As a parent, teacher, journalist, and a student of gender studies, I was neither shocked nor surprised by the ‘bois locker room’ incident. Yes, the spelling did irk me a lot. We have been discussing almost every element of this incident for decades: patriarchy, objectification of women, lack of healthy socialisation for girls and boys, breakdown of communication between parents and children, bullying, cyber crime, among others.
What has rendered me a bit unsettled is the aftermath of this exposé of youth behaviour. On one hand it is too predictable for comfort, on the other hand several new challenges have emerged. But let me give you an anecdote from Kashmir before we move on.
The ‘Betrayed’ Parent
Some years ago, after stonepelting had already been established as a formidable means of dissent, a Kashmiri mother was called in to the local police station. She had been insisting that her son did not participate in the latest stonepelting incident in the vicinity. She told the police with a great deal of authority that her young son was busy elsewhere at the time of stonepelting. The police officer dealing with the case played a video recording of the incident and paused when the her son’s face appeared on the screen. The mother was visibly disturbed upon spotting him.
However, she composed herself in a few minutes and monitored the footage again, with renewed interest. What followed was the police officer’s dream come true as she went on to identify many young men. “My son is a good boy and never indulges in such activities. It was X, the good-for-nothing son of Y who must have convinced him. And why just X, even M is no less. See, how enthusiastically he’s throwing the stone! And I tell you, it’s all because of P’s son Q. He’s the street-lord. I’ve never liked that boy” and so on.
A ‘betrayed’ parent set a chain of betrayals in motion.
‘Defective’ Kids, Defensive Parents
There is no dearth of defensive parents who insist that it is, after all, someone else’s son or daughter who has led their kid astray. Even Osama bin Laden’s mother has publicly expressed similar sentiment. Perhaps this defensive attitude emanates from the idea that any slippage on the progeny’s part is often seen as a personal failure by parents.
I’ve often grappled with the idea that almost everything wrong with an adolescent or an arguably “mature” person can be dumped at the doorstep of parents. Psychologist Sigmund Freud and, later, poet Philip Larkin have contributed greatly to the idea that,
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.”
What did we do wrong is a common parental refrain at the time of crises, at least in private. In public, however, this acceptance of wrongdoing gives way to defensiveness and counter-attacks. The aftermath of the boys locker room eruption, therefore, has almost been copybook.
When Will Trust Deficit Between Parents and Children Go Away?
A 17-year-old boy killed himself allegedly after being called out by a girl on social media for assaulting her. It is almost impossible to establish the facts of the matter as the incident is said to have happened two years ago. It will always remain a ‘he said, she said’ story with a tragic outcome. What is worrisome, however, is the post mortem of ‘bois locker room’ exposé and other testimonies in the light of a tragic, untimely death of a young boy.
As I mentioned in my previous article, many victims of the ‘bois locker room’ trash talk and pornography were reluctant to speak to their parents, leave aside the police. They were terrified of the consequences: one of them being no access to their social media accounts. In this scenario, those who ask why a girl chose to report a crime on social media after staying quiet for two years must be either deliberately blind to the problem or asking the wrong question altogether.
The fact that most elite schools have at least one resident counsellor to just ‘talk’ to students must alert us to the idea that many of our kids are dealing with a huge trust deficit back home. For many of them, social spaces—physical or digital—are the safe spaces.
Furthermore, most of us have lost sight of the irony of being sympathetic towards the boy who has killed himself allegedly due to social media judgement and bullying, while unleashing the same against the girl in question.
Time To Bring the Balance Back
When a kid is in the middle of a crisis, either as a victim or a perpetrator, parents may feel cornered by an army of law enforcement agencies, experts, administrators, or even journalists. It is, unfortunately, inevitable. However, what needs to be understood is that brushing an incident aside or hushing an unpleasant event in one’s child’s life, can never be the solution. Yes, our children need help but what we think as a ‘solution’ could very well lead them to a Dantesque journey into moral and psychological hell.
We live in complex times, and when we are young everything—love, trouble, social anxiety, fear, boredom etc—appears magnified. Our young people need balance back into their lives. But can a society which lacks balance offer it to them?
A hyper-sexualised peer milieu and a regressive regime at home or institutions are enough to throw our young people off the tracks, or, tragically, on them.
Society loves comparisons, and so do some parents. Rarely any good comes out of that. Dr Vivian Seltzer, a clinical psychologist at University of Pennsylvania, has coined a helpful phrase called “defensive glitches” to refer to defensive behaviours that adolescents engage in when they find themselves inadequate in relation to their peers. These behaviours could range from assuming a false facade or making early commitments. Dr Seltzer, in her handbook for therapists, lists out how even positive reinforcement could have adverse effect. Now, who would have thought THAT? We have, after all, ditched the stick—rightly so—for the carrot long back.
Perhaps, balance—however cliched it may sound—is indeed the key: in all aspects of young people’s lives. Law enforcement agencies, families, schools, experts—all are stakeholders here. Let’s not forget, it takes a village to raise a child.
When society elders lose sight of that balance and indulge in either defensive or aggressive behaviour towards young members, it’s a recipe for disaster. If not immediately, soon.