Recently a few of us friends had a healthy debate on the future of our self-styled “generation next”. Arguments and counter-arguments were bandied about over the ether via an instant messaging app, with no concrete conclusion being reached. In our friend circles, we have children ranging from 5-year olds to early twenties, and having interacted with most of them, I have some observations to make and a few myths to dispel.
All through our childhood years we have all been witness to various tumultuous or rebellious phases, wherein we wanted to literally destroy the world – starting with our parents! Undoubtedly, throughout our growing-up years we would have crossed swords with our parents several times while wanting to do something we thought was fantastic, while they in their unfounded wisdom would have found it utterly blasphemous. I am yet to encounter a friend who has not gone through such phases in his or her life – only the degree of turbulence and fractiousness varies. Children by default ape their parents, and my observation is that the same streak of rebellion has now been augmented into gargantuan proportions in our children, thanks to the present day information overload. The current lot of children can be easily termed “generation text” as they have access to information, which during our time came from either an elder (never came!) or from a peer (always misinformed!). So I would not blame them entirely for wanting to grow up immediately without going through the intervening adolescent years. They somehow seem to be in a hurry to catch an elevator straight into their twenties, conveniently forgetting the stairs they have to take through their teenage years. All this goes against our established belief system, but I shall not pass judgment on whether this trend is good or bad, as I never witnessed such a tsunami of information when I was young – maybe if I had, I would have been equally impatient. The internet is full of search engines and social media sites that transpose a child into a make-believe world where he or she can live in a virtual environment that has none of the antediluvian “boundaries and restrictions” espoused by their parents. Today the child is easily enamoured by these images and concepts – many useful, but a majority of them harmful. These mirages unfortunately get etched in their impressionable minds and create an impermeable barrier against parental advice, which they anyway feel are passé and antiquated. Our parents would have used the rod and barred our entry into this vulgarly metaphoric world, but as a practical parent I know that using the rod is definitely not the solution to this.
Another thing that I have noticed in my interactions is curiosity. When we grew up our major issues were associated with unwarranted anxiety or angst. Our anguish and antagonism was mainly directed at our parents for their stringency, and towards school authorities for the dreaded examination system. But now curiosity seems to be an overwhelming attitude in the current lot of children, which is both good and bad. Good, because it creates an aptitude to learn and understand more of the world. Bad because it is a direct corollary that leads to incidents like the recently reported shocking case of a 14-year old girl lured by an elderly man through a social media site, and molested. This negative aspect of curiosity leads to needless flaunting, and creates vacuous mental psychologies in them that will eventually lead to disaster. Of course, the internet is a hotbed of (dis)information which also stokes the fires of curiosity in these tender souls.
On the plus side, I also see a lot of hope and positivity among today’s children. They seem to be way more optimistic about the future than we were at their age. In our case, we grew up in an India that was still recovering from the disastrous effects of following a fatuous and irresponsible license-raj agenda, and was just maturing into an economic giant. Today’s child knows that the professional avenues open to him or her are multifarious, and that he or she need not be straitjacketed as a “doctor or engineer” to be successful in life. Most of the teenagers I have spoken have very distinct goals and are acutely aware of where they want their educational compasses to point. They are also very clear about what role their parents should play in advancing them towards these aims.
So do we have a solution to the alleged “negativities” in our children? One of them, as I have mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, is that as parents we need to come out of the shell that was created by our parents while bringing us up. Why not junk the archetypal Indian trend of looking at children as an asset that will ultimately reap interests in our dotage, and look at them as friends who will remain loyal to you till your end? Why not dismantle the box that has been handed down over generations, and learn to be modernistic instead of melodramatic in our approach towards our kids? Undeniably, some kind of parental curbing is inevitable, but should we not make it less intrusive and more innocuous? Some of the heated arguments that I have with my charming 9-year old daughter are extravagant, to say the least, and they normally give undeserved palpitations to my dear wife. Any advice that I give her as a parent is objected to as interference on her individuality and curbing of her independence – not literally in such elaborate terms, but it is easy to deduce the gist of her profound urgings. These are debates that can I never win, because somewhere deep inside me there still exists the very same primordial ideas that I abhor so much, which is what I need to change in myself. But I feel very upbeat that she can speak to me and challenge my authority with logical responses – something I could never do (and still can’t!) with my father. My wife has somehow found the perfect equanimity when dealing with my daughter, and this makes me envious – they are the best of friends and even when they gang up against me, I feel proud and optimistic!
Maybe, this then is that quixotic solution that parents are so desperately on the lookout for. Can we not as parents, modify our thinking for the general good of our children and become their best friends? Between friends, there will always be fights, arguments, and bouts of sulking with long periods of silence. But if we are to take this as an edification process, we can create a symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship with our children. Most of us may already be friends with our progeny, but maybe we need to take it to the next level – I myself need to go that extra mile to take my relationship with my daughter to a higher plane. Hopefully, this will stop kids from turning to online charlatans posing as their “buddies” and leading them astray, and turn them to their true friends – their parents. I have noticed that children listen, if you speak to them as their friend… after all, best friends are forever! Somewhere between our Doordarshan and Orkut we grew up, so between their YouTube and Facebook they too will grow up.