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Our kids inhabit a different world from the one we knew growing up, so maybe there’s value in a parenting style exposing them to ‘bad’ things in a safe way?
Last week I was watching Anderson Cooper fume about Trump on CNN. The visuals were of Trump posing at the Church juxtaposed to a clipping of demonstrators being attacked by the police barely 100 meters away.
My little one sneaked up on me and caught a glimpse of my phone screen.
In this house we have a rule we follow strictly. We don’t hide our screens from each other; because that is not the kind of behaviour we would like to encourage in our little one. The onus is on the adults to make sure we are not watching anything inappropriate in the presence of the child. So when he asked me to show him what I was watching, I had to. I always do.
Hence – and not that I am happy about this fact, but – he has seen the videos of the migrants sobbing into the mike, recounting how far they’ve come on their empty stomachs and how far they have to go, still. He has seen the video of the appalling state of the quarantine centres in India, and the one in particular where bananas were being thrown at people through an iron grilled gate. The one with the toddler trying to wake his (dead) mother at a railway station in India made his face turn a shade of white I do not wish to see on my child again. At night he clung to me tighter. A couple of nights after that, actually.
And yet, I wouldn’t change my rule about not hiding our screens in this household.
And yes, for those judging me already, let me up the ante. My son is just seven. He knows about Trump and Modi and Bolsonaro. We’ve talked about the evils of capitalism and materialism. He knows that religious and other kinds of bigotries exist. We spoke one fine morning about why I don’t like to buy diamonds or shop at malls. And yet another evening, while feeding the birds, about Yemen and Syria.
And now that your hatred for me – for my parenting style, for killing my son’s innocence – is peaking, let me tell you my reasons.
Because after every video he watches about Trump and his many shenanigans, he almost always says the same thing. ‘I hope people do not vote for him again.’
The operative word being ‘again’. He has never asked me once why people voted for him in the first place.
He is a child who has accidentally shattered my expensive crystal showpieces; has written on the study table with a marker he didn’t realise was permanent; and forgotten to take his watch off before heading into a swim class. Mistakes like those- averaging to say half a dozen a day, just like any other child his age – are the reason he has never asked me why people made the mistake of voting the wrong guy to power. And therein lies his childlike innocence. He knows people make mistakes and that’s okay. What is important is that they don’t make the same mistake twice.
Understanding what good leadership means
The fact that he is aware that countries around the world (including his own) are suffering because we chose the wrong leaders, ensures that he understands the importance of picking the right one.
But I also tell him about Jacinda Ardern and Angela Merkel and Tsai Ing-Wen and what they are doing. (The fact that all the examples I can offer him of good leadership in our present state of crisis, are of women, is just an icing on the cake for a feminist mom like me. Hence, I’m not denying that I find it hard to suppress my smile when I talk to him about them.)
Understanding his privilege and how to use it right
Because he has seen the videos of thousands of migrants making the journey they weren’t even sure they would be able to finish, he understands the privilege he has; in being safe, and fed, and sheltered. And that he has done nothing to deserve this privilege. Luck of the draw, purely. Hence he should never, ever, ever, get smug about it.
But because of his innocence he doesn’t throw his hands in the air or just ignore it all and focus on Online Ludo and Family Tambola like a lot of adults I can think of. Instead he asks me what we can do to help. He genuinely believes any small effort he makes, even while sitting thousands of miles away from those migrants, will matter. And that is the sheer brilliance of it all.
Understanding about caring for the environment
Because he has seen the videos of the choking seals and turtles, he volunteered to be the ‘Eco-Warrior’ representative for his year group in school. And since then has been spending hours watching videos, and reading about the science behind it all. Discussing with us about small but significant things which we can all do to help the environment.
Understanding everyday dealings
He braves the heat and dust and goes with me to the farmers’ markets and wet markets, to buy unpackaged stuff; unlike a lot of adults I know, who’d shop at supermarkets and hypermarkets, come back with items packed in miles and miles of plastic and cling wrap; but unfailingly, at dinner, give the server at the restaurant hell for bringing over one single straw, just so they can keep their ‘Saviour of the environment’ badge shining.
