Hiding behind a mop of hair is a twenty year old at the gym who looks like he aspires to be an actor. As he runs, I see his hair swinging from side to side in front of his eyes, pendulum-esque in the way it’s hypnotizing me!
I’m assuming it’s possible to run on a treadmill without having complete periphery vision but when he starts picking up weights, I’m cringing! I resist the urge to take off my tic tac pins and pin his hair back, much like I do when BabyA roams around in her possessed Tantric avatar. He manages to carry the weights bar, do his set and place it back! The only satisfactory explanation would be that he has developed a sixth sense, much like the blind, where he no longer relies on vision to guide him through life.
They call it the “Narcissism Epidemic” (phrase coined by Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell) in the US, and it’s a generation of kids that are so obsessed with themselves that they are unable to see anything beyond. Calling them horses with blinkers would be a wrong analogy because that would mean that there is some one-dimensional exterior focus, but in this case, there is none. The mop of hair is fashionable, and also metaphorical for the way they lead their lives: unconcerned with a view of the outside because they are focused on their own thoughts, feelings and wants!
This narcissistic generation has been given whatever they want, and haven’t learned how to hear a no. And I feel like our kids are going to be the narcissistic generation of India because we tremble when they crumble. We are so afraid of their tantrums, especially publicly, that we just don’t want to dismay them. It’s a role- reversal from our grandparents’ time where our parents peed in their pants with a raised eyebrow of their mother/father. And now one quivering lip and we are ready to bend over and do somersaults for our tots.
Today’s psychological trend is to over-sensitize us to our kids’ feelings. There was an era (of famines, plagues, World Wars and sickness) when they felt like kids needed to be made aware of the severity of life, thus, they composed nursery rhymes that revealed the harsh realities of the world like Rock a Bye Baby or Ring a Ring o’ Roses. Now we feel like we need to protect our children from these stories and songs, which teach them about death and wars. We believe that they aren’t prepared to deal with these subjects at such a young age.
We are told to be gentle with our children, never speak to them harshly and explain things to them rather than exercise any absolute authority. This comes from a world where psychologically all our scars are blamed onto our childhood and parents. There is very little accountability for our own thoughts and reactions, and much more blame pushing: as if our entire life depends solely on what mistakes our parents made with us.
This puts a lot of stress on today’s parents. We don’t want to be blamed for making our children dysfunctional adults. I appreciate that childhood is very important in the way our minds/ lives are shaped but I wonder if children are really that fragile. I was born a middle child who spent her entire childhood being called “Kalaini” (crank-pot/ pain-in-the-ass) and believing that no one loved me. I had the most contentious relationship with my mother and I got a slap daily (well deserved). Then I turned 19 and left for the U.S. to study and that’s when I realized how much my mother (and everyone else) loved me.
Today, I am a secure adult who feels loved, and confident in my skin. My mom scolding/ slapping me when I deserved it hasn’t debilitated me beyond repair. In fact, I’m someone who has value for things, knows how to adjust into the Big Fat Marwari Joint Family and has compassion for people around me, always ready to help. I don’t, at all, advocate hitting kids or being a dictator parent but I just want to point out that possibly kids’ minds aren’t as delicate as we think they are.
I make sure not to be overprotective about my child. I chose not to send BabyA to a play school where everything was sanitized a hundred times because I didn’t want her to grow up with an unexposed and fragile immunity. I choose everyday to let her fall so that she learns to dust herself off and get up again. I tell her that I can’t afford to buy her a kinder joy chocolate (costing RS. 40) except on special occasions, but she can splurge Rs. 10 on any sweet that she wants, once a week.
The narcissism epidemic seems to have come about because parents are afraid to teach their kids the most important fundamental rule of life: Newton’s 3rd law- for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Kids don’t seem to face consequences for their actions at home. And with the break up of extended families and people deciding to have only one child, these kids are ruling the roost.
It is a child’s natural urge to want. It is the parent’s responsibility to teach them that you have to earn things in life. It is our duty to make them ready for the life they shall face when they leave the nest. Buying them every lollipop they want because they lie down, dandvath style, and scream outside the store, is giving them the message that the world must stop when they feel upset. Letting them win every game of Hungry Hippos, while they cheat, guiding several balls into their hippo’s mouth, is sending them the message that their momentary happiness is more important than fairness. Every time we go and complain to their teacher that someone hit them (once!) in class, or told them she didn’t want to be their friend, we steal them of the tools that we should be equipping them with in life: disappointment and the knowledge that everything doesn’t go the way we want. Sometimes people don’t like us and that’s ok! Every time we pull them out of a class because the teacher was stricter than they were used to at their free-play, colour-outside-the-lines, be-you-because-you-are-unique play school, we send them the message that your feelings come first and adaptability is not a crucial life skill.
When we signed up for parenthood, whispering in their ears that we would always protect them, is this what we meant? Is reality something we should be protecting our kids from, or have we become afraid of our children: afraid to disappoint them?
Failure is such an essential teacher. It brings out character in children and yet, we deny them of this life tool when they live under our wings. We think of emotional negligence as something that inattentive parents are guilty of but overattentive parents are being accused of the same. Parents who repeatedly protect their kids from failure, disappointment (by always saying yes to them) and uncomfortable change are neglecting their children emotionally by not equipping them with the skills to go out and handle the “big, bad world”.
These kids are growing up in a cocoon where they are the only life form that matters, and when they are forced to leave home for college or work, they are not soaring like butterflies but crumbling (suffering from loneliness, depression, etc.) because they can’t believe that they aren’t the center of the world (“What do you mean the world is round and doesn’t have a center?!”)
In a world where kids are spending more time perfecting their duckfaced pouts for selfies than paving a career path, social media has become their primary life space where they weave illusions about themselves. People are becoming mini (and major) celebrities based on how they market themselves rather than based on what they have achieved. Kids are fooled into believing that this momentary fame built on fluff about their uniqueness (equated to coolness) is something that will help them sail through life. What they don’t realize is that their peers (with their ADHDs and multiple shallow psychological diagnoses, adding to their uniqueness) have short attention spans that last as long as this new age, social butterfly’s lifetime: a fraction of a moment. After all Mylie Cyrus’ antics can only interest people as long as Paris Hilton’s friendship with Nicole Ritchie did. At the end, Malala Yousafzai’s courage, character and charity must serve as better cushioning (than Kim Kardashian’s behind) to the hardships of life.