Many people will be astonished at seeing this title. Oh, the children these days are in any case independent. Even in childhood, they would not let you touch their rump and would not rein in their speech. The moment they understand anything; they start running with it. It is important that they learn to follow instructions, respect their elders and to have self-control. Making them independent is like fanning the fire.
We are living in times when children are much more independent than their parents ever were in their childhood. It is understandable that parents are sceptical of imparting more independence when they witness consequences of the existing freedom. The more independent a child, the stronger she is. Children should be educated to protect themselves in this world. At the moment however, we do not impart them this education. If youth are recruited in army, they need to be trained in its rules. If a child wants to be a singer, it is unlikely that he sings well without training. We, however, do not educate children on being strong and manage their independence.
It is a fact that children today are more independent, no one can reverse this state.
There are several reasons for such a state. Moving from villages to cities make families freer from pressures and expectations of the clan, and loosens the grip of old norms and rituals. Easy access to cars, the cinema and newspapers – all of these promote the streak of independence.
There is no point shedding tears about this fact. In olden times, following instructions of the elders was an accepted norm, and lower castes would bow before the castes above them. In those times, children were taught to respect elders from early childhood. It was probably alright then. In current times however, educating children to accept orders of an authority is like closing one’s eyes to their greatest needs. In the situations that children and youth find themselves today, the importance of respect and submission is not as important as that of individual thoughts and freedom of action.
What is the purpose of such an education? Complying with social norms is part of a life-order, and would always remain so. If everyone starts to do whatever he or she feels like, society would disintegrate. Of course parents should try to bring home to their children this fundamental truth.
At the same time, they should ensure that children do not see them merely as an idol or a riddle. Smart parents should try to behave as naturally with their children as possible – the purpose of life is not to follow orders, but to enter and live in the arena of common life. In fact, children who are trained to primarily follow orders end up having low self-confidence. They always wait for orders. We believe that no parent would want such an education for their children.
The other principle is that parents should not decide for their children, but should leave the decisions on them.
An emperor, handing over his child to a teacher, requested him: please make yourself redundant as soon as possible. Our duty is not to make our children follow our orders. Instead it is to make them capable of finding their own path. The more a child has such an independence, the more successful should his education be considered.
The third principle is that a household should be run democratically. However much we may believe in democracy, our homes are run autocratically. The head of the household, like Mussolini, pushes the household on the path he wishes to. And sometime, we see the complete reverse; there are no rules or norms. Every family member does whatever he or she wishes to. No one cares for another. Both these ways are miles away from the path of democracy.
We should seek opinions of children in all household matters. When shown a right path, even a young child starts understanding his or her responsibility. Even those children whose parents do not treat them well remain affectionate towards them. By their autocratic behaviour, however, the parents decimate this affection. We see the adverse effects of such a behaviour in so many households.
Even an ordinary person feels pride and joy when her place in the household is acknowledged. She feels special. A child too is not devoid of such feelings. The secret of a successful household is that all the members of the family have such a feeling of pride and belonging. A child reared in such a family would always protect its pride. Here he finds an opportunity to learn to form independent opinions.
It is possible that some parents have a bitter experience of allowing such freedom. They argue that when they allowed such independence, children only claimed their rights, and did not promote the well-being of the family.
Arrogance and pursuit of enjoyment is predominant in these children, many would say. Even here, it appears that the fault lies with their parents and not with the children. Educating children on being independent and responsible requires patience, time, wisdom and empathy. As soon as children start understanding the difference between an aana and a paisa, they should be given money in their hands to take care of their expenses. In teenage, they should be given a fixed scholarship, and supported to become competent in keeping their expenses within that amount.
We do not take care of these aspects – in many households, parents are as uninformed about their children as about their parrots or dogs. If we conduct an assessment of families of children who are miscreants and who are well-behaved, it would become clear that the root cause of any anomaly in personality lies with irresponsibility of the parents.
To develop a sense of independence, it is essential that as soon as possible, children are given an opportunity to work. We generally believe that duty of good parents is to keep children away from difficulties. The result is that children from affluent families become indolent. When they can get anything they want without industry, why should they work?
One of the core principles of psychology is that the children derive incomparable joy when they construct something with their own hands. The joy that a child receives in making a paper boat and floating it in water stream is much higher than what he ever gets in watching big ships. Well managed schools these days understand that getting children to work with their own hands, offers the biggest opportunity for mental and moral practice. There is no better method to raise their self-confidence.
In affluent families, it is considered disgraceful to allow children to work with their own hands. For everything there is a servant to help. For transport, there are cars. For wearing, they have cleaned and well-ironed clothes. For entertainment are cinemas and theatres. Such a state leads to a habit of dependence, that does not go away in their life-times. Children reared in such luxury often, out of their selfish interests, do not hesitate to act against interests of their brethren. They often turn out to be sycophants to governments of the day.
We often feel uneasy seeing children perform new tasks. He is handling the clock, he should not break it! She takes a pen in her hand, and we exclaim “Do not do it!”
We should enable unearthing of their natural creativity. If a child wants to make a toy or a wireless, go fishing, grow vegetables, stich the clothes, play flute, act in a play, or write poetry, do not dissuade him. The self-confidence that a child will acquire when she spends a few weeks amidst nature – rowing a boat in a river, driving in the wilderness, farming in a village – she can never acquire by reading books or listening to sermons. It is strange that even those parents, whose youth was spent facing difficulties, protect their children from these life-fervour enhancing tasks.
Let me tell you what do I mean when I say independence. It does not mean that we are able to do whatever we want to do. It only means that instead of an external force, a self-discipline guides our actions. A true free person is one whose life is guided by self-rule, who does not require any external force to do so. Children should be enabled to develop the wisdom by which they can assess virtues and vices of every act themselves.
Translated from the Hindi by Pavitra Mohan.