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As the winds of globalization sweep across many vistas of our lives, the latest “service provider" to fall prey to market forces is “parenting". A fraction of middle- and upper-class parents the world over seem to be sharing a preoccupation that begins the moment a child is conceived or born. Parents—from Beijing to Bengaluru—have a singular desire that their child should get admission in a competitive and prestigious college, and a coveted seat in a premium nursery and top school paves the way. This obsession, then, exerts a downward pressure on all parenting decisions, right from whether a developing foetus should be exposed to Mozart or if a two-year-old in Mumbai should attend phonics classes to get into kindergarten, to whether a seven-year-old in Manhattan in the US, should learn ballet or taekwondo. In different pockets of the world, mostly urban, educated and upper class, you can see the evolution of a homogenized parenting culture with a narrow, straitjacket view of success.

In fact, parents have themselves to blame for being such easy targets. Parental angst about competitive college admissions and a cut-throat job market is perfect fodder for advertising professionals who peddle products and services like computer games to make your children smarter or personality classes for toddlers. Parents are then brainwashed into believing that children cannot reach their dream college without these add-ons to a child’s resume. Now we even have apps to make children read more fluently and compute sums more fluidly.

Traditionally, parents have been the providers and caretakers, but nowadays they have amended their job description to include educational coach. In order to help children pursue “The Great College Dream", parents monitor their wards round the clock and micromanage their schedules, so that they build impressive résumés from preschool to high school.

Colleges are also morphing into “trade schools" where youngsters are prepared for the marketplace. Sadly, in the so-called “knowledge economy", skills are prized more than knowledge. Learning is becoming dated, with schools and colleges embracing a more utilitarian view of education.

Around two decades ago, good old-fashioned parenting, anywhere in the world, involved inculcating values through life’s teachable moments—helping a sick neighbour, feeding a stray cat, not littering the streets, respecting an elderly person stricken with Alzheimer’s. But now it’s not enough to have a caring, empathetic child, unless these traits reflect on his résumé. Thus, a consultant in Delhi advised the mother of a 10-year-old to not only pursue her child’s chess proclivities at a competitive level, but also to ask the child to teach the game to “poor kids". Here, the child is marrying her talent in chess with her empathetic side, only to wow potential college admission officers.

As parents’ anxieties shoot up, they begin to exert more control. Instead of letting their children take decisions like choosing their subjects or courses in high school, parents are taking hold of the reins to ensure their child doesn’t make non-optimal choices. As a result, children are not allowed to make mistakes that they can learn from and live with. At every step of the way, parents are handholding their wards, as mistakes, let alone failures, are too costly in today’s world.

And, ironically, this “global" generation, which grew up with 24x7 Internet connectivity, is more yoked to its parents than earlier ones. Children are no longer developing a sense of autonomy, which is essential for well-being. There is a subtle yet important difference between choosing to conform and being made to conform.

No matter where we live in the world, if we truly want our children to become resilient and reflective, we need to step aside and look back on how we were raised. Most well-adjusted, competent and caring individuals will probably realize that their parents took it one day at a time when it came to their upbringing. Perhaps, we, too, need to do just that with our wards and not get carried away by the growing tribe of transnational helicopter parents who hover incessantly over their children.

Aruna Sankaranarayanan is the founder and director of Prayatna, a centre for children with learning difficulties.

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