THE POWER OF CHOICE
Five year old Tina waited for her favoutite uncle James to arrive. Within minutes of his coming, the two ran across the street to her friendly uncle Alex, of the sweet shop. As they crossed the road, James asked Tina why she went to the same shop every time; why not try another? She flatly refused. She explained that Uncle Alex gave her more sweets; the others gave her less. She was fond of one type, in different colours,which was stocked in a glass jar. As she entered the shop, Alex greeted her and James.Tina then placed on the counter, the money James had given her. James closely watched what happened. Alex put some sweets into the pan of the weighing machine. Then he added some more sweets, and still more until the weight was balanced. As they left the shop, Tina looked up at James and said: "See, uncle Alex always gives me more. The others take away". She was referring to the way sweets were weighed. Alex put less into the pan and kept adding; the others put more into the pan, and kept taking away sweets until the weight was balanced. A simple act, perceived differently by the child. There are some lessons for us in this short story. 1) By choosing to go to Alex, and not the other shops, Tina was exercising her power of choice. 2) The child perceives Alex's action in a favourable way, and is happy in her choice. 3) James lets the child exercise her option. He does not demystify the weighing process, playing spoilsport.
Even at a young age, children like to choose. Apples instead of oranges; Pepsi more often than Milo; Tom and Jerry and not Tigger and Pooh. Should we let children make choices, or should we hand down decisions, fearing the wrong choices they will make?
Let us look at some merits in giving them the right to choose. 1) God in His Infinite
Wisdom, has given each of us the gift of free will - the power to choose. The child also has that power. If God could trust her with that power, should we not? Of course, we have the duty to shape that power, in the child. 2) Unless the child is allowed the freedom to choose, how will she learn? No doubt, she will make some mistakes, as we made in our lives. But from those mistakes, she will learn and be more careful in arriving at decisions, as long as she is gently helped to understand the process. 3) If we continue to take decisions for her, what will happen when we are gone? Like a babe in the woods, she will not know her way home. She will be lost.
We would not want that to happen to our child, would we? Therefore, gradually we should give children more and more opportunities to exercise their power of choice;
even during their troubled teens. With more exposure, they will gain confidence.
What a welcome experience it is to watch a confident child grow into a confident adult! Their capacity to decide will be tested in their personal and professional lives. Here are a few such situations.
1) HIGHER LEARNING AND CAREER
At school the choice of courses is not difficult. But at the higher learning level,
especially the professional courses, the decision making is complicated. Several factors come into play, chief of which is the child's aptitude. Some parents enamoured with certain professions, compel children to take up courses that lead to those careers - doctors, civil service, computer specialists, and so on. The child's
preference is discounted or ignored. We ought to remember that it is the child's career which is at stake, not ours. She has every right to state her preference and have it actualized. When parents object, the child is distraught and performs below expectation. This frustration tells on her carrer. Instead of being a successful
Professor, she settles for being s substandard doctor. She will find it difficult to forgive her parents who forced her into an unfulfilling career.
The problem is less severe in affluent Western Societies, where children are freer to choose. In traditional Eastern Societies, parental influence is strong and often counterproductive.
2) SEX EDUCATION
As a father of four sons, it was my duty to instruct my sons on matters of sex - God's gift of pleasure, to be experienced within the confines of married life. I failed and regret my lapse. That my sons passed the difficult phase without succumbing, is proof of God's unseen protection. I appeal to parents to seriously take the duty of instructing their children on matters of sex, to spare themselves guilt and children adverse consequences. Mothers could speak to daughters and fathers to sons. When we fail, children will use their power of choice and acquire knowledge of it from sources that will lend garish colours to the subject. With so much information available on the Net, they are only a button away from indulging their minds with lurid details. Parents who find it difficult to teach this lesson,
may seek the help of trained Counsellors.
3) CHOICE OF PARTNERS
Here again, in Eastern Societies parents play an important role in selecting partners for their children. Compatibility is lower down on their priority list. Instead, family status, wealth, social connections and other considerations figure at the top. In particular, girls suffer from the caprice of parents who view any opposition, as a challenge to their parental authority. It is the child's life; if she is not given the freedom to choose, who else should? Even when parents consent to the daughter's choice, the decision comes across as a compromise and a sacrifice. Something that should be joyous, becomes a test of wills and a bone of contention for life.