September 20, 2019 – some very disturbing news. A friend from our neighbourhood in Mumbai lost his 18-year old son. How this exactly happened is yet to be ascertained, but given that he hadn’t been able to clear his Std 12 exams, he must have been feeling down. Whether a freak accident or an intentional act at home, the loss of a young life is heartbreaking.
While the family grapples with the situation, social media is abuzz with comments about the academic pressures on our high school children. I was reminded of a short speech by my son Siddharth a few weeks ago. Siddharth, like this young boy, did the Std 12 exams in March 2019. He was the topper in our apartment complex in Mumbai, in terms of marks obtained. On Independence Day, after the flag hoisting, our local apartment group generally recognises the achievements of children and this year he was honoured to be asked to talk to those present.
There were just 3 things he said, summarised below.
1. Marks are not everything. (There is so much more to life than your Std 12 marks. Later in life no one is going to ask you how much you got in Std 12.)
2. There are many things one can do along with studies. (There is no need to keep studying all the time. Parents put pressure on the children to keep studying. There are so many things other than studying like drawing, running, etc.)
3. Let your children discover what they want to do. (Don’t push your children into engineering, medicine, etc. First ask them what they want to do.)
Basic advice from an 18 year old, impromptu. Simple, but mostly ignored.
Parents do want the best for their children. Most still believe that the only way to a good job that will earn good money, leading to a good life and status is by studying engineering, medicine or chartered accountancy (in general). Once they’ve done any of these, they can choose to do something else later. They get them to start preparing right from high school, cutting out most of the hobbies and extra-curricular distractions. Sports or music or painting or modelling as a profession is out of the question. These can only be pastimes. I’ve had people ask me how my son could go for athletics training while in Std 12, and what future will my son have if he is going to be doing just a BSc.
Children, from a young age, are groomed to believe that that the only way to a good life is a job that will earn good money, and this is only by studying engineering, medicine or chartered accountancy. Often they feel obligated to fulfill their parents’ dreams. They are scared to tell them about their own dreams. “Dad’s heart will break if I tell him that I want to be a copywriter instead of an engineer.” If they do not do well enough to get that coveted seat, they have no where to go. They cannot face their friends and family. They feel like failures. And this world has no place for failures.
Each child has different capabilities and interests, different dreams. Some may be unrealistic or conflicting but it is for us to help the children find their way. Teachers who interact with the children on a daily basis can be valuable guides. Parents can take the outside help of trained counselors if they can’t manage on their own. Children need to know that ‘failure’ is inevitable in life, and any time they feel they have failed they just need to get up and try again.
Let not life revolve around money and recognition. The world is different from what it was 30 years ago. There are many alternative careers that can be fulfilling. When you get up in the morning, do you feel enthused to go to your workplace? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you know you’re on the road to happiness. This is something no money can buy. Let this be so for our children too.