It is that time of year when images of children barely out of their nappies appear in the media as they are hauled off to 'play schools' or LKG. After all, parents have little choice but to enter the tunnel our system has arranged. What is worrying is that most of the time not only are these young parents unaware of their children’s fears and feelings, but they actually believe that everything they plan and carry out for the future of their children is benign. What are the chances that our children will not be exposed to insensitive and scarring words and acts—their first taste of the world outside home? Like a disturbing picture that haunts you for years after you first saw it, the imprinting caused by these early encounters lasts for a long time.
Why are there unceasing public debates about everything that happens (or does not happen) in the country except what happens to our children and what we are doing to them? The only time children make it to the news is when one of them is abused by a member of the family, a neighbour, a stranger or, hideously, by another child. Another kind of attention is when the child is a prodigy who wrote a concert at age seven or cleared high-school science exams at age nine. A third kind is the confused child who, all unawares, injures someone else through sheer mimicry of what the adults around were enacting as acceptable. The fourth category is the tweenager who experiments with games of death on the self, such as the ‘choking game’ in which, when one temporarily blocks blood supply to the brain by tightening a scarf or belt around the neck, brings on a kind of euphoria. Meanwhile, children are relentlessly used by the advertising industry to promote cars, jewellery, technology, housing, medicines, food and even—quite effectively—in anti-smoking campaigns.
What is it like to grow up in a violent atmosphere? Have we asked the children? Since they have no voice at all till they learn the languages we teach them, they are powerless to share their views. Does the nation not want to hear them? Both by day and by night children are exposed to the shocks of obscene aggression and unethical acts by adults in positions of either responsibility or power, or both.
Why is there no nationwide movement to protect children from this environment of emotional violence and moral toxicity? There used to be a time when our society could control what kinds of films children watched, because censorship was enforced. Many a teenager has spent three hours in the lobby of a theatre while his family enjoyed a film that the management of the movie house prevented him from watching. Today with unlimited and free access to the internet, disturbing and salacious visuals find their way into the minds of children. Is there any hope for us if children are exposed to the horror of rape as entertainment?
True, children need discipline and rules to socialise them into society and more so as many of them today are from single-child homes and therefore unused to sharing or bumping along with others the same age. My concern—as that of many others—is the effect of violence on them, stripping away their innocence and faith faster than is psychologically safe. When the nature and values of the children we raise are so inextricably linked with the survival and stability of our species, why are negative influences not discussed, or remedies sought, or counter-measures put in place?
My generation made so many mistakes raising the next, one of which was sending them to school at age three. We hope younger parents will be kinder and wiser. Let’s hear a little child’s thoughts. We have a record because a writer listened to his daughter. “I’m not going to school. Because I’m sleepy. I’m cold. No one likes me at school. I’m not going to school. I’m afraid. I don’t like anything there. What’s going to happen if I stay home? I went yesterday, didn’t I? There are those two children. They stick out their arms and block my way. I can’t even smile. I look straight ahead of me. I want to cry.”
The writer is consultant, publishing, Oxford University Press.