Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Teen Troubles?

I have an acquaintance who has a 9 year old son studying in a reputed school in town. The boy, it seems is unable to concentrate in class and lags behind in academics. While I feel he should be given more time to realize the need to put his heart into his work, his mother's anxiety was equally justified.

"Not a day goes by without my getting upset didi." she said. "Give him a mobile phone - the very latest model - he will understand its functions in no time. He is equally comfortable using the computer and would keep playing computer games all day if he could. But ask him to sit for an hour with his books and he finds all sorts of excuses to avoid working on his home work. Rarely does he note down his home work and completes it on his own. I have to stay up till 11 at night after finishing my work and personally check if he has understood his lessons and completeted the assignments given to him. I took him to a counsellor and she says that he is fine and is just plain lazy. She wants me to stop helping him and let him fail his class tests once or twice. You will see that he will learn to work on his own. He would certainly not wish to be left behind while his class mates move on."

I wonder if it is that simple. A cousin of mine was very good at sports and other extra curricular activities. He was not a bright spark in academics but managed to pass his exams without any extra coaching. But of course in our times academics could not be compromised and no one cared if he played basket ball well enough to represent the school team. Or that he was a good orator and possessed excellent social skills. The boy had no option but to feign illness. He'd come home complaining of head aches and would want to sleep in a dimly lit room. His parents got an eye test done but the specialist in his home town could not make out what his problem was. He was referred to a famous ophthalmogist in Chennai who realized that the boy was actually trying to avoid his studies and home work and trying to gain sympathy by pretending to have some severe eye problem. In reality there was nothing wrong with his eyesight. Constant nagging by his mother regarding his average class performance was driving him nuts and lack of appreciation for his co curricular activities was equally frustrating. Luckily the eye specialist counselled his parents and they realized their mistake and made amends well in time and today the boy is happily married and doing very well in life.

Another little boy known to me was a natural left hander. His mother thought that it was somehow wrong to allow him to write with his left hand. At a very tender age she would insist on him writing with the right hand. The boy found it difficult to write with the right hand and his writing would be barely legible. With time he did overcome the problem but his initial years in school were nothing to remember by. He lacked speed in writing and would never finish his class work in time or note down his home work. His mother would go to the house of a class mate to make a note of his home work and the little boy would often act pricey. His mother would find sadistic pleasure in making her wait saying that her son needed to finish his home work and could give her his book only after that. The mother would vent her anger on the little boy and immediately compare him with his smarter younger sister. I agree that with the passage of time and a lot of help from his mother the boy finally answered his boards and came out with flying colors. But I also wonder if a lot of frustration could have been avoided if only the boy had been allowed to use his left hand and let him be as nature had made him. I am perhaps over reacting but I do feel that the importance accorded to academics is quite a burden on our youngsters. This is exactly why I welcome the proposal by the CBSE board that a student be assessed not only by his/her curricular proficiency but also take into consideration, their extra and co - curricular interests and give due credit to these too.

We recently had a seminar on "Teen age suicides - a burning problem faced by society". Some of the points highlighted were interesting. Not all these suicides are the result of unrealistic parental expectations. But some are. Our teen agers are facing tough competition and a lot of peer pressure. They may not show it but they do realize that parents spend much beyond their means to educate them and it is not easy for a child to say that he/she would prefer to study a subject of his/her choice at a pace suited to them. As a result we have a generation of engineers who would rather be free lancers and/or doctors who'd rather take up a research oriented career. So it is imperative for parents to refrain from imposing their will on their wards and support them in their choice in whatever way they can.

A family friend had two sons who are into biological research at an age when their friends are minting money as IT professionals. Both the boys got admission to medical colleges but refused to join. Their parents encouraged them to follow the dictates of their heart. But their extended family was heard to whisper that the boys were perhaps poor students who had no option but to work as poorly paid research scholars. After all did not the soft and hard ware jobs absorb even the average and below average students and train them for jobs? All this talk of the boys being oriented towards research went over their heads. According to them the boys were worse than the very average among their peers. So what if they qualified for the prestigious Junior Research Fellowship/ scholarship grant and worked under eminent advisors and guides or if they published paper after paper in internationally recognized journals? They were dudds and that was it. In fact the older among them could not get married initially because parents of eligible girls found his scholarship money inadequate for their daughters. The boy is now happily married to a fellow research scholar who understands his passion for research work. So, at least in his case, rejection actually worked in his favor. To be stuck up with a demanding wife would have been worse than remaining a bachelor all his life.

