This happened at the neighborhood supermarket yesterday afternoon. The only other shoppers in the aisle I was in were a young couple and their young girl about 3 or 4 years old. The little girl was picking up tubes of soap and toothpastes and was trying to open them and smell them while the parents were busy looking at other things. I happened to notice that the girl had opened a tube of cleansing gel and was having fun dropping the pink contents on the floor in some sort of modern art. I gestured to her mother to turn and look. The next thing I saw was that the parents took the tube from her, replaced the cap and put it back on the shelf and quickly left the aisle ignoring my advice: “I think you should pay for that tube.” By the time I found a shop assistant and informed her of the slippery floor in the aisle and the reason for it, the family had disappeared from the shop.

Bad enough that they let the child do whatever she liked in the shop; it was worse that they did not have the decency to offer to pay for the mess. Now the second one explains the first. What kind of behavior can the child be expected to learn from such parents? Do these parents realize the amount of damage they have done to their child’s values by cheating the shop of those 40 or 50 rupees ?

Don’t get caught’ - That is the message the child gets from such behavior. It is ok to do anything as long as you are smart enough not to get caught – Cheat, lie and even steal perhaps.

I always thought that parenthood is good for everyone because we learn to strive for perfection once we have a child looking up to us. We go all out not to lose our dignity in front of our child’s eyes. We refrain from swearing, try to be less impulsive and more mature. This is not to say that all parents are perfect but every good parent tries hard to avoid passing their shortcomings to their child. But as I see so many educated parents trying to violate traffic rules, jump queues, litter public places, I wonder what their children learn from such behavior. How would they learn to distinguish what is right from what is wrong? Or would they learn that everything is right and getting caught is the only wrong thing?

In his autobiography Gandhiji writes of an instance when he could not copy even when his school teacher prompted him to do so. So impressed was he by the character of Harishchandra from our mythology. I wonder what Harishchandra’s rating would be among parents like the one I saw in the shop? Would he be considered a ‘loser’ for sacrificing so much and not being smart enough to tell a single lie? As for Gandhiji and emulating his values the usual escape clause is: “I am not a Mahatma. I am only an ordinary person.” I do not believe that we need to be a Mahatma to follow simple traffic rules or have basic honesty. In a lot of cases such behavior is due to the simple inability to distinguish right from wrong and lack of moral courage to own up to wrong behavior and all of this, in turn, can be traced back to the absence of proper guidance and example from one’s own family and especially parents.

There are some parents who are in denial. They say that petty corruption is a way of daily adult life today and children do not really notice it all. They are still in their own world of toys and fairy tales and all this doesn’t impact them. I wish it was true. I remember an incident that my son told me when he was in 7th standard. Their school had gone on an excursion to Mysore and Shivasamudram. Their teachers wanted them to see the hydro-electric power station but the officer in-charge refused permission citing some administrative issues. One of the boys in the class was a state minister’s son and he told the teacher: ‘Sir, please note down his name. I will have him take care of.’ It is not tough to guess where he got that from, is it? As a wiseguy said: 'Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you'

Unfortunately parents are a child’s first role models and parents like the ones at the supermarket are a threat to their own children. A child exposed to such parental behavior is confused between right and wrong and the circumstances under which certain behavior is wrong. And when they land themselves on the wrong side of law for a crime their parents wonder where they went wrong. Perhaps the world would be marginally better if each one of us could use one simple question as a reference for every action: ‘What if my child did this and got caught for the same?” This would make each one of us a better human being with some hope for a better world for our children.
34 Responses
  1. Hip Grandma Says:

    There are two groups in this world with conflicting values. One is a group of losers and the other a street smart group. Normally children turn out to be like their parents and so a losers son becomes a loser and a street smart child gets those traits from its parents the same way it inherits their features. The biological explanation is that all this runs in the blood and try as much as they might one cannot become the other. i'd tather be a loser since I'd be a misfit elsewhere.

