On a recent trip to my hometown (by marriage) of Shillong I came to hear a word that has been long forgotten in our usage of the English language. It is a delightful word – shenanigans ‘ – that is defined by the dictionary as “a playful and mischievous act.” What was even more interesting was that it was used by our host – who happened to also own a play school – to describe the innocent pranks of his young wards.
Why did this particular word catch my attention? And why am I writing about it? Simply because today the shenanigans of our children, be it in school, or outside are being increasingly (and scarily) overanalyzed by the so-called and largely self proclaimed hyper vigilantes of our society! These vigilantes come in many forms mind you – teachers, neighbors, peers, and sometimes even parents themselves. All of whom – in their zest to raise the “perfect child” (oh dear me) are getting more and more intolerant and impatient by the day.
Let me make one thing clear. I am not in any way undermining the importance of mental health and the need for therapy when required (I myself benefitted from therapy years ago when I was going through a particularly traumatic time in my life). Yes, life can get tough at times, and am sure most of us can benefit to have a non-judgmental and objective shoulder to cry on, and show us the way when we happen to lose ours. But when the use of therapy, or ‘psychological evaluation’ or ‘occupational therapy’ is advocated as a rule rather than the norm and the mostly innocent pranks of children are increasingly viewed as something that needs ‘psychological’ attention, I think I have cause for worry!
And I take some comfort knowing that I am not the only one. For in a recent, very animated, discussion in my son’s school it was reassuring to hear many parents voice the same outrage. Yes, it is outrageous, and ludicrous when changing moods and often, playful acts of mischief are viewed as ‘disturbing behavior’ often seen as arisen from something ‘dark’ or ‘negative’ in the child’s life or environment. Must we insist on overanalyzing everything a child does or say? Children do and say the oddest of things at times, they go through changes in moods, behaviors, and emotions. To me, that’s pretty normal stuff, and an essential part of growing up. In fact, I would be worried if they didn’t exhibit any of these!
Also, what’s this fixation with raising the ‘perfect’ child? A child who knows it all, makes no mistakes, always says and does the ‘right’ things, and in short: has it all figured out! Shudder! I still have to find an ‘adult’ who is all of this leave alone a child. (Oh yes, there are individuals and families who seem ‘perfect’ or try and project an image of being ‘perfect’ but let’s not kid ourselves shall we? Striving to achieve perfectionism is not all bad, but let’s not hang ourselves or our kids in doing so.)
So let’s just back off a bit. Let’s give our kids the room to grow at their own pace. Let’s not try and push them into adulthood too fast. Let them make their mistakes. Let them flounder. Only then will they learn to fight, to cope, and survive in the big bad world. Let them have that ‘dark’ phase. It’s just a phase. They will get over it. Be there, keep a watchful eye but let’s not rush to the neighborhood child specialist (oh yes, they are as commonplace as the GP of yesteryear!) every time your kid ‘acts out’ or some ignorant (read insensitive) vigilante remarks “what is wrong with your child?” or “he/she is an odd one” or “why does he/she seem so angry all the time?” Have a little faith. In yourself, in your child and in the world too. All that is needed is a little tolerance, acceptance, patience and a big, big dose of good old-fashioned common sense!
And yes, while you are at it, cut yourselves a little slack too. After all, nobody got it right the first time. Be it our grandparents, or our parents. They had their own battles to fight. Sure, we do seem to have plenty of our own. But maybe we need to take a page out of their books. Let nature take its course. Let’s get down to the basics. Let our kids enjoy their childhood. Let us enjoy their childhood too, with all their shenanigans! Let’s not script their lives, and pack each hour with “meaningful” and “productive” activities. And yes, definitely lay off the vigilantism. Our world doesn’t need more of “perfect” individuals, it needs more good and caring souls, the creative thinkers, the doers, and even the oddballs!