A friend (Now you know that’s a euphemism for an acquaintance I can barely stand, right?) recently tried to shame me for my parenting style, for making my child ‘grow up’ too fast and stealing away his ‘innocent years’. Her words. ‘Are you raising an activist?’ was her quip, delivered with a self-appreciative smug grin. She also judged me for ‘corrupting’ my son’s young mind by talking to him about Greta Thunberg and her movement. (No surprises there!)
But because I am trying to instil in my child, amongst other things, an ability to control impulsive reactions to every comment made in his presence – God knows he is going to need it on Facebook and Twitter and whatever fresh hell they would invent by the time is he older – I didn’t respond to her. Practice what you preach, and all that jazz, you see.
But this, here, is my response.
Would I have loved to give my son a sheltered and protected life? Sure! And I believe I still am. As evidence I offer the fact, that for my son’s better health and education, I moved to a new country last year. I had to leave the country and the city where my husband works because my son’s lungs could no longer handle the air with more than 250 points on the Air Quality Index, almost every day.
It was not a decision me and my husband made and executed lightly. It took all the courage, and patience we had, and then some. Not to mention balancing our monthly budget tightrope with a finesse which will put Phillipe Petit to shame.
Furthermore, with this current situation of the travel being shutdown, we don’t even know when we would get to be together again. I find myself alone, in a foreign land, with a child to take care of. It is a decision I cry about every night; but the next morning, I wake up, wash my face and brave another day of living it. For my son.
So yes, I do know a thing or two about protecting my child. My definition of protection has always been more to do with preparedness though.
I don’t see any value in protecting him from a world which, even on my most optimistic days, I cannot honestly say would be vastly different than the one we have now. I do hope, with every cell in my body, that it isn’t any worse; but who am I kidding. We all know which way this rock is rolling; and accelerating fast, might I add.
In order to prepare someone for choppy waters before they set sail – because if there is one thing this year has taught us, it is that the calm seas we sail in can get pretty choppy, pretty fast – we need to equip them with everything they might require to survive. For the life of me, I cannot see how protecting my child from any sight of the turbulent seas and then one day, when he’s old enough, just throwing him in it to fend for himself is a better parenting style.
And trust me, there are enough and more kids being thrown in the thick of the mess that is real life, without being prepared for it. The rising cases of mental health issues in teenagers and young adults, the rising cases of suicides, regrettably stand as irrefutable proof.
So isn’t my choice the better parenting style, the better option here that we prepare them for it? Show them the world the way it is and then help them understand it? Help them build the resilience, the emotional and mental health, and the compassion they would need to navigate it? Help them develop the rational and knowledge-based thinking they would need to solve the problems this world would throw at them and make sound judgements? For every bad leader they have to witness, show them the right ones so they know who to vote for when the time comes? Or better still become one?
Please, let us also not fool ourselves, that in this day and age of technology and easy access to information, we are our child’s primary source of knowledge. So if we don’t tell them, they’d never know. At least if the information comes from us, we can temper and season it to suit our child’s sensibilities.
Besides, immunity. That’s one word we learned about the hard way this year. Let’s not forget it applies to far more than just our bodies.
I know the dichotomy of choosing to live in polluted cities, sending your kids to school with face masks and then cribbing about it endlessly; but still giving grief to someone else who chose to move away from such cities to give their child an ability to breathe free, is lost on you.
But the logic of not immunising our kids to the very world they inhabit, in the name of protecting them, is lost on me.
No. I am not trying to ‘raise an activist’. Au contraire, I wish we lived in a world where we were all raised, and in turn had the ability to raise our kids with due awareness and sense of responsibility, so we didn’t need that many “activists”.
But till that happens, I am just trying to protect my child, the best way I know how. And hiding my phone screen has got nothing to do with it.
Image source: shutterstock
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Radhika Maira Tabrez is a writer, motivational speaker, and a Learning and Development Specialist. She
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