  2. apu Says:

    Usha-ji, I believe some people (such as the ones you saw in the store) are not fit to be parents! Unfortunately, procreation is one thing many people can do well and there is no certificate needed!

    Throwing litter on the roads and on beautiful beaches, pushing ahead in a queue, cheating, being disrespectful of women - all these are passed on to children by the example of their parents.

  3. Swati Says:

    Very true , we have to lead by example.

  4. Sraboney Says:

    ‘Don’t get caught’ is the motto most Indians live by...It's unfortunate that today corruption is not frowned upon, but encouraged...

  5. DivSu Says:

    Completely agree with you..

  6. Usha,

    This post is so timely. I've even been told by a mother angrily, to refrain from interfering , in one such situation like you wrote.

    We recently drove to a suburb of Mumbai where there have been a lot of road modifications and took a right turn wrongly, and were asked to stop to one side by the police. After honestly telling them that we were not aware of these changes, the cop actually explained to us why the change was done and let us go. May be he saw the grey hair, maybe he was just a dedicated cop. But our daughter was with us and learnt a decent lesson. If all you do when you see a cop is whip out your wallet and give him looks, your child also learns that that is how you handle things.

  7. Bhavana Says:

    It is unfortunate that the couple in question did not think about the consequences of their behavior. I agree that most good parents make a conscious decision about their behavior and how they want to be perceived by their children and also want their children to imbibe good values change themselves or show restraint after becoming parents. The rest don't seem to care and since have never thought about it, will never change.
    Of course, there is not much one can say about the group of parents who think this behavior is OK and that this is how one needs to live in order to be "successful".

  8. Art Says:

    Whatever happened was bad...
    I remember when my bro was very young, he found a nice pencil lying on the ground, he picked it up and came home... Mom saw this and explained to him that its somebody else's item and we have no right over it... Next day, mom made him go to the staffroom and give it to the teachers so that they could find out whose it was... Till knowingly never take credit or never take away other's things.. If we have done it unknowingly, we only hope to be forgiven...

  9. S.V. Says:

    hmm interesting one this...though i agree wid hip grandma's comments here. Sometimes we are bold enuff to agree and live up to our follies.most often its not the case though

  10. Smitha Says:

    That incident is so sad. That little girl is getting the message right from childhood that she can do what she likes, as far as she can get away with it!

    One would have thought that education would make a difference, but clearly it is the mentality that needs to change.

    As a parent of an almost 4 yr old, I know how tough it is, to keep her away from bad influences, to discipline her when needed and to try to lead by example. It is a shame that parents like the ones you mentioned exist..

  11. rakhi Says:

    I'm not a parent myself and neither did I have perfect parents who never took one wrong step. But what I did have, are parents who took care to instill good values just by setting an example at the right times.
    I remember my parents teaching me and my little sister the value of money at a time when the family was in deep financial trouble. Both of us learned the lesson so well that decades later when the said trouble is a thing of the past, and the family can be comfortably called upper middle class, we still live well within our means and dissuade our parents from wasting their hard earned pensions on trifles. :D Talk about turning the tables.

    Lovely post.

  12. piyu Says:

    Very true.. Children pick up such things very quickly..It is the parents responsibility to teach values to their children

    Very nicely written

  13. Vijay Says:

    That was so cheap of them...sometimes I wonder how they do it - ignoring what the child does and going about their business...not to mention the example they set..

  14. Anonymous Says:

    I found your blog via my friend&colleague (Phil) who is known to you I believe.

    Nice post. Exemplifies the will-take-easier-road-even-if-it-isn't-the-right-road mentality of so many indians. And then u have Bollywood which glamorizes the 'patli-gali-Se-nikal-bhi-jao' attitude.

    As I look at organizations or individuals trying to effect a change, groups like Children for Civic Awareness give me the greatest hope. The adults are harder to change unless maybe the children show the way..


  15. kivina Says:


    All of us go thru' life witnessing incidents like the one you just described. And at the time, we too react like you did.

