Slice of life: Why put so much stress on children

March is the time of chewed fingernails and frayed tempers. March is the month when the heat goes up, in terms of climatic temperature in as well as the atmosphere at home. Stress for lakhs of Indian parents and their wards define March. It is the time when their children appear for board exams. In most homes, the atmosphere in the house changes. There is no din of the television, no music, no talking loudly and even worse, no laughter. There is a reverence maintained, as you have to honour the board exam, that one term which is enough to make even the most easy-going parent, sit up in bed, like a soldier in the army, who has heard his morning wake-up alarm. Every member tiptoes around lest they disturb the VIP of the moment, the candidate who has to give the exams. I always wonder why is it that we Indians say “give the exam” rather than appear for the exam or take an exam?
The WhatsApp Mothers group that I am a part of sends out frantic assurances. “Hope our kids do well,” “All the best to our kids,” and even photos of children having breakfast and smiling before they leave for exams, with a comment that the children are relaxed and the school must be doing something great, if this is so. I wonder why the fathers aren’t a part of this group. Is it only the mother’s prerogative to worry about her children’s future prospects, exam dates and exam results? Why are the fathers immune to the stress and strain?
Amy Chua’s book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom which stirred a hornet’s nest a few years back at the time of its release, talks about how she pushed her daughters from a young age, using what is viewed in the western world as cruel, insensitive methods which used threats and name calling. She talks about how she threatened to donate her very young daughter’s dollhouse, piece by piece to the Salvation Army, if she didn’t perfect a particular piano piece by the next morning. It is a memoir, which can be interpreted as differently as the number of people who read it. Some see the self-deprecatory tone and the honesty. Others see only the superiority. The book generated many debates about the right and wrong ways of parenting and whether it is okay to put extreme pressure on kids to be achievers.

The social media is full of memes about exams, tips to succeed, things to remember and do’s and don’ts before exams. Recently a video went viral on the social media. It showed two men, stereotypically portrayed, one a north Indian Punjabi and the other a south Indian Tamilian, both having a conversation with each other, along with their sons. The Tamilian dad asks the north Indian what the percentage of marks that his son scored was. When he tells him, he makes a statement that his son scored higher. The north Indian dad then asks if his son got a best-actor award. When the Tamilian dad says he didn’t, he asks if he won in a debate. Again the answer is a no. He then says “Oh it’s okay, I am presuming he at least must have won something in some extra-curricular activity,” and both the father-son duo walk away triumphantly, even as the Tamilian dad is shown berating his son for not participating.
While what they tried to convey through the video that a well-rounded personality is more important than scoring high marks, is definitely spot-on, what I had a problem with, was the stereotyping. Why do we have to bring in a north and south divide? Why not just show two set of parents, one who incessantly emphasises on academics, and the other who believe that taking part in all activities is important.
What I also disliked is the importance placed on winning something. In a debate or elocution, if 50 children take part, only three can be declared winners. Does it mean that the efforts of the 47 who have practised for days, sweated out nervously, gathered all their courage to speak in public and having successfully done so, does not count, just because they didn’t win? That little piece of certificate which says that you stood first or second, is only reflective of the opinion of the two or three judges who decided the winners that day.
To me, everyone who has tried to do something out of his or her comfort zones, is already a winner.
(Preeti Shenoy is the author of eight bestselling books,the latest being a fiction titled It’s All In The Planets)