I was in a shop buying a shirt, having been attracted by my favourite word -- sale. Thankfully, this was not of the closing-down variety, and the young man in the shop has all those qualities that keep you going back to the same shop.
First of all, he wouldn't sell me the first one I picked, because he was fairly sure the sleeve length was wrong. I am old enough to know my sleeve length, but he was right and I was wrong. Within two minutes, we were into the "how's business" conversation, and I was expecting the usual rubbish from him and from me.
"You know, this recession is good for children," he began. I looked at him with that "go on, tell me more" look. It emerged that he was married with young children, and had watched his older nephews and nieces during the past decade with his jaw regularly on the floor.
"It had got to the stage that children got whatever they asked for," he said. "No one ever said 'no' to them. And they didn't have to do a tap around the house. No washing up. Not even putting a plate in the dishwasher. No cutting the grass. No running down to the shop to get a carton of milk. They wouldn't even go that far without a car under their tail."
In no time, we were like two old fellas discussing how things were different when we were growing up and how it had stood to us over the years that we weren't allowed to watch the television until our homework was done and there was no pocket money in the summer unless the hedge was clipped. It would have been clear to anyone listening that if the rest of the world was brought up with our standards, it would be a very fine place indeed.
I bought three shirts and said my goodbyes. I thought back to my early days as a psychology student when we learned about the relationship between behaviour and the consequences of that behaviour. Pocket money acquires a value because it is directly related to the work done to get it. A PlayStation that is just given has a different value in the house from the one that was saved for each week until the target was hit.
Pocket money and a post-office book were staple parts of my existence when I was teenager. A Coke was a treat and not something that was in packs of 12 in the fridge. And somehow or other, we learned what things were affordable by parents and what were not. We all saved hard for each of our golf clubs, whereas in recent years one gets the impression all a child had to do was show a bit of interest before being given the latest Tiger Woods creations.
Listening to this man talking about his young family, it was clear he and his wife had a good idea of what kind of children they wanted to raise, and selfish brats were not the role models they were going for. But it was also apparent that now everyone realised there was a lot less money around, it was a great deal easier to set boundaries, to expect tasks in the house to be part of growing up and to say "no".
Many years back, when alternative education was all the rage, there was a movement against the three Rs -- reading, writing and arithmetic. Everything became child-centred, so as not to put them under pressure. Rote learning was frowned upon. (It has not escaped my notice I can still do mental arithmetic faster than any teenager.)
The situation was characterised cleverly by one observer, who said that children used to have to jump through the hoops, but now they have to find the hoops first.
I am all for hoops. And cutting the grass.
Sunday Indo Living