Involved parents are kind, loving, nurturing, and protective. They establish a deep bond with their children and help them to grow up into responsible adults who are emotionally stable.
Kids are usually sensitive, perceptive, at times moody, and mostly desire to be loved and cared. They are innocent and curious, and an authoritative or strict style of parenting will make them rebellious. Even if they are afraid, this fear makes them resort to more lies, and they adapt more deceptive tactics.
Many books and journals on parenting advise being friendly with children. However, is it even possible for parents to be a friend? Is the only way to avoid strict parenting is to be indulgent with kids? Where is the fine line between strict parents and indulgent parents?
We have often heard the term “spare the rod and spoil the child” and the debate is whether strict parenting was the only way to discipline a child. While I often detested the concept of beating up children as it always felt abusive behaviour, my recent encounters with young parents has made me think over this issue.
I was at a restaurant where there was a young couple with their two children. Another couple joined them with their kids. It was the birthday celebration of one of the women, and as the four adults celebrated with a lavish cake, drinks, and food, the four kids roamed all around, creating a ruckus in the restaurant. Everyone from the other tables looked on in disgust as the kids ran around noisily, screaming and laughing, often colliding with other people.
It was certainly not the fault of the children as they felt bored and no one told them anything, but the parents should have certainly tried to stop their kids from running all around the restaurant and should not have been so neglectful.
This was few months back in a local train. I was seated in the general compartment and just opposite to me, a family was sitting. The boy was barely seven or eight years old. While it is natural for kids to be a little naughty, this child was so wilful that he threw tantrums to get the window seat. Some passengers scooted over and made way for the child but even after sitting there, he wanted the phone from his parents to play games. Even after being given that, he insisted on buying whatever caught his fancy as the hawkers came in selling their goods.
When at last the mother said ‘No’ after a very long time, the boy kept on screaming until he got what he wanted. He did not let the hawkers move on as he kept on holding on to the pair of sunglasses till his father had to buy it, clearly out of embarrassment.
These incidents made me think and question. Is the only alternative to strict parenting negligent or indulged parenting? There had to be ways in which children could be disciplined without scolding or physically hitting them. I remembered my childhood days – how we used to spend hours with our parents, how my bond with my parents even today remains the same. Yes I was quite a difficult kid who did not always listen to her parents, but I loved them and bonded pretty well.
As I recall there were a few things which made my bonding with parents so special. Moreover, with the changing cultural trends, there are few things which can help the children to bond better with their parents.
A simple vacation helps to relieve stress and unwind. Outdoor games played together are not only fun but help in disconnecting with the virtual world and enjoy the company of our close ones.
Nowadays with the recognition of mental illness and depression as a sickness, parents are more concerned and anxious about their child’s mental health. With the number of suicides sharply increasing and death games like blue whale or momo challenge in the news, anxiety of parents is quite natural. Monitoring a child’s activity on social media accounts is important as children are not able to distinguish between right and wrong. Using it under parental guidance might be okay, but they should not spend long hours on it and laying down certain ground rules is important. Instead of this time spent on video games or internet, quality time should be spent as a family doing activities together which automatically brings the family closer.
In a fast paced world where jobs and career leave hardly any time, it is difficult to have quality time on a daily basis. Time is almost a luxury and money is sometimes less precious, therefore gifts substitute attention. But after a long day’s end, a family dinner with snippets of conversation helps to stay connected. It is simple yet effective, as it establishes that the people living under a single roof are not just roommates but a family, and the children feel loved and cared.
Parents should talk to their children about their physical and bodily changes in the growing up years.
Many adolescents suffer from low self confidence as they feel awkward or uncomfortable regarding their body in their puberty. Talking about it and making them aware of menstrual hygiene as well as sex makes them feel that these are normal. Often not being able to find answers to their queries, they turn to their peer group and in most cases they learn wrong information or they start viewing it as something sinful.
Talking about safe sex and about napkins and tampons not only with girls but even with boys is necessary.
In many communities, when a girl comes of age, there are certain festivals and rituals to celebrate it. Despite all this, menstruation is still considered taboo and many young girls get to know about it only when they first bleed. Not only is this quite unsafe it also makes many girls go through mental turmoil, when they do not understand why they have suddenly bled. Even the advertisements on TV show a blue liquid as blood is considered taboo.
In India we still have a long way to go before we have a compulsory sex education in school and thus parents are the only people in such a scenario who can talk to their children and make them aware.
Often children as young as a toddler become a victim of abuse. They are too young to verbally express their terrible experiences. It is important to teach them the difference between a good touch and a bad touch. Teaching children to not talk or be close to strangers is not enough as many a times children are abused by some known people even within the confines of their school or home.
Creating a bond and a free space where the children feel they can openly discuss about their problems becomes important. Shaming them or making them feel guilty about their opinions or choices will simply drive them away. It will destroy their confidence, and they will most likely not be able to talk even when they are being bullied or abused.
Scolding kids just makes them shut off, and sneaking behind their backs not only makes them rebellious but it also breaks their trust in their parents. Rather than sharing anything they would resort to lies which not only breaks the bond of love between parents and children, but in certain situations it might become risky and unsafe when in case of any emergency, the parents are not aware of their child’s whereabouts.
In India, we associate respect with submissiveness. Our mythology eulogizes Lord Rama who leaves for ‘vanvas’ at the words of his father. Even in films like Dangal, Aamir Khan plays the role of a strict father but it is due to his tireless efforts that his daughters succeed in the end. Clearly, all these centres around the problematic concept where meekly accepting a parent’s words is considered the ideal, and questioning parents is considered to be a sign of wilful behaviour.
However being assertive and questioning develops strength of character, and ensures that when the child grows up, he does not become a meek and weak person. Thus creating a space where the child can discuss or debate freely makes them feel they can confide in their parents.
Being a friend by knowing the latest trends in fashion or video games might not be every parent’s cup of tea, nor is it necessary because the loving guidance of a parent is the crucial factor which can help a young child into becoming an independent and responsible adult.
A version of this was first published here.
Image source: a still from the movie Naal
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