Most smart parents know that too much curiosity is a bad thing. Raising a child, especially an inquisitive one, is quite a challenge. We want our child to grow up to be a practical, well-to-do individual with an aura of respect and prestige. We don’t want them to become writers, artists or — Allah-na-keray — philosophers.
Here are a few ways you can keep those pesky questions to the minimum, and raise a successful, practical offspring who will conform to societal standards and make you proud!
1) Protect yourself first
Much like the instruction for oxygen masks on airplanes — protect yourself first, then protect your child. Try not to get yourself sucked into the curiosity trap, and try not to learn too much about the world — the more you know, the more you realize that you know very little, which in turn makes you curious, not unlike the child you are trying to discipline.
Every now and then, you may find yourself in a weak moment, contemplating a new idea for the sake of understanding of the world. This is precisely the dangerous behavior you are trying to protect your child from.
Entertaining strange new ideas is like substance abuse — it’s very easy to get carried away. If you aren’t careful, you’ll find yourself interrogating your decades-old, firmly held beliefs that you’ve fought hard to keep intact; beliefs that have now become part of your identity. And your identity is your source of pride, so protect it at all cost.
2) Nip it in the bud
Don’t leave your child’s questions unattended. Childhood curiosity can be tenacious. Not answering the question right away only means the question will pop up again. Now, imagine if you were not around when the question came up. Other adults may encourage your child’s curiosity, or worse, answer your child’s question in a way that is unacceptable to you. The trick, therefore, is to think on your feet, and come up with an easily digestible answer the first time itself. Just make sure the answer does not contradict another unrelated answer you had given earlier. If you do this, be prepared for a volley of questions, precisely what you were avoiding.
Helpful tip: Don’t worry about being logical or realistic. Being the parent, you can literally make your child believe anything you want without much evidence or logic. Use your position in the relationship to your advantage.
Your most important weapon in the fight against curiosity is obedience. This is a trait you need to inculcate in your child as early as possible. It’ll make things a lot easier for you, your child, and all the authority figures your child will be subjected to in the future — teachers, school administrators, religious authority figures, the government, the police, and the military. For a society, as for a family, to keep functioning the way it’s functioning without disruption, we need obedience. If it wasn’t for obedient children who grew up to be subservient adults, would Pakistan have made the remarkable progress that it has made?
Helpful tip: If you are a father, it helps to think of yourself as the ‘head of state’ and your offspring as the ‘subject’. Own the position — protect it, and make sure you and your position remain significant for a long time. If you are the mother, you are the deputy of the ‘head of state’. Your job is to always support your husband. If you have a difference of opinion with him, just ignore it, and set a good example for your child of how to be obedient.
Another helpful tip: Do not ever apologise if you make a mistake — it undermines your authority as a parent. In fact, according to some thinkers, it’s not a mistake if your heart was in the right place, and as parents, your heart is always in the right place. That’s just a fact. If you cannot resist the urge to apologise, make sure you downplay the mistake, and never use the words ‘mistake’, ‘sorry’ or ‘apologize’.
4) Use the fear of rejection
Tell your child that publicly questioning conventional beliefs will draw ridicule from relatives, friends, and coworkers. If they question things too much, they may even be ostracized. Even if they do so privately, questioning fundamental beliefs can trigger an existential crisis, which, as we all know, leads quickly to suicide. Give them examples of European philosophers, many of whom committed the grave sin of suicide because they wouldn’t stop questioning things.
So, it is best to be safe and not question things at all. Only accept new ideas if they, beyond doubt, support your existing ideas and worldview.
Don’t worry too much about what your child studies at school; most schools have evolved to feed information to and discipline future job seekers. Even that’s something they struggle to achieve in Pakistan, so there isn’t much to worry about.
There is a reason schools focus on Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Math and English as opposed to Sociology, Government, Politics, Philosophy and Anthropology. The former are practical subjects that prepare workers of the future to secure jobs and support their families. The latter only get them worked up and upset about perfectly normal things like strictly-defined gender roles.
Occasionally, however, you may come across an idealistic principal or a teacher who has a liberal arts background. They may encourage the inquisitive nature of your child, so avoid educators and schools that have an idealistic inclination.
Another problematic situation arises when your child is ready to go to university. They may not agree with what you’ve decided for them to study, and may put up resistance. This usually happens if they have gained some emotional and intellectual independence, i.e. they feel it is okay for them to entertain ideas that they know you won’t approve of. This is dangerous territory.
If your child says they want to study literature, philosophy or sociology, you know you’re in trouble. Use whatever tactic you can to dissuade them. If they win, be prepared to deflect questions about your child’s career from inquisitive guests and relatives at weddings and iftar parties. While they go on and on about their son’s amazing job at Unilever, you’ll be struggling to recall what exactly your child does at the newspaper.
To avoid this situation be vigilant from the time your child is born. Keep idealistic relatives away from your child, and be especially vigilant of the child’s older cousins and friends. A category we often take for granted are science geeks — they are practical, smart and usually have jobs, but their ideas can encourage young people to be skeptical, to question conventional thinking, and to stop being intellectually complacent. Engineering graduates in Pakistan typically do not fall into this category, so don’t worry about them.
Find a university for your child that does not admit students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, or other categories of people you would not want your child to end up marrying. Exposure to the class system can also make a young adult become aware of the glaring inequality in society, and encourage them to question things. Stick with private universities where the environment is devoid of political thought, and students come from largely similar, well-to-do backgrounds. These universities regularly arrange pointless events to keep students busy, and give them a sense of belonging.
Helpful tip: If you feel that the university is too open-minded, or there is too much inter-gender mingling, or the girls are not appropriately dressed, gather other parents and approach the university management. Since you are paying the tuition fee, you are the university’s ultimate customer, not your child. No one understands this better than the university management.
Try to get your daughters married soon after they graduate from university, and your sons as soon as they find a stable job (unless you need either of them to support you financially). Being unmarried with newfound independence may give your child space to contemplate and entertain interesting new questions, like ‘Why do people have children?’. Be mindful of what they are doing with their income; for example, if they buy too many books, you’re in trouble. So plan ahead and keep your son or daughter occupied with major life events, like their wedding, their first child, their second child… you get the picture.
Helpful tip: Although your child becomes an adult at the age of 18 and can legally do everything that adults can, like owning property, getting married to whoever they choose, and fighting for the country, it is advisable to not highlight the fact that they are now independent adults, much like yourself. Keep using the words larka and larki — as opposed to aadmi and aurat — to refer to young adults, until they get married and have two kids of their own, or until they start looking like they’re 37.
Remember that only the most obedient, practical and self-centered children will make it to the top in our society, bringing their parents immense pride and joy.
This piece is a work of satire.