that parents from different sectors could come together to form an internet forum that helps to unite kids with similar interests living close by. For example, kids who like to play cricket or paint could gather at a specified place at specified times and other kids with similar interests could join in. This initiates friendships and a sense of community.
Another initiative to bring together kids in a secure environment would be a kid-watch programme, where parents of the children can take turns to keep an eye on kids as they gather and play together at a public place. That way they will be able to hone their socialising skills and become worldly wise without risking their safety. With every parent having to watch the kids only once a week or ten days, it would not tax their schedule either.
A mother with a seven-year-old daughter, who prefers to remain anonymous, has stopped sending her daughter over to her best friend's place in the neighbourhood. She says, "Every time my daughter would go to her friend's place, her maid's kids would also join them as they live with her friend's family. We send our kids to good schools where they are taught good manners and language but I felt that visiting her could harm her personality and she might pick up bad habits." While the possibility of such a thing happening is debatable as kids from all kinds of backgrounds behave in all sorts of ways, with the parents being most responsible for the behaviour; this shows the extent to which parents have started meddling in the friendships of their kids. Without even knowing the other kids, they have built strong boundaries regarding who can and cannot be a friend. It is time parents woke up to the reality and understood the importance of letting kids develop relationships on their own merit.