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Updated: Aug 9, 2022

My biggest woe as a highschooler was having to wear a uniform that I detested: a long, pleated skirt made of terry cotton tied at the waist with strings and a shirt with big collars. The change from the simple pinafore to the long skirt and the inconveniences it caused were my greatest grouse as I crossed the threshold of middle school, not studies, not exams nor homework. There was least concern about grades or rank, about classmates who made better cuts and I had zero clue about what lay ahead of me in the future. My parents set no benchmarks nor did they foist unrealistic expectations upon me. School and college years passed like a long excursion despite the minor frustrations immanent in that age.

Let us cut to the new times and take stock of our children who are busy trapezing between school, special classes, extracurricular activities often thrust upon them, endless tasks, tall expectations and unsolicited advice on their career from all over. Saddled with all of the above, they are now a mass of messed-up brains, with the words ‘stress’ and ‘pressure’ rolling off their tongues at the drop of a hat. What changed in the last few decades apart from the entry of the internet that our children are under constant duress of the kind we have not known in our childhood? And how sensitized and responsive are we towards it?

From the numerous conversations I have with young people, I am noticing that the fulcrum of pressure is slowly shifting from parents to peers. In the beginning, there was a lot of din around how parents imposed their dreams on their children and excellence was non-negotiable. It is a matter of some relief that many parents have now begun to realize the adverse effects of making their children the natural inheritors of their dreams. A number of children now admit that while parents still insist on good results and performances, and they do not compromise on grades, there is no apparent force to pursue fixed paths. And that is some solace, to say the least.

It makes me safely conclude that what is wiping the smiles off our children’s faces is the pressure that they are taking up from others in their own fold. They are feeding off each other’s ambition and eagerness to succeed. Their fear of failure is augmented by the prospect of a peer’s victory over them. It all seems like boiling down to their position vis-a-vis the other person’s position in life. Their reference points have shifted from their own capabilities to their peers’. And this completely changes the way they view their self-worth and their place in the world.

The fact that we live in a world of cut-throat competition and only the best will survive cannot justify the amount of pressure children undergo to make themselves counted on the planet. The theory of natural selection cannot be cited as a reason for our children to be striving for distinction at all times. Every parent will instinctively want their offspring to build a life of affluence and prestige but let not these aspirations become the sole purposes of their lives. Coercion by parents may not be overt anymore; but their influence can work unobtrusively, playing on the children’s mind, reminding them repeatedly of their obligation to bring home the trophies and later, handsome salaries.

At 15, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life. Today at 14 and 15, children who still can’t figure where their heart lies and what their inclinations are, are expected to make blueprints for their future life. Their panic at being warned by parents and teachers that their indecision, inaction and lack of clarity about their end goals could prove to be disastrous makes them feel like losers even before they have set off on their journeys. It is a condition that vexes me and one I wish to rectify.

Our children must have a secure future for certain, but it should not be built on pressures that obliterate the sweet naiveties and simple joys of childhood. Success must not be linked to money alone, and self-worth should not be gauged by their power to beat others. For this to actualize, we adults must first step back and look at life’s bigger picture and know what really matters to us and to our children. They do not deserve to go to bed every night with the fear of lagging behind and losing the race. They must be handed the kaleidoscope and encouraged to watch the patterns, so they know there are different ways to design their life and myriad colours to embellish it.

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