Giving children a voice

Parents talk a lot about the kind of children they want to raise. We want them to be curious, good citizens, well rounded individuals, have a moral compass. The list goes on.

One of things I want my children to have is a voice (and if the universe is listening, I’d also like to bump in to Ryan Gosling. Just putting it out there).

Back to the kids though; I’d like them to grow up feeling that they have a voice, the right to state their opinions and be heard. And in a time when voicing contrary opinions seems bring one nothing but trouble, I think it’s more important than ever for them to know this. What happens to that voice in a society that is increasingly telling them that they’re better off keeping their head down and not saying a word?

So where does a child first experience this right to dissent? In their homes? Classrooms? Playgrounds? All adult controlled spaces. Even the playground, the last bastion of children’s freedom is now monitored by hawk eyed mothers and nannies.

I’m not going to pretend like I know how to raise children with a voice. Or that we have some well oiled machinery in our home going, where our kids say what they want and we always have a rational discussion before coming to a bloodless resolution. I can often be found screaming at the top of my voice “You have to wear underpants because I say so.” Not so democratic. But that happens. A lot.

So what do I mean by being democratic? Well, within the rules and bylaws of our home I try and let the children have a say in what they want to do. Because we do have rules: rules about homework, bedtime, mealtimes, screen time, play time, brushing our teeth, manners, flushing the toilet, washing hands. And wearing underpants. Because if we didn’t have them there would be commando style anarchy in our house. But within those rules, there is room for dissent. They can and often do say “I don’t like your rules. They’re terrible.I hate them.”

We stopped Taek Wan Do classes after three years and six belt progressions, because “It’s my free time and I should spend it how I like.”

Where is this all leading? Honestly I have no idea. But if it plants the seed that they don’t have to agree with everything and everyone around them all the time, then I’ll be happy.

I am writing this week’s article, the day after returning home from my first every protest rally. I wasn’t going to go to be honest, and then I thought of all the gyaan I’d been spewing at my kids, and thought, well if I don’t go and do this, how can I ask them to? So I stepped out, shouted slogans, made a human chain. And felt wonderfully buoyant after the experience. I had exercised a basic right.

And when my son came home and complained about how he didn’t like something in school, I was able to tell him with some moral authority that he should and could do something about it.

So, what’s the first rule in giving your children a voice? Assume that what they have to say about the world is just as important as what you have to say.


This first appeared here in The New Indian Express, City Express, Chennai Edition.


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