Parenting the next generation

I continue to be amazed by our precocious children. And I’m sure every generation before us has gone through the same amazement. What’s unique about our children? Nothing unique, in my opinion, just that as the rate of technological advance increases exponentially, the degree of difficulty in parenting increases exponentially as well.

I was chatting with a colleague over lunch about her kids – a 6-year old son, and a 3 year old daughter. Her son had an account on Orkut. She discussed it with him and convinced him that he was not old enough to have an Orkut account. He finally consented and they deleted his account. Her daughter wanted an account too, as her brother had one. Sure, there are Parent’s Guides to Social Networking, but in India, in many cases, the parents are not knowledgeable about how to use the Internet, whereas the kids are!

Her 6-year old son can take you anywhere in Chicago – in Midtown Madness. You name the place, he’ll drive you there. Her 3-year old daughter can drive you to Crooked Street in San Francisco in Midtown Madness 2, and shriek in joy by tumbling the car over Crooked Street.

Her son creates Powerpoint slides with ease, and is now dabbling in Excel by helping his Dad create his “weekly schedule” of play time and homework.

In the traditional heart of Pune’s Laxmi Road, a woman wearing a halter top with her bra straps visible happened to pass by. After she was gone, a 3-year old boy smiled and remarked “Sagla distay ki ticha!” (“She’s showing everything”). I remember being at least 12-13 years old before noticing such things – that’s a 10 year difference!

It is not just that children are smarter and more intelligent. That has been true throughout history. It is the access to technology that makes all the difference – it is the combination of enhanced intelligence and powerful tools like never before that is fueling the extraordinary achievements of the next generation.

It is difficult being a parent today, more difficult than it was before, because of this reason. And it is not just your own child’s security that you need to worry about. Your own child’s behavior can also affect another child’s security. Prerna writes about this delicate balance with sensitivity – where exactly do you draw the line between protectiveness to safeguard your child’s safety and freedom, so as not to stifle the child’s growth?

One of the core difficulties regarding parenting is of course, sex education. With sex education being banned in more and more states in India, this is becoming more of a parenting issue rather than an academic one. Nita points out: “it is a known fact that Indian parents neglect to do their duty when it comes to teaching their children about sex…and the consequence is that kids turn to pornography.” Paul has a thought-provoking post (NSFW) opining that it is better to allow children access to tasteful nudes that can deter them from tasteless porn.

I sought the opinion of a professional psychological counselor on this topic. She said that the right age to educate your child about sex is completely flexible and dependent on the child and the social circumstances. The education itself should, of course, be incremental and in appropriate stages. It begins with education about gender identity. Boys want to know how girls are different and vice versa. That’s where sex education begins.

From her experience as a counselor, she shared the fact that the most common question children ask is “where did I come from”. Looking at the fact that this question has made human beings build telescopes, launch satellites and planetary explorers, and write philosophical treatises, it seems this is the most fundamental, quintessential questions man has ever asked!

Related Reading: A nice, wide angle view of the Age of Consent, by Nita.

Photos: Copyrighted to me, of my daughter.

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  • Yes, this is indeed an interesting issue. Some other possible factors:
    1. Parents would want to impart some sexual knowledge before the kids pick it up from being exposed to it in the media (ads, movies, magazines etc.).
    2. There’s an issue of the kids being on the same page as their peers in school. Sometimes, a kid might say something like “my dad said babies come from … ” (or any other sexual issue) to his peers or a teacher, which might be correct information, but it could also cause some embarrassment to teachers (or to parents).

    Even in the US, there’s a constant battle on what to teach under sex education (safer sex vs. abstinence) in schools, and usually depends on the administration in power. Also, the media here is saturated with sexual images, so teenagers do learn about it from media. I think the issue would be even more complex in India, though the fact that people are at least talking about it is promising. Recently, there was a furore over Clearasil ads on TV being too raunchy for teenagers.

  • As you said, our kids are growing up much faster than we did, and plus there is the additional access to information. As a result parenting has become a much tougher job than before…and add to it the fact that there are nuclear families and thus the complete burden falls on the parents! In my opinion, we need to spend a lot of time with our kids, and only then we can find a way to do the right thing. That is what gives us a good understanding of the personality of the child and the right way to handle each child…and I am not even talking of the other benefits that kids get…the feeling of security. I do not believe in spending ‘quality’ time…I believe in simply being there for your kids. I guess a lot of people won’t agree with me, specially as it implies that women should stay home and look after the kids…but no that is not what I mean. Men should play an equal part…and I envision in ideal society where work environments make this possible, for both men and women.
    I guess I have diverted slightly from the main topic…but what I am trying to say is that parenting is tough work and often not given the time that it requires. Which is about 24 hours a day!! 🙂
    btw, Mahendra, thanks for the links…you know I like the way you connect different blogs in your blog post. It brings to the fore a feeling of community. I generally don’t do that, but I am going to try whenever I can!
    The other day on one of Paul’s posts where he mentioned that it is important to him to read blogs, I wrote a comment saying that the difference between media and blogs is that blogs are people, while a newspaper or a magazine is an organisation.
    Thats why I love blogs!

  • Hi Amit, yes, these other factors you point out are exactly the ‘social circumstances’ that the counselor referred to. The peer pressure factor you describe is extremely critical these days!

    In conservative America, there will always be this debate over sex education. If there can be debate over evolution vs. creationism and what to teach in schools, sex education will not be far from the Conservative radar!

    In India, the situation is pathetic and disturbing.

  • Nita: //we need to spend a lot of time with our kids, and only then we can find a way to do the right thing.// Very true.

    //Men should play an equal part…and I envision in ideal society where work environments make this possible, for both men and women.//
    I understand what you’re saying. Your view can be easily misinterpreted, so thanks for making it explicitly clear. And I don’t think anyone would disagree with the ideal you envision! The sad part is this is not reality, and hence we have all these conflicts. And it is the mothers who suffer the most as a result, I think.

    //I like the way you connect different blogs in your blog post. It brings to the fore a feeling of community.//
    Thank you! It takes the usual behind-the-scenes effort, so I’m very happy you notice and like it!

  • And now a funny story.
    My dad gave me “the talk” when I was 15. I sincerely appreciate the efforts he took gather courage to talk to me. Unfortunately, it was more like:
    Dad: Son, I want to talk to you about the birds and the bees…
    Me: Sure dad, what do you wanna know?
    :))
    He’s the greatest dad in the world 🙂

  • Priyank: LOL! 😀

  • Thanks for the link to my post Mahendrap. This is a very interesting article I agree with many points you’ve raised here.

    @Priyank- LOL! 🙂 did that really happen with you?

  • I can’t look at that top photo of your daughter without smiling! She’s so happy, she makes my day! Thank you for posting that, Mahendra!

  • See until I read this I was going to go with the whole “tie my daughters up and lock them in their rooms until they turn 30” style of sex education. I suppose that would be a little harsh. Now I need to completely rethink this.

  • Bibliomom: I hope you are not serious! I really hope you’re joking…even with the restrictive culture in India, that sort of approach towards sex education is doing more harm than good. Alas!

  • Oh yes I’m so joking!

  • Ah! That relieves me. Forgive me if you think I’m stupid…it’s just that I’m responding to several different threads of responses to my many different posts – that I might’ve been unable to distinguish humor from gravitas! 🙂