Today, if one were to compare the childhood of a Gen X versus say a Gen Y kid, the difference would be a stark one. For those who were born in the simpler era of 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s will remember the days of Chitrahaar, making paperboats which would be laid on streams, playing outdoor games such as hide and seek, land, ice, water played with steps, chain cut, stapu, and maram peeti.
For the children of the present generation, a typical day in their lives is cramming at school, going to tuition afterwards, coming home and then heading to some extra-curricular activity which leaves them with little time to relax. In fact, barring a few colonies in the city, one hardly sees children playing any outdoor games or cycling.
Social activist and writer Chandana Chakrabarti recalls her childhood which was very different from that of children today. “I used to have make believe picnics under the cool shade of a tree in summer with kitchen toys and food sneaked out of my mom’s larder. We used to climb trees and walk on the compound walls resulting in perpetually bruised knees and elbows. If ever the bus was late, we would spend time playing hop-skip-and-jump. I remember just the act of wearing white canvas shoes and shorts made me feel like running. Summers were all about playing board games and rummy,” says Chandana. Blackouts in her day meant more play in the moonlight, rather than cribbing about dongles or wifi.
Before iPads, PlayStations and VR-based videos came along, children spent their time humming jingles, climbing trees to steal a seasonal fruit, rotating a top on the palm, striking marbles, struggling to finish a cursive handwriting book, waiting for the lunch bell to gossip in school, showing off artistic talent in history textbooks, doodling on the last page of notebooks, kneeling down for punishment and catching mythological TV shows on Sunday mornings. In fact, Tetries handheld game player was the only gadget at the time.
Boredom doesn’t quite figure in the dictionary of children today as gadgets are always handy. Parenting styles have also undergone many changes. Parents now put on Shinchan, Chhota Bheem or Doraemon to get the toddler to eat. Quite a difference from ‘look find the moon routine’ parents employed earlier to feed their child.
Where earlier schools prided themselves on having a playground with a basketball court and cricket pitch, today one would have to shell out lakhs of rupees as fee to access that. Also, some ‘concept’ schools have done away with playgrounds entirely. Playgrounds and parks have disappeared and picnics have become alien concepts. Toddlers in prams are kept occupied with tablets and iPads.
Twenty five-year-old Rasman Archana recalls the bond she shared with her brothers which is unlike the one shared today between siblings. “I would give anything to relive those days of pillow fights, playing pranks, planning surprises for our parent’s anniversary or decorating the house for special occasions and festivals, fighting over the TV remote, sharing the cot with one brother who pulled my blanket when it was bone-chilling cold and the other brother who always shared the warmth and sacrificed his blanket for two of us. Kids today hardly know the meaning of love and affection and misinterpret it with attitude and suffer from self-esteem issues,” says Rasman Archana.
Self-esteem and social skills
There was a time when somebody used to monitor children for better behaviour. Today’s children are isolated due to both working parents and lack of support system as grandparents live away. Understandably, they face bonding issues, can’t develop proper social interaction skills and can’t mould their emotions. “Previously, if a child was slightly aggressive they were put into sports so the aggression was diverted constructively. But you have schools which don’t have playgrounds now. They want children to start deciding about their future from kindergarten itself. So a child is under emotional stress and lot of pressure from parents and educational institutions from a very young age,” observes Purnima Nagaraja, consultant psychiatrist.
The influence of technology early on naturally leads to tech addiction which leads to behavioural issues. The impulse to one up each other on social media makes children falsely aspire for a life based on likes and shares. Today’s generation of kids has become superficial who bottle their feelings. As a result, it affects their ability to form close relationships with parents and elders. “The most common thing a parent does now is give a phone to a child asking for attention. Five or six years down the line, the same parent complains that her child is addicted to gadgets. Gadget addiction and isolated parenting has changed childhood today,” feels Purnima.
Children are likely to be violent, take revenge and get exposed to the wrong type of media. They can also face personality disorders. “I have seen people facing depression in the second decade of life but now I’m seeing patients as young as 11. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, all of these needs perception. Every parent wants their child to be a topper. When parents are competing with each other, the children become trophies, not a people close to your heart. So children feel isolated and become uninterested in anything which ultimately makes them stressed, depressed and can lead to suicidal tendencies,” adds Purnima.
On the flipside, children are also not interested in leaving their gadgets and indulging in physical activities. Tech savvy teenager Anurag Shah, a student of Fiitjee Hyderabad, who assembled a low cost computer at the age of 15 says, “Why do you want to drain your body when in 20 years you are going to have nanopods that basically do an entire physical workout for you. Do whatever you want to do now since 20 years later everything is going to become technology-based. You can use the time training your mind instead.”
Dr Durga Prasad, a consultant paediatrician from Apollo Hospitals, blames gadgets for weakening the immune system. He says, “Gadget addiction is a major cause for obesity. Children are not exposed to the sun and they don’t play outdoor games which weakens their immunity. Eating junk food and sitting at one place is making them more obese.”
Understanding the implications of such a lifestyle, parents are now going back to the roots and are now paying money for activities which were free once upon a time. Parents are trying to introduce their child to the outdoors to experience rustic charms, nature’s bounty and more importantly cherish simple joys of life. Dirty feet Hyderabad lets children enjoy their childhood the way they should and encourages them to explore and be curious. They encourage children to be mischievous and dirty their hands, feet, with pottery making, farming, fishing and playing in the mud. At the end of the day, basics do matters, isn’t it.