“Thank goodness, we are not raising boys!”
I said it last evening, yet again, on the eve of my step-daughter’s 17th birthday. This has become my dramatic, de-facto line to throw at the spouse whenever we are watching any film or show and a young boy is shown indulging in criminal acts: drug peddling, murder, street fights, rape, doxxing, blackmail, producing pornography, and other such stuff. It’s a problematic response but doing so we get to feel better about our lot: we have two extremely clingy daughters who MUST come to our room every ten minutes with imaginary problems.
Sometimes we play dead to avoid them. We exaggerate our work or headaches so we don’t have to listen to the elder one’s boy troubles or SAT shrillness the millionth time. The younger one, 10, tries to fit in by pretending to have “problems” and gets chased out with a little help from an obliging hyperactive dog.
The headline here is this: we are two exhausted, overworked, and slightly terrified working parents.
Parents Cannot Take Their Children’s Honesty For Granted
However, our bane is also a blessing—as we keep realising now and then. The girls did not think twice before coming to tell us about the “bois locker room” chat group on Instagram, where they identified some of their schoolmates or acquaintances as either victims or perpetrators.
An Instagram group, clearly inspired by pop depictions of American frat boys’ lives, was busted where teenage boys shared the photos of girls and women and trash-talked about their bodies.
There were rape fantasies and casual sexism to set the mood, too. Perhaps this time it was easier for them to come to us since they were not directly involved in anything.
They don’t hide ugly, dangerous things from us, even about themselves. I’m grateful for their honesty but this did not come easily. At this point, I empathise equally with the victims of the crassness of “bois locker room” and many other such groups as well as their parents. As of now, no formal complaint has been registered with either Delhi Police or Noida Police against this cyber crime, which falls under the ambit of POCSO as many victims are underage.
Most of the victims are unwilling to come forward as it would involve an uncomfortable conversation with their parents first.
Many young people have parallel digital lives that their parents have no clue about.
My empathy for the parents, of victims and perpetrators, emanates from the thought that no parent deserves a shattering revelation about the ugliness in their children’s lives. Many of these young people are virtually strangers to their parents. Yes, the pun is intended.
What Parents Don’t Want To, But Must, See
Seventeen, a pathbreaking documentary about high school life in Indiana, won the Sundance Film Award for Best Documentary in 1985 after it was released independently. Surprisingly, or maybe not, it vanished immediately afterward only to be resurrected in 2010. It stirred a serious controversy around the depiction of young people of Muncie—a town in Delaware County in Indiana—and, by extension, the entire Muncie community. Muncie teens were seen as drinking, swearing, fighting, indulging in substance abuse and unsafe sex, bullying and classroom rowdyism.
Nobody wanted to see that aspect of their young ones’ lives even though it was all in front of their eyes. Thirty five years later, a lot has changed yet a lot remains similar. What has changed is the dynamics of filial relationships and technology’s mediation of the private and the public worlds: from Indiana to India.
What remains similar is trust issues haunting the parents and children alike.
Despite intimacy and faith in convivial or ambition matters, there seems to be an uneasy tug-of-war going on in the name of social mores. A classmate of my elder one, for example, is allowed to host and attend parties where alcohol is served and imbibed with or without adult supervision but boyfriends are off-limits. Underage children are given expensive cars to drive, even for school commute, with fake driving license but a conversation on contraceptives is strict no-no. For many boys, girlfriends are a done deal but conversations around menstruation are not.
Houston, we have a problem!
Can We Start Listening More to Our Children Before It’s Too Late?
No two children are alike and neither are parents. There is no fool-proof parenting kit available either. In a complex, competitive, and cannibalistic world of teens, there safety is vital. Not for their own sake alone, but for the sake of society at large. Difficult teenagers can easily and almost inconspicuously morph into hardened criminals.
What can parents do to stop that? Almost next to nothing, quite frankly, if that boat has sailed already. It doesn’t harm, however, to instil a deep sense of trust in one’s children while one still can. Not an easy task, I must admit.
There are times when one has to acknowledge that our children aren’t as angelic as we’ve fancied them to be. Still, we must strive to find what, how, and who they are.
I was gutted when my then seven-year-old daughter stole pencils from my friend’s house. At five, she had also picked up a beautiful greeting card from a store and hidden it under her t-shirt. Both of these times she knew she was doing something that I wouldn’t approve of. More recently, there was a big domestic drama about the older one’s experiments with contraband substances.
What affirms my faith in open channels of communication, however, is the fact that I trust the girls to come to us in the middle of the night should they need to make a confession. They will make mistakes in their lives the way I have made. And they will have to suffer the consequences, too.
They know, however, that their parents will always give them a patient hearing and not judge them for goof-ups. They sometimes say things merely to shock us and eventually get bored because there is no reaction.
Different parents have different thresholds but these thresholds should not turn into walls that can only be breached under dire circumstances.