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.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Is happiness a relative phenomenon?

The visitor hasn't visited me for a while now but she was kind enough to forward this article ( to me by mail. I had been thinking of something along the very lines recently and this article just endorsed my opinion on the definition of happiness. This particular line from the article caught my attention. I quote -

'The overall impression from this research is that economic and professional success exists on the surface of life, and that they emerge out of interpersonal relationships, which are much deeper and more important'.

I had written a post on a story -( ) that Dr. Mahalik narrated during a seminar in our college. the gist of the story is that women are happy when man's will is not imposed on them and they are allowed to deal with life's situation in their own way and as they deem fit and appropriate. I happened to refer to the story while talking to a friend. what she told me set me thinking.

"My husband had always allowed me to do things just as I wished and he had absolute trust in my discretionary powers. I wanted my name to be included as middle names for my sons and he heartily welcomed the idea. Whenever we had visitors at home he'd arrange for extra domestic help and never expect me to compromise on my time or schedule. We were never hard up for money and our children were above average and gave us no cause for concern. Yet, I was not happy. I wanted him to give me more of his time but thatwas one thing he could not spare. He had a busy scedule and was always helping someone or the other during his free time. So while the story makes a lot of sense it is not applicable to all. Individual needs vary and happiness is a relative term''. She said.

What is it that makes the world a happy place? Money and material things that money is able to buy do not give happiness. The pleasure felt when one progresses materialistically in life does not last long. I remember an incidence that took place within a month of my joining college. We had an examination and since an invigilator was absent I was asked to substitute. A week later I was paid Rs. 6/- as remuneration and this came as a surprise because I was not even aware that invigilation duty fetched extra remuneration. I remember thinking to myself that I would go home by share auto that day instead of the usual mini bus. I suddenly felt rich. I do not recollect whether I really took an auto rickshaw to get home. But I do recall the happiness I felt on getting an extra remuneration of Rs. 6/- and on being able to afford a return trip by share auto. Such joy is not felt now when I commute by my own car. There are several entrance exams held on Sundays for which we are sometimes given a remuneration of upto Rs. 350/- per sitting. But the Rs. 6/- that I first received stands apart and is very special. So perhaps money fetches happiness only if it is obtained when its need is acutely felt.

With my children settled I should be reasonably happy because I do not have to worry about them. And in fact I am happy for them as well as for myself. But moments of depression do set in when I wonder if I was wrong in aiming high for them. Would it have been better if they lived at an accessible distance rather than aim for the skies? My mother in law was happy to have a son take up a job with Tata Steel and with the family being able to continue to avail TISCO's quarter and medical facility every one was overjoyed. So even with only the basic requirements being taken care of one can be truly happy. But then that brings on another question equally relevant. If one did not aim high how would one progress? Would not lack of ambition cause dissatisfaction and be cause for unhappiness of a different kind?

What then is the solution? A fine balance perhaps. Improving of inter - personal relationships as the article points out and building up mutual trust with those around us may be the answer. Training the mind to look for happiness even in adverse conditions is not easy. However it is not impossible either. Bad as your lot may be, there are many who are worse. A look at them -not with disdain but with concern - is enough to make one realize that even under the circumstances one can find reason to be happy if only one tried.

Happiness unfortunately is not available in super markets and five star hotels. It is just a state of the mind. Unhappiness is the result of a wrong perception of the circumstances. It is here that I admire an aquaintance of mine. She works as a ward girl in a hospital and when her neighbor's daughter got married she gifted 10,000 rupees to her. She borrowed the amount from her provident fund account and repaid it with interest. On the other hand I've heard the wives of high ranking officer's who may never have traveled by public transport in town or by economic class while flying, actually taking home apples and dry fruits that foreign donors send for a government run orphanage for tribal children. They are the one's who are after the accountant ad finance officer's to find out when their arrears would be released and behave as if their lives depended on the money that was due. To my mind the ward girl who I see returning from a night shift when I go for my morning walk spreads more joy than others who have access to a luxurious life.

Let us then try to look for happiness in little things and remember that a society needs happy men and women rather than a wealthy but dissatisfied lot.