Well, all I can say is this. Each child is unique and deserve to be treated thus. Let us be their props if possible. If not, let us not act as their detractors. They'd be better off without us deciding for them and on their behalf.


starry eyed said...

Very relevant to me. I liked reading about all the examples you've given. Most of us bloggers are young moms, wondering if our theories about education are ok, and it's nice to hear these stories of what happened later.

Deepa said...

HHG, my issue is totally different. I have a 4.5 yr old who is amazingly brilliant, loves to study but gets a major kick in acting silly and defying rules and doing everything that gets us on our nerves ! He is like 4 going on 14 !!!! I cajole, he takes it easy. I yell, he yells back.. I deprive him of his fav. stuff..for sometime he is inconsolable and then he does not seem to care ! any tips ????

Jil Jil Ramamani said...

It's funny how stereotypes carry over. Coming from a family of engineers, I was expected to excel at science. However, I did real bad, barely getting through my 12th where I was forced to take Science as the elective for what would everyone say if I took Commerce or God forbid, Arts! Luckily for me, I convinced my parents to let me do law.

Oh it was looked down upon alright by older relatives. They said engineering was probably too challenging for me that of all things, I had to take 'law'. Now I'm in one of the top universities for law in the country and everytime I meet them HHG, I'm so very tempted to say "Ha! In your face." :D

Poornima said...

HHG, your post comes at a time when we are going through a major dharam-sankat with our kids' education. We live in Dubai. My 9 year old studies in a CBSE school, & weve just admitted our 3 & 1/2 year old in an ICSE school. However we are seriously rethinking our decision because of a couple of factors, many of which you touch upon in your post.

Our Indian education system has some very very strong points..granted...but we have been objectively analysing and observing a lot of kids (both Indian & of other nationalities)studying in other streams like the O-levels, & find a startling difference between them & our kids. They seem..i don't know... actually interested in KNOWING rather than mugging, freer to THINK creatively, more in sync with day-to-day life, have better social skills, & seem far more mature. And (contrary to what I thought all along) they DO have a lot to study, AND their Math & language foundations are very strong!

My son is a very bright student, but I can see him start to develop a certain rigidity of thought & reluctance to open his mind which comes with our particular brand of education. That worries me.

I cant help feeling that somehow the CBSE/ ICSE/ SSLC kind of system in its current form (which was good enough for us) is slowly becoming outdated and out of sync with todays global realities. In any workplace in the world, you give an Indian a task & she/he will outperform 9 out of 10 times. However, we arent really the ones with the Vision or Strategy for the company..thats usually the guy with the alternate educational background.

My husband & I have great faith in our ancient learning methods. & not being ones to dismiss them that easily or to take impulsive decisions, we are gathering a lot of opinions, advise & feedback from parents & teachers on this matter.

More of the same will be highly appreciated!

WhatsInAName said...

HHG! This post gives me a feeling that its written for me!
Having been toppers in our respective schools and colleges, I will not deny that my husband and me expected our girls to follow suit. But that is not to be. They are above average and yet lack that excellence. Maybe they are not putting in enough efforts. Elder one is still oriented towards science and engg and so I have let her decide her career. Younger one is only in 9th and frankly I don't see her inclined towards any subject. She is confused and so am i! Lets hope she is able to become serious in another year.... I feel sometimes parent intervention is necessary esp when th kids of today get influenced so easily with all wrong things.

On boards cancellation, I am still not sure how to take it. On one hand it may remove pressure off the weak students, but what about bright ones? what about bias attitude in school teachers? I personally feel having boards is better. Atleast students will become serious towards education.

