Parents on the prowl

Last Updated 25 November 2011, 16:21 IST

In a recent television interview, Sonia Dwivedi, a teenage daughter’s mother — and a senior bank manager — confirmed that she routinely overheard the cellphone conversations of her daughter which revealed that she was involved in multiple physical relationships with young men from her college. “Sexual experimentation is common among young people today.

I had doubts about my daughter but could confirm them only when I could have proof. By chance, I overheard her conversation with her colleagues and found out that she is into FWB — friendship with benefits — relationships with many young men. I was devastated and asked her about it, only to be told not to snoop on her. I have now distanced myself from her and am waiting for her to find a suitable guy, get married and be independent. 
When such incidents happen, it is natural for parents to feel that the sooner a daughter marries and goes away, the better! I cannot deal with this situation because I have never encountered it in my life. Moreover, with my career, my home and husband as well as a younger son, I have my plate full. How long will I counsel a daughter determined to rebel? I am tired of parents — especially mothers — being blamed for the failings of their grown-up children. I know I have done my best but I am not perfect. I am tense all the time as to what her next crisis will be.”

Parents like Sonia are edgy and worried with the year-end festive season of December approaching. “During Navaratri garbas and Diwali parties, we were cautious,” says Vinod Chawla, a Mumbai executive, “Some of us even used professional investigative agencies this year to keep a hawk’s eye on our college-going children’s activities. These days, urban and small town kids have a desperate need to indulge in a busy night life. Teens want to go out on several nights a week with their crowd and return late. They make their rendezvous on the cell phone or email and because of the secrecy parents often do not know where they plan to go. Boys and girls mix without any restraint and the result is often fearsome with an increasing number of girls getting pregnant or teens indulging in near-criminal or dangerous activities. Parents end up accusing each other and sometimes, many marriages teeter on the brink of divorce because neither can control a teenager today. As if as a result of this situation, there are scores of ‘detective agencies’ sprouting up in Indian cities that promise to monitor teens.”

What leads to such situations? Many parents feel that until the end of school, their children and they have a relationship of trust and fun together! But college life changes all this. Before parents know, teens become secretive, messaging on their cell phones constantly and behaving rudely when interrupted! They don’t want any curfews about evenings out. It is especially difficult to deal with teens who are brilliant academically but look for thrills in leisure hours. How do some parents solve such difficult situations?

“Our son believes that youth is a time for ‘adventure’ and will do anything to accept a challenge,” says Manohar Solanki, a businessman, “He rides his bike dangerously and jumps into a water body without judging the danger. We live in severe anxiety till he returns safely. I found the answer to this problem by asking that I go with him on such adventures as often as possible. He was so scared of hurting me that his ‘adventures’ became less and less over time. When he realises how he feels about hurting his parents, he is now able to understand that if he is hurt, we would also suffer equally. It has helped that we have always shared deep trust with our son.”

Teen years are a time for huge changes in a person’s life. Boys feel that they are on their way to becoming ‘men’ and want to enjoy their maleness. Girls have a need to feel that they will become beautiful, sexy women. Their bodies change and many a time, they are unable to cope with the peer or social pressures and the constant need to match up to ‘ideals’ set up by media and films. With ‘my space’ and ‘my rights’ becoming the anthems of the youth, cell phones, social networking sites and email help to create a secret connectivity. Social occasions like garbas, picnics, college parties, sleepover get-togethers and just ‘hanging out with friends’ create many opportunities for young people to satisfy their rebellious needs. With a ‘desperate hurry to grow up’ they want more and more freedom to stay out late with peers and become secretive and defiant.
Counselors say that all teens go through this stage and most stabilise when they become serious about their careers or future. The trouble comes only when they do not snap out of this rebellion and continue to defy parents and society in general and often meet with tragic consequences.

“It is not an easy time for parents, especially in India where more and more people are becoming affluent enough to give their children some luxuries and freedom,” says Maitri Roy, a child/student counselor, “Freedom can become license any time and bring serious results. There are more teens in India than most other countries and the problem is therefore huge. Because of the media and Bollywood, children of comparatively deprived families hunger for goodies and privileges and try to get them by hook or crook, often stealing from parents or committing petty crimes. They envy their well-to-do friends and want to have the freedom to enjoy a scintillating night life and socialise just like them.
With technology becoming such a huge part of their education, they have access to a ‘secret space’ with a group or a single person of their choice. Also, the melting of the distance between the genders has tempted teens to experiment with sex.  Gynecologists say that a huge number of college girls opt for sexual encounters and there are an increasing number of abortions among students. Also the increasing advertising of contraceptive pills, 72 hour pills to stop pregnancies and condoms indicates what the reality is in India right now.  No wonder parents are at a loss to handle this even as they try to cope with the pressures of their own lives. Most of them have no option but to keep a tab on the activities of their ward by various means.”

Recent surveys say that most parents check out social networking sites like Facebook to spy on what their children are doing and who they are hobnobbing with. Asked if this is not an intrusion into the ward’s private world, parents say there is no option but to snoop into their links with friends and their activities. According to many parents, the advantage of snooping is that they do not have to have awkward and emotion-draining fights with their children. “Parents know as much technology as the kids and can be clever in following their kids’ activities,” one young mother sums up, “Websites such as Facebook, MySpace or Twitter are immensely popular among teenagers! Even those below the required age limit of 13 use the sites in huge numbers. It is difficult to monitor their contacts online but parents have to know as many as possible so that disasters can be averted. When a child’s life goes haywire, it is a tragedy for parents. So snooping is necessary today.  A survey says that more than 50 per cent of parents in the world have a peek into their children’s activities. Some do it openly. For instance, I tell my kids that my two eyes are always following them through the day and that they are safe in my love. Of course teens object to this snooping but parents have no option at least in India where society is still comparatively conservative.  There are surveys to show how many parents snoop on their children’s activities but unfortunately, there are no figures to show how many parents have saved their children from disasters ruining their lives.  Parents have a right to know where their children are headed because any tragedy or problem that affects a child’s life becomes a double calamity for parents who love the child more than anything else in the world!”

A recent British study shows that most parents also fear that their children can suffer damage from using the Internet. They feel that the web can “rewire” young brains to a large extent and most worry that sites like Facebook and Twitter are addictive! The report adds that children could become victims of cyber-bullying, scaremongering and misinformation from the Internet or social networking sites!

(Published 25 November 2011, 16:21 IST)

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