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Childhood and Growth in Today’s World - by Asif Zaidi

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Almost every generation of adults has had it as pastime to indulge in reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ and disapproving of what they would name as ‘today’s generation.’

However, it is a fact that urbanization, fast-paced lifestyles, and technological developments have combined to make parenting children a more difficult ask today than it was before. At the outset, let’s notice that conflict of a sort between age and youth is as old as the life and it seems to be inborn in the human state of affairs. Youth is the clime in human life which instils a high degree of confidence in one’s ability to alter the world in view of one’s ideals. A young person’s ideals and the confidence he has in his ability to realise these makes him somewhat impatient with the status quo. He longs for the opportunity to put his designs into practice. This attitude which is a characteristic of youth of all epochs has been complicated by some extraordinary factors of our times that have contributed to significantly close up the gap between youth and age – most importantly of all, the psychological gap.

The younger folks of today have complete access, thanks to ubiquitous electronic and social media, to practically everything that is capable of being known and nothing, in knowledge and happenings, is immune from their gaze, enquiry, and analysis. Internet and media have eroded all means of insulation that could keep children immune from any prejudicial or premature impressions from the external world. The awareness of the child in relation to the world outside of his own being is now totally incapable of being controlled by parents or teachers. Today our children are exposed to all content that is intended to be directed solely at the adults, and parents must know to help them deal with undesirable impressions without their sensibility being either tarnished or dulled.

With abundant means to verify anything at children’s disposal, denial or dithering are not options anymore. A false attitude to life would further challenge and even distort a young mind, making a child cynical about his cultural environment and sceptical of his teacher or the parent’s authority. The children are increasingly aware that they know as much as, if not more than, their parents and teachers. The challenge today is to train young minds to absorb the right kind of knowledge, to know how to treat information, and to be able to handle their often premature awareness of the world and life’s facts.

A child has full access to prejudicial opinion without possessing the inner maturity to sift and critically examine the facts. Confronted with this situation a child develops the feeling that he is capable of coming to judgment on almost all issues that interest him. What this has meant is that –in terms of psychology if not biology- the conventional harmonious connection of youth and age reflecting different seasons of life is under considerable pressure. On the one hand, children know very much more than they should and on the other the mature element of society, mostly represented by the parents and teachers, tends to become superficial or evasive.

We have known for a long time that a growing child in his infancy continues to be part of the psychological organism of his mother’s being and thereafter –to a lesser extent- his father and teacher’s beings. A part of mother’s thoughts and being crystallizes into the infant’s personality. Similarly the authority of human tradition and values embodied by the father, the teacher, and others close to the child has a direct bearing upon the development of the child. Thus we need to understand that we have a greater role to play than ever before in the psychological environment to which our children are called upon to adjust, thus making the presence of immature parents and half-educated teachers disruptive.

While the laws of physical world of human growth have not altered much, the laws of mental world are experiencing a metamorphosis. Ever more, our bodies live in our minds and not our minds in our bodies. The factors described above mean that it is increasingly imperative to get the young child’s mental make-up right from the very early stage of his life. Today’s child is better equipped for seeing through superficiality and fake erudition of those who are their guides and their mentors. The spirit of this digital age of ours is such that the conventional psychological gulf between youth and age is fast vanishing. In fact, the distinction between the consciousness characteristics of youth and age has been lost.

While the work of personal growth is never finished, it is our responsibility to inculcate the courage and commitment for authentic personal growth in the children we are responsible for. There is an old dictum that says, every wave is as big as the water underneath it. The same can be said for the personality of a person. The personality of a person is as deep as the cultural background in which it is formed. For instance, a wise person and a child both are at peace with the world but the wise person represents a much higher expression of life, as his being at peace with world has a much richer background in terms of his evolution wrought by his life’s experiences and his ability to learn. The modern automated world in which we live has reduced most of us to anonymity. This, in varying measures, is true of the automated work that most people do in order to participate in the economic venture of contemporary life. Socially also, internet networking affords little opportunity to become the cynosure of the neighbouring eyes. It is difficult to claim acknowledgment of true magnificence in the midst of the welter of voices that are so loudly being projected everywhere. In most cases the only sure way of drawing attention to oneself is to make a nuisance of oneself.

In order to seek true self-improvement, one has to learn the difficult art of getting away from oneself, from one’s immediate physical environment, and from the conditions which hold one in their grip. When one gets away from oneself, one can see oneself as imperfect and tries to improve oneself. We are all at the centre of our own universes, our personal awareness that a universe exists entirely dependent on the fact that we are in it. For most of us, trying to imagine an infinite universe is overwhelming, as is trying to imagine what's beyond a universe that –even more unthinkable, in a way– is not infinite. I am grateful that I live in a time when I can literally ground myself, reminding myself of where I am, on the revolving planet Earth, of which I have seen photographs, within the solar system, revolving around the revolving sun, which I can see, as regular and predictable as the fact that night follows day, so to speak. Simple, basic scientific fact, easy to take for granted. I am lucky that I live in a time and a culture that knows something of its physical place in the cosmos. Science is a comfort and a balm.

But it is worth thinking about what it must have been like, trying to manage without it. The idea of being a human trying to make sense of existence without such knowledge – life could be one long panic attack. Unless, of course, you could console yourself with the idea that making sense of it all was the responsibility of some other all-powerful being, who expected of you nothing more than adherence to a few simple rules. What a great relief that would have been, what a soothing alternative to a long and tortuous nightmare of existential fear. And for many people, it still is. Campaigning rationalists, like Richard Dawkins, would do well to think a little about the importance of the psychological support they are trying to wrest off people, when they try to wrest away their God. The fact is, we don't know about the vast majority of the universe - we don't even know what's at the bottom of the sea! Each discovery unfolds other mysteries. We should not feel compelled to postulate an absolute in order to compensate for the absolute postulated by the theologians.

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