    However, not all of us have the ability to analyze things the way you have and very few people can articulate like you can. I agree 100% with the worrying because children are watching part. That's what makes parenthood so scary, and that's why we've been putting it off for so many years :-)

  16. dipali Says:

    I'm with you 100% on this. As a nation, we seem to have lost our moral core in the name of selfishness and expedience:(

  17. R's Mom Says:

    Gosh..isnt that sad..that kid is definitely learning such wrong values....Its so important to lead by example..and trust me...being the mother of a 1.5 year old..its really difficult!!!!

  18. Uma Says:

    This is one of those glaring incidents. Sometimes we do these seemingly smart things and don't quite realise that it would be bad for the child. A friend once cited this incident where her 4 yr old asked her why they always gave 'old and spoilt' things to the maid and her kids... Its an eye opener.

  19. Abhishek Says:

    Easy to observe and expect a certain behavior from them. I do not know how would I react if my kid does so. I can claim to be full of integrity and responsibility here but at that moment, would I do the same or different? Are all of us trained to behave differently? Are all of us consciously and unconsciously responsible under all situations? Maybe yes. Maybe not.

  20. Unknown Says:

    The child obviously gets the message that it is ok to hit and run . If you get caught too bad but if you can get away with it why not seems to be the message.
    Where is all this going to take us I wonde ?

  21. amreekandesi Says:

    Good point.

    Looking at all the rowdy misbehaved kids roaming all over the place, creating a mess and being an utter nuisance, i think prospective parents should be made to go through some parenting tests before being cleared to have children!

  22. Hema Says:

    'Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you'

    What a profound statement! Love your writings....

  23. Jane Turley Says:

    Usha, I am so glad that I have read your blog this morning. I have had a dreadful self doubting weekend wondering about speaking up for my son in conflict to the rules of tennis. But you are right, 100%. The shabby behaviour I see on tennis courts by small children shows nothing but a lack of moral fibre on behalf of their parents. It's dishearting and demoralizing that people will let their children act this way. It's so...ugly.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    Usha - When I read your blog, more often than not, I feel I am in the presence of Mahatma Gandhi... Would love to read some of the mistakes you have done, how you learnt from them etc. I could connect to a blog where a parent spoke about the child cheating in exams and shared valuable insights into parenting through this incident.

    Please do not extrapolate this to believing that all evil in the society is because of bad parenting. What happens to children who grow in orphanages and homes that are badly run. If this logic holds good, all of those children will be social menace right ... it doesnt happen that way.

    Parents do have a responsibility to model the right behavior. Having saif that just the way we cannot take 100% credit for a perfect child as parents, we should not feel guilt in case someone is a parent of a problem child.

  25. Krishna Says:

    This incident will be termed 'Smart' by 'Cool' people. It is becoming a trend and a way of life these days. Come what may, I am not at fault. Always point the finger at the other person.

    However, all is not lost. Recently, I happened to hit a car in front of me during peak traffic. It was my fault and I admitted it to the other driver and offered to compensate him. I guess he was taken aback by my attitude and actually told me that the marks that were there were already there prior to this occasion! We parted shaking hands and exchanging business cards! I guess people who'd gathered were disappointed that there was no vocal match! Wasn't that cool? :)

  26. Sue Says:

    As for Gandhiji and emulating his values the usual escape clause is: “I am not a Mahatma. I am only an ordinary person.”

    I know what you mean, I've heard this a lot too. When did decency and honesty become the prerogative of Mahatmas only?

  27. Anonymous Says:

    Sue - I am fully with you that decency and honesty are the given, no one can ask for credit for being that way.

    Mahatma himself admitted to his fallacies and shared his vulnerabilities. It is just not about this post, it is the pattern that I observe.....

  28. Usha Says:

    Hipgran:'street smart' is actually good long as it is about making the best of a bad situation and how to handle people. But this is cheating.

    apu:Ya how will children know something is wrong if they see it around them everyday.

