"Dad, pass the ball!” hollers a teenager as he misses the catch and it bounces to the other side of the apartment complex. “Come and get it, beta,” says the father, while chilling with his own friends over cans of beer. “What the f*#%, dad? Why can’t you just throw it?” shouts the teenager irritably from the other side of the ground. “Okay, don’t get bugged. You kids have no stamina,” laughs the father as he throws the ball back.
Just another day in the lives of new age urban parents. “It’s cool to be friends with our kids. Talk their language and be one of them,” says architect Arun Bakshi, father of an 11-year-old boy.
We are friends!
This sentiment, popular with many parents, to be friends with their kids, seems to be going beyond ‘friending’ their kids on Facebook or following them on Twitter. Today’s parents hang out with their teens, watch the same Twilight films, dress in the same skinny jeans, dance to Lady Gaga numbers and even go clubbing with them. While all this may appear extremely cool, experts call it treading dangerous waters.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with being cool. In fact, if you ask most of the kids, they find their parents’ friendly attitude rather embarrassing,” says Delhi-based child and adolescent psychologist Dr Animesh Dey. The urgency to be “in their kids’ clique” stems from a need to be appreciated by the child, adds Dr Dey. The parents tend to feel that since they are from a different generation, they need to adhere to the “cool” definitions of their kids to be accepted.
Watch it, dude!
Host of the parenting TV series, The Tara Sharma Show, Tara Sharma says the idea of being friends with your kids might be brilliant in theory, but it needs close monitoring in practice. “There is no defined line. So obviously, going overboard is a huge possibility,” she says. Sharma feels it may be a good idea to be a little more “chilled out” with your children. But there has to be a certain non-negotiable code of conduct for the child at home and outside.
It’s a cruel, cruel world
Till a decade back, the rules of parenting were governed by what one saw and learnt from our parents. But now, the Internet, celebrity lifestyles, innumerable books (of uneven quality) and just a lot of hearsay and peer pressure is what influences our approach to parenting. “It no longer is how ‘I’ was brought up. It is how ‘so and so’ is bringing up their kid. And how popular is the other’s child even if he seems an overtly smart-alecky, brash teenager with little sense of propriety,” says Delhi University sociologist Naintara Mehta. So even as experts feel it is progressive to move with the times, it is necessary to do some filtering. “This depends on your upbringing,” says Tara Sharma. She adds, “Gone are the days of parents whose mere presence in the room could send shivers down the spine. So don’t do that. But ensure you don’t let go too much. You should never be at the same level as your kid. You need to maintain a power differential!”
New rules of engagement
Don’t really be a buddy - when parents try to become a friend to the child and forget that someone has to be in charge of the family, the situation degenerates into chaos. It makes the kid feel uneasy. Don’t try to be a buddy. Be an understanding parent.
Hear them out
Put down the iPhone, close the laptop, stop multi-tasking and listen very carefully to what is and isn’t being said by your child. It may not be the most intelligent conversation, but it makes the child feel that he/she is being heard.
Don’t be condescending
Don’t talk down to them. Children being younger than adults anyway are defensive at the outset of a discussion. When patronising language is added to this, it infuriates them. Respect a child’s intelligence. Also, please mind your language when with them. They learn what they see and hear.
Talk your age
Children are sharp and whenever they hear someone misusing hip slang, they assume that the person is either pretending to be hip or lying to them. It’s tough to keep up with the nuances in present-day kids’ slang and trying to “talk their language” does nothing but erode respect.
Draw the lines
In spite of what they say, children want and need limits and they need parents who are consistent in enforcement. Whether it is bedtimes, television or video games or curfews for teenagers, reasonable rules that are understood by all parties give children a comfort zone.
Don’t compare kids
To friends, siblings, anybody! No two people are exactly alike in talent, size, mood or intelligence. A parent who says, “Why can’t you be more like (pick a sibling or some goody-two-shoes friend)?” is disrespecting the uniqueness of the child. Don’t ever do it. Don’t say, “when I was your age”. ildren know that whatever went on decades ago, is largely irrelevant now. In that sense, they are logical. When a child hears the words “when I was your age,” he/she immediately knows whatever words follow will have little or no relation to the world in which they live now.
Be nice, it helps
This holds true not just for kids but for you, too. Don’t be mean to your children or to others. Your kids are watching you.
From HT Brunch, September 22
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