Monika said...

what a lovely post... i agree with starry when she says its good to hear on what happened later :)

Ugich Konitari said...

HHG, I have some issues with the attitude of teachers in schools today. If your child is academically smart , its OK. The teachers take the credit for making them smart. But very little trickles down to those who have some learning problems. We are amazingly maths and science centric, and I see around me parents who get into a dither because someone lost a few marks here and there. One has had to learn first hand, that academic successes can be of other types, that each child matures differently, and you cannot slot everyone in the same gap.

I find those children who had a lot of breadth in their education, where parents nurtured a natural ability, these children become very secure individuals later on and can deal better with stress. I cant say the same of folks who appeared on merit lists, thanks to parental push, but lost focus later on.

My son is a leftie, and we let him be. (I even thought it was a bit glamorous at that time :-); He does everything with the left, except play the tabla, which his teacher insisted he needed to with his right hand.

Hip Grandma said...

starry eyed:Very often most cases get resolved with time. But it is important for parents to keep an open mind. Unfortunately many parents want their wards to be excelllent in academics and tend to ignore other skills. This attitude should change.

Deepa:My mother had a general rule for all of us. She'd become very quiet and maintain a silent mode when we were naughty and it actually worked for us. i could not be like her and I was very much like you. Yell a little, fuss a little, cajole, roll my eyes and what not. But ultimately my children too are okay. I suppose each of us has a different way of dealing with children. Your son is too young and has all the time in the world but i'd advise you to be patient and always remember to praie him for good performance, behavior etc. It puts a silent pressure on the children to keep up the good work/behavior.

Jil Jil Ramamani:wow girl! you've provd it. We as a society associate science with brilliance and know very well that it is wrong. But we never seem to change.

poornima:Our education system dates back to Macaulay's time and we still cling on to it. my g'daughter is so much more relaxed and learning is fun for her. At the age of six she tries to write stories. Oh yes there are a lot of spelling mistakes and stuff but she enjoys telling me that she has actally written a story in 2 parts and goes on to narrate it. Our system would bog 6 year olds with so much home work that creativity would take a back seat. You must encourage your son to work on his own apart from what he gets to do at school. If only we had a system that allowed our children to think for themselves they would do much better. Some changes are underway but people are still sceptical about the effects of such changes. However this is also natural.

WhatsInAName: You must stop feeling disappointed immediately. Your daughters may not be toppers - nor can all children top the class - but they must be having some talent that they may not actually express because of your high expectations from them. However, I can understand your sentiments having faced something similar myself. My older daughter used to top her class in Jamshedpur but in Pilani she was in the middle order. So it depends on the competition one faces from one's peers.When she later took up a job she realized that being a topper or from a prestigious technical school has no real value when one takes up a job. What ultimately matters is that you should be willing to learn all your life. sometimes you learn from your students or the next door neighbor who hasn't stepped into a college. I am sure your girls will be fine. Sometimes excellence is difficult to handle. Toppers are often over confident and cannot handle setbacks. All round development and an open mind is more important. I too feel that cancellation of board exams should be postponed since teachers would have to assess their students on their class performance and the transition may take a while to register. But isn't it okay for 5th and 6th graders to be given credits for co curricular activities and openly appreciated for their effort? Without the fear of failure loomimg large in their inds they may actially perform better. I know a few children who would forget answers more out of fear than any carelessness in preparing for the exams.

monika:Thanks. i thought you had given up reading my posts since they've become monotonous.

Suranga:Teachers need to be trained to concentrate on weak students rather than blow their trumpets over the achievements of the toppers who would do well anyway. If a single weak student is motivated to study ten others would feel encouraged.The poor kids who learn at a slower pace or are easily distracted - well the world renounces them as being stupid. Parental expectations add fuel to the fire. i wonder when we as a society will learn to look for merit in achievements other than academics?

kc said...

Looks like some of these children may have learning disabilities. The Indian system of education does not allow for children who learn differently. My son was diagnosed with a short term memory disorder when he was 5, which meant that he could not 'mug' anything! Luckily for us we are in the US and we were able to put him in a school that taught him to understand concepts rather memorize. He graduated with an MA and is now a teacher himself!

