Friday, April 15, 2011

Living a life of their own

Parents are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with tech-savvy children, with independent minds and attitudes

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Anupama Menon told her mother, Suma, that she liked a boy in her class, her heart skipped a beat. But Suma said, “What do you like about him?” Anupama stared hard at her mother, a bit taken aback by her reaction. Then she said. “He is sweet and friendly and nice.”

Suma nodded, smiled, and said, “Bring him home one of these days.” So, Anupama brought Mohan home and was introduced to Suma. This became a regular occurrence. Sometimes, Anupama went over to Mohan's house.

One day, Anupama told Suma, “I feel like kissing Mohan and holding hands.”

Again, Suma's heart stopped beating for a nanosecond, but she said, “It is a natural tendency at your age, but what would people say if they come to know. We have a value system. You need to know where to draw the line. It is important to respect your body. Then only will you gain respect from others.”

And so Suma is having to do this tightrope walk, as she tackles her 17-year-old daughter, who is exposed to so much knowledge, information and visual stimulation, thanks to newspapers, magazines and the Internet.

“It is better to give a long rope to the children so that they can understand what is right and wrong,” she says. “Parents will lose if they insist that their daughters should not hang around with boys or vice versa. Even if we say no, they will just go ahead and do what they want.”

Radhika Nair has an eighteen-year-old daughter, Maya. Like Anupama, Maya is also friendly with a boy. When asked whether there is a possibility of it becoming a sexual relationship, Radhika says, “I know that there are strong sexual urges at that age and the need to experiment a bit. But in case it does happen and I come to know, instead of criticising my daughter or getting angry, I will ask Maya gently why she said yes. I would question her sense of values. I would put it across in such a way that the child should feel, 'Yeah, I should not have done it.'”

Rekha says it is a difficult time for parents. “We have to keep an open mind,” she says. “I have told Maya that what is most important is to study well and get a good job. She needs to support herself. Only after that should she think about a marriage. Maya is mature enough to understand this.”

But both Suma and Radhika say that they are in a minority. “Most of the parents I know put down their foot and say to their children, 'No girlfriends or boyfriends'. As a result most of these children become secretive, tell a lot of lies, and continue to meet their friends outside, like in a mall or in a cinema hall,” says Suma.

One reason for the parents’ intransigence is that they feel very nervous when their children have a relationship. “Most parents don't trust their children,” says Radhika. “Once the children realise that their parents are not in sync with them, they will stop confiding. It is very important that a parent be a listener, rather than be a loudspeaker.”

Meanwhile, schools also have to do a fine balancing act. Lakshmi Ramachandran, the dean of the co-educational Global Public School says that when she sees a boy and a girl become infatuated, “we do not directly intervene at the outset, because it is usually a passing phase. But having a boyfriend or a girlfriend is like a status symbol nowadays. If you don't have one, you are regarded as a nerd.”

She is worried about their excessive access to technology. “It is 'too much too young',” she says. “They are not ready to handle it.” She fears that children are no longer safe, even within the confines of their homes, thanks to Facebook, and other social media sites. “It is imperative for parents to have a line of communication open with the children at all times.”

(Some names have been changed)

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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