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! 🙂