There is a lot of ignorance in the medical field about learning disabilities. I should know, as I am married to a doctor!

starry said...

Absolutely true.every child is unique and sometimes even parents are guilty of wanting each child in the family to be the same and compare children.I have two children who are totally different like night and day and each one is good at different things.I was guilty of always comparing them but have learned not to.and except each child for who they are and help them to become the person they should.

vishesh said...

Oh! all that will happen in the new system is that the school will put some marks...I bet my PT master didn't who I was, he was drunk half the time :P
And having studied in a "middle class" school I know how these things are...
I was and still one of those lazy fellows..but I managed to get away a couple of times with stuff and usually am very fast, so can do things last minute and get away...
Now with CA it's another thing though..

Monika said...

no HG i read all ur posts... dont comment often because to comment once i have to try three times :(

some issues with blogger and firefox together

R's Mom said...

HHG..this post comes at such a right time...R starts playschool in June and its really good to read up..that each child is unique...we should just let them nurture the way they want..we should show them the right direction...let them choose the path they want

hillgrandmom said...

I agree with Poornima, that our ways of doing exams has become very rigid. Since the whole idea seems to be only to teach the syllabus, no time is ever given for exploring a subject and what I hear from the brighter children is that what is worse, if you want marks--particularly at university level, only if answers are given in the same format does one get marks, and independent thought is actually penalised! OF course one of the reasons may be our large population and so teachers get harassed when teaching so many.

Hip Grandma said...

kc;welcome here. you are indeed lucky to have been able to find the right school for your son. My cousin had to deal with her sons on her own because there are no proper schools for children with even mild learning disability. thanks to her efforts the boys are doing well and have joined college. No one seems to realize that these children are otherwise brilliant.Could you send me an invite to your blog?

starry:Unfortunately we all tend to do just that.Compare one child with another. My younger daughter was offended because i seemed happy with her average performance but would blast the older one who i felt was not working hard enough. My second daughter later told me that she felt hurt that i did not seem to nurture high hopes for her. the truth was that i'd see her work hard enough and did not want to push her further. So a child feels hurt even if he/she is not scolded at par with other kids in the family. Howz that?!! Today she has made us proud by getting a Ph.D against all odds. So her hard work has been rewarded.

vishesh:you should know. we hear all kinds of stories about teachers being partial and leaking out questions to the children who take tuitions from them. fortunately I did not face such discrimination in my schooldays or that of my children. However, times have changed and teachers need to be sensitized more.

monika:thanks. feels good.

R's Mom:here's wishing R 'happy play school days'. please see to it that he is not stressed or unhappy in the set up. And also that he is just made to play. My grand daughter's school allows them an hour of activity of their choice by rotation. they get to sow seeds and watch a plant grow. and she is not yet 4. They don't even force the kids to write. In India 4 year olds are burdened with home work.

Hip Grandma said...

hill g'mom;that was quick. i just finished commenting on your post and you are right here :-))!i hear from our lab attendant that his son had written the very answer that his teacher had marked correct in his class work assignment(it was in fact wrong but he dared not point out at the time for fear that his child would be punished). when he pointed this out to the teacher and asked her how the same answer could be correct in class and wrong in the examination the teacher replied that it was not her problem. I wonder whose problem is it anyway? We have people without aptitude taking up the teaching profession and all they want to do is to ask children to come to them for tuitions!

Usha said...

A very sensitive post as usual. One of the problems with most parents is that they try to force their children into conformed standards, into a single definition of success forgetting that each child is different.
And it is a pity because these children who are different could really blossom into path breakers if only they are given the encouragement to follow their passion.
We'd rather be mediocre and safe.

Hip Grandma said...

Usha:It is indeed a pity that qualities like an inclination towards dramatics or classical dancing etc is not considered worth pursuing. Agreed that only the best can make a mark in these areas. But appreciation and recognition even at the basic levels can boost a child's confidence and in the long run confidence is more important for success than being a topper in academics alone.

radha said...

