Ever since I returned to Sharjah, I have been reading about the various events organized as part of the Summer Surprise… Something has been nagging me all these days, and I zoomed in on what it was this morning. For the last one week, the Gulf News Tabloid has been publishing pictures of kids, doing a lot of fashion shows. There are pictures of kids (five… six …eight and ten year olds) doing the ‘Kitten Walk’ as some reporting genius has put it. Kitten Walk indeed! Somehow, the pictures of these youngsters sashaying and tossing their hair back for the cameras and the sight of their peers watching them with that hungry ( for fame and glory) and deprived ( why am I not there ?) look on their faces got my goat. Isn’t it enough that we have a generation of teenagers suffering from identity crises, Anorexia and Bulimia? Do we need to brainwash the preteens that fashion is the new ‘in’ thing in their life? As it is, serious damage is being done by consumerism and addiction to gizmos… Six months back, there were mobiles out in the market for your under-ten year olds… fancy, toy-like ones, but mobiles nevertheless! The sales talk was “to enable you to keep a track on your kids.” In my days, parents told you, you would NOT go to such and such place… and you just would not. Or they would tell you to be back by such and such time…and you do just that. Thanks to such contraptions, we’d have soon have infants cooing or bawling out to parents using mobiles… Now, a cynic may say that a little bit of fashion awareness will do a lot of good to the kids in these regions as more than 80% are obese due to lack of exercise and being addicted to junk food. But this hardly seems the way out of that dark tunnel! People in this region are quite aware of the importance of being well dressed. There are thousand different outlets selling branded or other ready made garments. People also have the kind of money to spend on clothes liberally, more than one would say, is possible back home. I am not being denigratory about my own country…. But the gap between the haves and the have- nots is still so huge… that only a minimum percentage of the kid population can afford to make a fashion statement each time they step out of home. Beisdes, the retail sector has yet to reach all the strata of the society! And priorities are different. On the other hand, kids here are well aware of the importance of making a fashion statement. During my 7 year tenure at a school in the UAE, I, along with my colleagues, used to be appalled by the kind of dresses worn by kids on those special days… In fact, things got so bad that a dress code had to be imposed on teenaged students. We, teachers used to wonder how any parent with self respect or concern about his or her child’s safety, could allow such tiny, skimpy and ‘almost bordering on the immodest’ attires. Once, some students confessed that their parents do not know about it. They get out of their homes in normal clothes…. Go to a friend’s house for their ‘extreme make- overs’ and before returning home get back into their ‘parent- approved’ clothes again. I didn’t dare ask them if these ‘modern day Cinderella- escapades’ landed them in troubles of a different kind… Maybe, like for their parents, ignorance is bliss…The less you know…the less you worry about! But can we afford to charade like ostriches, deliberately ignoring these alarming trends? Kids are hardly equipped to deal with the consequences of their actions. Till they have the maturity to handle problems in a sensible manner, some kind of guidance is required. If we so much as suggest these things to them we are deemed prehistoric creatures. Of course, coming back to kids and the fashion scenario, I know, kids look divine….delicious… oozing ‘eye appeal’ which is ‘buy appeal’. All those advertisements of Gold Winner oil and Huggies and Johnson and Johnson tug at our heartstrings and we all go dopey- eyed and spout ‘cho chweet!’ when we see them. Now a days they are using these ‘perfect’ child models to sell mobiles and even cars… But ads on TV are to be taken with a pinch of salt. I mean in real life, how many mothers are clad in spotless pastel shaded saris, and manage peak hours at home with not a hair out of place? How many grandmas in real life are comfortably plump and ever smiling and eternally indulgent? You know it is all showbiz…. But, having a Kitten Walk conducted right in front of your eyes can, definitely, sow the seeds of similar ambition in young hearts… I remember one year when the kindergarten section in the school where I was working held a fashion show with their kids for some school fundraising event. First of all the kids went through nearly two months of practice sessions… and then there were bickering parents on issues of nepotism… and then there was the heart ache of those parents whose kids were rejected… I had wondered at that time if it was worth it after all? Such projects had been shelved later on…not for the immaturity of the idea but because the faculty could not handle the pressure of parental politics...! And now, the idea of getting your kids’ picture in the tabloid’s fashion pages will goad parents into living another of their dreams through their kids… Soon there will be schools for grooming these preteens… Entrepreneurism is on the rise and some smart alec would make his millions by fleecing such ambitious parents…The victims will be the kids who will lose their childhood, their child-like appeal and will mature before time into ambitious professionals with secret health issues. I wonder just how much we are jeopardizing a generation by setting up such a trend… Only time will tell… but I hope it may not be too late to save them by then!