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Parenting redefined

LiveMint logoLiveMint 23-03-2017 Ambi M.G. Parameswaran

A few weeks ago, we celebrated the twentieth anniversary of one of my favourite ads featuring a child. The ‘jalebi’ Dhara ad. In that ad, a little kid is spotted by the friendly village postman and is tempted to return home since ‘Mummy garma garm jalebi bana rahi hai!’.

There was a time when almost all the kids in Indian ads were cute saying the nicest things, and here is a sampler: I love you Rasna; I am a Complan Girl / I am a Complan Boy; Dadaji Badminton!; Mummy Bhookh Lagi Hai!

But these days, we are seeing a different narrative with respect to parenting in ads. Kids are no longer just cute. And it is no longer ‘Jalebi treatment’ for them.

In a recent ad for the milk food drink Bournvita, we saw a mom running a gruelling race with her son, and claiming proudly that the day her son beats her is the day she will accept victory.

Well, the Hindi movie Dangal, too, showed a very aggressive side of parenting, if you recall.

This aggressive concept of parenting, where the mom / dad / grand parents push their kids to the limit was first spotted in China where kids, who were second generation products of the one-child policy were being pampered on one end as well as being pushed to excel in class, music, sports, and more. These moms were called ‘Tiger Moms’.

Is it really possible to create champions by aggressive parenting?

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers spoke about the 10,000 hour rule. To excel in any domain, be it music, sports, arts, computer programming even, you need to have spent 10,000 hours at it. So if a 12-year-old is composing Western Classical music, he or she may have been spending the previous five or six years practising for seven hours a day. Work out the math.

The book Bounce by Mathew Syed speaks about the myth of talent and power of practice in eloquent terms. Syed was once the UK Table Tennis champion; his brother too was a ranked player. So were many of his friends in his little county. How did this happen? He explains how the installation of a table tennis table in his home/garage got him to play with his brother endlessly, other friends joined and soon they were winning all the tournaments.

Syed then goes on to dig deeper into the subject and locates the story behind the first women Grand Masters in Chess. The educational psychologist Laszlo Polgar and his wife Klara started training their first daughter Susan to play chess from the age of four. Even her sisters Sofia and Judith took up chess from a very young age and ended up topping the charts.

The Time magazine, 17 October 2016, profiles 10 next generation leaders from diverse fields such as medicine and music. The write-up about the Jazz pianist from Indonesia, Joey Alexander caught my attention. At 13, he is already a Grammy-nominated jazz artist. Is he a child prodigy? Both his parents are musicians and they played music to him as a baby. He discovered the keyboard at the age of six and almost self-taught himself from the word go. Young Joey is quoted saying “My music, it’s a gift from God, but it’s a gift I’ve had to learn. It takes hard work and focus”.

So, finally, does aggressive parenting really work or is it just a paranoid pursuit of Asian parents?

Interestingly, this is a phenomenon that seems to have now spread across the world. In the US, these parents are called ‘Helicopter Parents’, parents who are constantly hovering around their children.

If US has helicopters, then in India, we are using webcams. Last week, in a seminar at Ahmedabad Management Association, I was completely blown away when an award-winning village sarpanch talked about how his village schools are now equipped with webcams so that the mothers of children can check out if the teachers are actually in class teaching their children.

I wonder if this is really such a good idea. I still love the idea of an errant child running away from home, returning to taste the ‘jalebis’. But when the world gets more and more competitive, parenting too takes a nasty turn. I suppose the real winners will be a combination of good genes, great parenting and the development of an inherent interest in the subject. ‘Jalebis’ can wait.

Ambi M.G. Parameswaran is brand strategist and founder, Brand-Building.com. He will take stock of consumers, brands and advertising every month. The views expressed are personal.

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