Came by from Gappa ... very interesting posts here.
Yes, all children are unique, but it does take a while for parents to realise that. But then, as you mention, there are lazy ones who need a little prodding and maybe a push now and then.

Hip Grandma said...

radha:welcome here and hope you stop by often. Yes, with smart children it would be difficult to understand if they are really facing problems or are just plain lazy. We still have a good laugh when we think of how my cousin outsmated everyone pretending to have some severe eye ailment.

PNA said...

My friend was a lefty who was forced into becoming a right hander and there the problems started and it never ceases to end. If u ask her, she is fine with her illegible handwriting, her lack of skills with her hands. The problem is for people like me and her guides, colleagues around her who can't understand a word she writes need them to be typed or cannot she cannot cut an onion right or her bad eating manners because she is neither amphidextrous or right handed or left! It hasn't solved with time, this prob. I hope it will

My neighbours are behind their only daughter who is in class x, to study, do the homework, do the classwork, wakes and sleeps with her, fusses about her eating habits, her games, her arts and the do! I was shocked to see such a behaviour from a mature couple..maybe it's the syndrome with parents with a single child! I wondered what I was when I was in class x or my bro or any of my schoolmates, we knew our work and we did it,

u fuss and they fuss too, simple! so why fuss...students need to have a sense of work and study, an aim which should be internalized. part of rearing I suppose

and surprisingly, i have written on similar lines too in my past couple of posts..:) Abt the research part I totally agree, in a science centric society, research or arts have no value attached to them! Ppl don't know what a JRF is, and the difficulty is qualifying for it!

Liked reading urs

Hip Grandma said...

PNA:It is sad isn't it? When for no valid reason parents impose such things on their children. I hope it gets better with time. i don't understand why writing with the left hand is considered a crime and what purpose is achieved by forcing a child to try something that does not come naturally to her. I must read your posts on the subject. this topic bothers the teacher in me.

Sharbori said...

HHG, very nice post. As a psychotherapist I agree with you and wonder how many such talents are getting wasted and frustrate simply because some of us will not budge from the known, familiar and narrow.

I like your note about your driving. i have had driving license for over 10 years but started driving for the last two years and must say, i feel FREE. like they say, I am lovin it!!

i am adding your blog to the list of blogs i follow. i hope that is ok with you.

Hip Grandma said...

sharbori:feels good to get comments from a psychotherapist like you. Ye, it is unfortunate that talents are getting wasted just because due credit is not accorded to them and some subjects are labeled as being superior to others. as for extra curricular activities they are not recognized unless the child is a prodigy.

you are welcome to add my name to the blogs you follow. My pleasure.

Arundhati said...

I'm a left-hander, and incidentally wrote a related post just yesterday -

I personally know a lady who was forced to use her right hand inspite of being a natural leftie - she thinks it has made her indecisive and low on confidence. Her son happens to be a left-hander too - he is the only left-hander (in India) I know who has been allowed to eat with his left hand.

The concept of multiple intelligences seems brilliant, having observed many kids of P's age it seems true that every child is strong in a few of those intelligences. About schools, I found when we were hunting for P's admissions that there are some schools that do things differently. It seems like a bit of a risk but I think in today's times there is plenty of opportunity in all fields and the worry is no more 'will he get a job and earn a living' so we can afford to take it. In my personal experience, I found that my classmates who did not follow conventional methods of learning (by rote) and were not exam-oriented in their approach to learning are doing very well today (even better than many of my IITian relatives/acquaintances) - some have floated their own firms in their 20s! Still... it was a tough call to take, and I hope we are doing the right thing, fingers crossed! Hearing these views from someone who has been there done that is definitely heartening, so thank you for sharing!

Arundhati said...

somehow missed clicking on follow the last 2 times i was here, doing it now! so c u later...

Hip Grandma said...

arundhati:your piece on being left handed as well as your observation of those that did not follow the conventional mthod of learning are both interesting. yes, it is indeed disappointing that we place importance to marks and never look beyond the rank a child manages to get in his/her class. as a result the child feel unappreciated for the person he/she is.may be your generation can change it.