What to teach our children
BY REHAM BARAKAT
Let’s get one thing straight upfront: I don’t have children. But I do remember very clearly what it means to be a child. I remember what it was like to win a sports tournament at a very young age and be showered with praise and to feel awkward when receiving my trophy. I also remember what it was like to lose another and to come in second place; it was also awkward. Looking back at that time, sports was only about winning or losing, it wasn’t what it is today for me, for health and pleasure.
This morning when I was exercising at the club, I watched a teenager playing tennis with what appeared to be either his father or his coach. It was exhilarating to see the boy’s energy as he fought territorially for the ball until he hit it in the net and the father/coach looked very disappointed. That frown took me years back to the days when I used to train for sports competitions, to a time when enjoyment of sports was not on the curriculum at all and when coaches would bellow at me at the smallest mistake.
My instinct today was to bellow at that father/coach for not hiding how he felt. I wanted to tell him out loud, “What difference does it make whether he hits the ball well or badly into the net, the point is he tried, isn’t it?”
But is it?
When raising children should we encourage them to just think about winning and losing on the pretext that we’re preparing them for the competitive nature of the real world, or should we encourage them to have a more humane approach to their opponent and not care too much if they win or lose as long as they tried their best?
The question was triggered by a conversation I had with a friend who has a masters degree in education and over a decade of experience in the field. We discussed what he called “Children and the Infinite World of Possibilities.” This is a world where you expose your children to multiple activities to nurture their creativity and help them discover who they are, in the hope that because the world is at their feet, they will excel and succeed in one of these activities.
The cultural climate in which children are raised is one of the decisive factors influencing their characters. Egypt does not have a strong history of creating “champions,” role models, in several fields and so according to her, it might be a waste of time pushing children too hard because they probably won’t “get anywhere” and will only feel resentful and disappointed. It’s a bold and controversial statement about this country, but I believe worth a thought.
I put the terms champions and get anywhere in quotes because to my mind that is the crux of the problem and this is where the whole controversy lies: Are we supposed to indoctrinate children (in any culture) that the best way to be is a “champion” so that they “get somewhere” and therefore be successful, or are we to tell them the truth about life: that all these sensationalist terms are relative, media driven and that there is nothing wrong with being an average Jo as long as you’re happy? There’s an equal fifty-fifty chance that a child might actually be or not be successful. Should we as Egyptians acknowledge that our country has limitations and protect children from dreaming too much or aiming too high because they truly might not be able to achieve their goals? Should we assume that the teen tennis player practicing with his father/coach has no chance of being Nadal or Federrer and can therefore really not mind if he hits the ball in the net?
While Egypt as opposed to the United States, for instance, has not produced as many Olympic champions (that dreaded word), I find that in light of our current political situation where everyone in the country is waiting with bated breath for a “renaissance” in education, employment, economic conditions, stability, security to a more progressive nation, we need to be able to provide our children with hope for the future.
Even if the world is not at their feet at all times, even if they’ll hit the ball in the net sometimes, we need to give them hope and nurture in them the ability to enjoy all aspects of life with its successes and failures without scolding or making them feel inferior because their name isn’t on the trophy. Concurrently, it is time our country thrives so we do produce Nadal, Federrer or Olympic champions and justify why we do get disappointed when the boy hits the ball in the net.
Reham Barakat is a Cairo-based commentator and creative writer.