    Swati: And that is why it is a huge decision.

    sraboney: isn't it!

    Divs: :)

    Suranga:That's another thing. Some parents won't teach their children what is right and they get offended if someone else tries to. And I have also had quite a few experiences when policemen can actually be convinced.

    Bhavana:There are some flaws which we cannot change although we try but I am sure things like owning responsibility for a broken thing is not difficult. It just requires a little honesty.

    Art:The trouble with parents like the one i saw is that they probably did not even think of the effect of their behaviour on their child. All they were thinking of was a loss of 40 bucks at that moment (which was not big money for them, I am sure)

    Stephenson:Some mistakes have stigma and shame associated with them and it takes some courage to accept them. But in cases like the one at the supermarket, all it required was a bit of honesty.

    Smitha:The other day I heard a lady shouting at a kid and her mom for making the child use the footpath to shit on. The former works as a maid in some house on our street. So it doesn't really require great education to know basic right and wrong.

    Rakhi:I believe that most of our personality gets shaped when we are young and parents need to play a vital role through their example.

    Piyu: :)

    Vijay: And it did not look like they could not afford to pay for the damaged article. Makes it even worse right?

    Vishy: yes, I know Phil. He is a great guy. It is sad if we need to outsource the responsibility of instilling the right values in our children.
    Thanks for dropping by.

    Kivina:Actually it need not be so scary. All we need to do is to be conscious about what we say and do and avoid the impulse to be rude, selfish or dishonest.

    Dipali: That is scary isn't it?

    R's mom: But it is good for the parents too to go through the learning experience along with the kids and beome better people no?

    Uma: it is indeed.

    Abhishek: it would be nice if we could be responsible. Would make the world a better place for all of us. And it is not too difficult to be honest when the stake is just 40 bucks.

    Eve's lungs: We already see it all around us don't we?

    amreekandesi: Visas to parenthood - great idea. I saw some movie where a couple were given a toy that behaved like a real child as a trial parenthood.

    Hema: Yes, and I forget the name of the guy who said that!

    Jane:It is ugly and makes me feel sorry for the kids for the kind of parents they are unfortunate to have. I don't claim to be perfect but at least I try hard not to pass on my failings to my son and when my ugly side manifests I try to make him see that I am not proud of it and wish i could be different.

    Anon:Thanks for the idea. I will try and recount some of my experiences here in this blog.Despite our best efforts at good parenting, kids tend to pick up bad things. It is just that it is easier to be bad and bad is more tempting. So all I am saying is that we need not compound it by setting a bad example which makes it easier for them too. And if we do these things ourselves, how can we correct the child when he/she does something wrong?

    Krishna: Completely agree and in my opinion YOU are 'cool'. The world needs people like you on our roads.

    Sue:And that is an easy way out right? When we were young we were told to accept responsibility for everything and not give up without trying. Today I hear young people say things like 'I am not perfect. so what?'even without trying.

  29. Anonymous Says:


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  30. Reema Says:

    Simply loved the post!

  31. Unknown Says:

    Parents have responsibility to teach their children how to live.

    Work From Home India

  32. @Preetha, Parents can only teach when they themselves know how to live. In this incident, I dont feel bad for the kid. I pity the parents, as they are grown up. Kid might learn to be honest and sincere later in his life, but what about parents ?
    It is said that the most important and difficult job is done by the most incompetent. The job is parenting!

  33. Anonymous Says:

    I am reading it late - missed this post while settling down in a new city :(

    I see a lot of parents like their children to be 'street smart' and they genuinely seem to believe that one needs to be street smart to survive in this bad, bad world.

    I would rather teach my child to learn to live and let live; neither cheat nor be cheated; and be just and fair and accept no injustice.

  34. how awful. I am so particular about my kids apologising and behaving that when i see stuff like this it frustrates me. these are the children our kids are going to grow up with and in a world that doesnt appreciate decency.