We, adults, are a bit too quick in judging children and adolescents. We make them feel bad about themselves. This may affect their self-esteem, self-confidence and the perception they have of themselves. We need to correct their faults but not necessarily by being harsh and judgmental.
We tend to categorize them as “stupid”, “careless”, “talkative”, “hopeless”, “stubborn”, “good for nothing”, “attardé”, “imbécile”, “enn piti minant kouma twa” and the like if we’re unhappy over behaviours that may have displeased and disappointed us. We often hear parents and teachers making a sweeping statement like “mo nepli kone ki pou fer ar twa!” or asking a disturbing question like “to pa konpran, ki ena dan to latet-la?” This may make the child withdraw into a shell. He may feel he is unwanted, disliked. Here’s a genuine remark an exasperated mother makes to a teacher: “Misie, ou kapav donn mo zanfan-la inpe leson. Selman mo fini dir ou ki li inpe kouyon kouyon. Li finn ariv dan klas x, me li ankor pe trene mem deryer lezot”. The child listens, lowers his eyes, confused.
We often jump to conclusions about children and adolescents without realising that all children don’t mature at the same rate. Teachers often assume that if ten students have understood a lesson, everyone must also have understood it. In case they haven’t, then, they’re lazy. The teachers allow their impatience to judge for them.
Not every student has the same concentration level. Some are brilliant at picking up information supplied to them immediately, and there are those who take time. There’s a concept called state of readiness. It’s not that the children are lazy but the truth may be that they may not, in psychological terms, have reached the state of readiness to assimilate even if the lesson has been simplified. The children may even be tagged as hopeless. We’re mistaken in our appraisal though not many parents and teachers would be willing to acknowledge it.
State of readiness has much to do with a child’s emotional and psychological state. Asking a child/adolescent a question just after a lesson and his inability to answer doesn’t make of him a fool. We generally label him as uninterested, lacking in attention or having issues with his memory. Do you know that making a shy child/adolescent stand up to answer a question, especially in English or French, may put him in an awkward situation, and out of embarrassment, the fear of being ridiculed if his answer is wrong, or linguistic handicap, he may not be able to express his answer? We judge him as inattentive to explanations when, in fact, the student is struggling inside himself with a psychological dilemma.
To a question like “Why did the mother wake her son early in the morning?” the child may have trouble deciding about “woke”, “waked”, “awaked”. He’s not sure. His mind is busy working out an answer. By the time he comes up with one, we’ve already judged him as weak in comprehending a question. Before he has time to answer, we ask him to sit down. The child looks around, perplexed. Children and adolescents are exposed to this kind of situation every day. So many times during a day they’re made to feel inferior or not good at all.
The state of readiness is associated with motivation. If children and adolescents are not showing interest or readiness to learn something, are they really to blame when, in reality, the teacher or the parent may not be having the necessary enthusiasm and passion to motivate and inspire?
We should be valorizing children and adolescents, not humiliating them with negative labelling. What the young think of themselves is more important than what others think of him. Let us, therefore, be careful about judging them.
Maturity is not achieved in a day. At one stage of his life, a child may not be ready to let things sink in his mind but then there comes a time when he sees what’s it’s all about. The tragedy of judging and labelling children and adolescents too quickly is that we don’t see how harmful it is but they do.
As a young adult, I couldn’t make head or tail of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by American writer James Thurber. A character is driving, then he’s on errands; at one moment he’s a pilot of an aircraft caught in a storm, at another he’s a top surgeon, then he’s a murderer who appears in the court with a sling in his arm (to suggest injury). The story seemed jumbled up. For months I kept blaming myself for not understanding it till one afternoon I watched “Chhoti Si Baat” (Small Matters), a hindi movie with Amol Palekar, in which a timid man dreams about romancing the girl he loves. He has no guts to reveal his feelings. In one scene, he appears in court with a sling in his right arm and proudly admits having killed his rival. The sling immediately took my mind to Thurber’s story. The man in the film was fantasising about doing bold things that in real life he couldn’t. Thurber’s hero was also an ordinary citizen constantly dreaming of achieving great things. He was a man caught between reality and fantasy.
At one moment I wasn’t mature enough to see the point of the story but with time and experience I acquired the necessary maturity to do so. It was foolish to have underestimated myself for not understanding the story at the first reading. Similarly, I wasn’t in a state of readiness to grasp Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” when I was young. Yet, years later, with growing maturity and a better understanding of literary terms like magical realism, multiple perspectives, inner lives of characters, use of memory as a tool in a narrative, fragmentary story-telling, epic sweep etc., I could make sense of it.
What kind of activities do we have at home and at school to help children and adolescents gain maturity appropriate to their age is a question worth asking.