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Unkindest cut-offs

What will our children say of us? As parents, do we encourage or exasperate them?

A seasoned speaker once recounted a slice of life from his teenage years. His father would drive him and his brother once a year through the campus of the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai famous for its wildlife. “Look at those deer. If they write the JEE [Joint Entrance Examination for admission to the IITs], they will score higher than you,” the father would tell the siblings.

The drive through the campus was to inspire the boys to get admission to the premier institute. However, one of them took another path and did extremely well in the field he chose for himself. Being a well-known speaker, he was invited to preside over a function on the IIT campus. Calling up his father, he enquired, “Appa, do you know where I am invited to speak today?”

On a casual walk in a park, I came across a woman and her daughter taking a stroll. After exchanging pleasantries, I asked why the girl looked so despondent and miserable. The mother said, “Her father is angry that she did not score high in the NEET [National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test for admission to the medical course]. He is furious and was scolding her.”

The girl looked so downcast that I feared she would do something unwise. The sorrow etched on her face is still hard to forget.

Seared into memory

Harsh or sarcastic words linger long in one’s memory. So do kind words. Once at a college function, a doctor said he did not get through the medical entrance test the first time and had to sit for it another year. He recalled how his mother told him, ‘I’m glad I can spend a year with you at home.”

Some 30 years later, the doctor recounted those words to his audience. Surely, the kindness of his mother left a mark in him. A woman told me how the family was in turmoil after her son got into a college but was disgruntled with the course he signed up for. He showed his discontent by skipping classes, much to the anguish of his parents. Finally, she and her husband told the boy, “Choose whatever stream you want. We are there to back you.”

Eventually, the boy settled down in a stream of his choice and did exceptionally well. I can only imagine how when he looks back, he will remember with gratitude the way his parents stood behind him as pillars of support.

The family should be a place where the child is trained to handle unnecessary comparisons and hurtful remarks from others. While it is hard to change government stands on educational policies, we can surely change how we talk to our children. We can lift them up, encourage them and give them hope with our words. Surely their worth is not defined by how much they score in exams.

As parents, we must toe the fine line of inspiring them and prodding them on to achieve their full potential, yet without exasperating them. It is tough to strike a balance between the two.

As we meander through the path of purposeful parenting, let us pause to consider the words we use with our children.

anupamathomas

1989@gmail.com

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Printable version | Nov 23, 2020 10:48:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/unkindest-cut-offs/article32880033.ece

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