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     Volume 4 Issue 67 | October 14, 2005 |

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Food For Thought

Out of the Mouths of Babes…

Farah Ghuznavi

Most parents would probably argue that a fundamental element of child-rearing is to teach your children the important things i.e. about manners, values and priorities. They are undoubtedly right, given the number of (not particularly noble) little savages wandering around, who have clearly NOT benefited from such guidance. Unsurprisingly, this is a problem that can sometimes get worse, as children get older. A chance encounter with one such "feral teenager" some years ago led to the coining of the immortal phrase (at least, in my immediate friends' circle…) - "Who dragged you up, since you were clearly not brought up?"

While not in any way attempting to undermine the importance of parental guidance however, it must be said that it is not always quite as effective as one might wish. For example, if parents themselves have been "dragged up", they may have little to offer their offspring in the way of good advice. Indeed, in the UK, one of the criticisms of the current government's crackdown on anti-social behaviour is that it does not take this into account. For example, if as proposed, parents of truant children are to be forced to stay home with their children as a punishment(!), this may just result in more bad behaviour all around, especially if the parents themselves are less than well-behaved.

This is actually a real danger, though it may sound slightly absurd. For instance, it has been found that there is a severe shortage of volunteer referees (usually it is public-spirited parents who do this job) for children's sports in the UK, because the people who do volunteer are tired of the harassment, abuse and occasional violence they face in the course of their jobs….from the parents who come to watch their children's games! One can hardly blame the children for misbehaving when their parents are setting them such a wonderful example!

All this aside, even well-meaning parents, who want to help their children by advising them well, may face problems in doing so. Particularly given the increasingly odd situations that pop up in the brave new world of the twenty-first century nursery (one of my friends in London is struggling with the fact that her two-and-a-half-year-old son has just learned to say "Britney Spears" at his nursery -- this is not quite the female role model she had in mind for him)….

In one instance, my friend and her husband recently faced a difficult situation with their five-year-old daughter, who was being threatened by one of the little boys in her class. He would come up to her and say, "I'm going to beat you up!" Not surprisingly, Anika was not too thrilled by the prospect. Since bullying in schools has become a growing concern, her parents were determined to advise their daughter well.

Anika's mother, Reema, tried to reassure her by saying, "He probably just wants to be your friend but doesn't know how. He's doing this to get your attention." Anika was not too impressed by her mother's logic, saying, "But why does he want to beat me up then?" (a fairly logical question, one would think). Her father, less sensitive in his approach, said (to his wife's horror) "Tell the little beast that you will hit him if he doesn't leave you alone!" Reema need not have worried. Her five-year-old is very well brought up. She said, without missing a beat, "Oh, Daddy! I can't do that! It would be so rude!"

And it's not only in the case of five-year-olds that parental advice may be totally redundant. A Canadian friend of mine is fond of telling the story of her mother's reaction when Queen Elizabeth II came to town. Jan is an only child, and her mother can sometimes be a little… overprotective. While Canada is notoriously different from its neighbour to the south, the extent to which this is true was perhaps evident in Jan's mother's fears about the security of the school children who would be greeting the Queen's motorcade as it made its way through the city (or maybe her mother is just paranoid!).

No doubt having visions of JFK's assassination in Dallas, she told her daughter, "If you hear the sound of bullets, don't look around just hit the ground! And then, crawl your way into a nearby building…" Just as her mother began to suggest which building she should crawl her way into, ten-year-old Jan was unable to take this well-meaning torrent of instructions any longer - she begged her mother to just--get a grip on herself!

Sometimes, of course, there is no question regarding who is in charge. Recently my friend and her three-year-old daughter dropped by on their way home from a children's birthday party. The little girl, Laila, was carrying a small bag of goodies, including sweets and chocolate that she had been given at the party. Within five minutes of arriving at my house, Laila told her mother that she wanted some chocolate. My despairing friend, who has been trying fruitlessly to cut down on her daughter's sugar consumption, protested feebly saying, "But darling, you said you would have chocolate later!" And with impeccable logic, her three-year-old said, "But Ma, akhon to later (but now is later)!"

And finally, there are always those situations as a parent, when it's hard to know just what to say as my friend Nadine found out to her horror when her six-year-old, Jessica, told her that her two friends (a boy and a girl) had just got married in nursery school that day, because they wanted to have a baby - "And they had a baby right away!" said Jessica, in a rather disapproving tone. While a shocked Nadine pondered on what to say, her daughter rightly read the bewilderment on her mother's face, and tried to reassure her by saying, "It's not a real baby, Mummy; it's just a doll!"

Quaking internally in trepidation, her mother ventured a question, "Do boys ever ask you to get married, Jessica?" "Oh yes, often", she responded casually. "And what do you say?" asked her worried mother. "Oh," responded the smart little girl, "I tell them I'm too young"…

Well, that's one child who didn't need any parental advice!

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