As a child, did you dream? What did you want to be when you grew up? Are you now what you wanted to become?
When we ask a child what he or she wants to be when they grow up, their responses might be more idealistic than realistic, or so us adults think. Some children dream of becoming astronauts while others might want to grow up to be like the friendly-neighbourhood superhero Spider-Man. As sceptical as we are, we would much rather accept the first answer with a strong sense of doubt and laugh at the second shortly before telling our children that Spider-Man doesn’t exist in the real world.
Children are not very articulate, but if we pay close attention, we might notice that their aspirations are synonymous with ‘being happy’. Spider-Man is obviously not real, but the idea of him is. Peter Parker is an altruistic individual who wants to make his city a better place for everyone, and in doing so, he achieves happiness, a state of mind that is elusive to many of us. In a way, by rejecting our children’s dreams, we might be crushing their chance at happiness.
Children begin to differentiate fantasy from reality at the ages of 3 and 4. From then onwards, we expose them to the social norms we have been adhering to. We tell them, either directly or indirectly, that they should perform well in schools so they can attend reputed universities and consequently get high-salaried jobs. We teach them, by having materialistic desires and glorifying others who have attained them, that they too should strive for big houses, fancy cars, and designer clothes. We nurture their minds to think that a person not attempting to achieve any of these ultimately fails and call it the “harsh reality of life”, absolving ourselves of blame without realizing that we became part of the problem the moment we reinforced those social expectations.
In a bid to fit our children into society’s mould of success, we don’t teach them to dream big and think outside the box. Instead, we teach them to think within the confines of one. We slowly strip them of their budding creativity that has the potential to change the world one day and worse, have them believe that their ideas are unrealistic. By making our children give up their dreams so they can pursue ours, we tell them that they take the backseat on the road to happiness.
If we tamper with the joy of the ones we’re supposed to love unconditionally, how can any of us be truly happy? You don’t have to answer me, but at least you owe yourself an honest reply.
I may not have children yet, but I wish to see a reality where we encourage our little ones to grasp tightly onto their dreams no matter what anyone says. As they grow older, I hope they find what spreads a smile across their faces and fills their heart with warmth and do more of it, even if it involves putting on a Spider-Man costume and helping the neighbourhood’s elderly cross the street.