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Wired and Wise @13

entertainment Updated: Apr 26, 2009 00:20 IST
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One girl likes to sneak out at 11.30 pm to go partying with friends. Another says she found it hard to cope with a rough break-up. One boy is an online gaming geek, another likes clothes only from American brand Guess. Yet another is seriously grooming himself to be an actor.

These could be instances in the average 18 to 30-year-old’s life. Except that the boys and girls we are talking about are between eight and 14. We are talking about the grown-up life of the urban tween.

Disney’s KidSense 3 — a qualitative study on the inner and outer worlds of tweens — has unearthed some startling truths and trends in the lives of children aged eight to 14 across India. The study discovered a generation that is “very wise, very wired and very vulnerable,” says Gitanjali Ghate, MD of The Third Eye, the research agency that conducted the study among 300 tweens in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Lucknow for over two months. The insights were gained from projects in which the tweens maintained personal diaries, AVs, photo collages, journals.

“The most significant finding was that today, the rules for adults and children are no longer different,” says Ghate. “The boundaries have merged, so children mirror adults even as adults try to find their inner child.” As a student counsellor in upmarket Mumbai schools, Chandni Mehta says she finds herself constantly amazed. “I know 13- and 14-year-olds who smoke and drink,” she reveals. “And at 14, they claim to have seen the world.”

Nalini Sibal, creative director of Kid’s Own, a play-cum-party area for children in Sector 17, Chandigarh and mother of two teenagers, says, “Children demand branded clothes, iPods, computers and lavish birthday parties, but we need to fulfil their demands in moderation.” Anu Sood, a homemaker and mother of two tweens in Sector 35, believes that parents too are to blame. “In a class-conscious society, even the parents are very brand conscious,” she says.

They are intensely image-conscious too, thanks to the strong influence of Bollywood and fashion. “There is an 8th standard girl who goes gymming and a nine-year-old who makes salon visits with her mother for pedicures,” says Mehta.

Technology is a major lifestyle factor in the tween’s life, too. The latest mobile phone — check. Personal laptop — check. Play Station — outdated. Nintendo Wie — check. “Digi play is replacing outdoor play,” says Ghate. “They can’t distinguish between ‘virtuality’ and reality.” Gaurav Saklani runs InMe, Delhi-based experiential camps that also imparts leadership skills to tweens so that they are “confident to face the world”. He says, “When I was younger, getting a railway ticket was a big thing; today you just take a printout. Kids are not at fault, they are simply adapting to a newer environment. But they are missing out on things like patience, resilience and respecting time.” Geetanjali Kamra, 39, mother of Shiksha (14), feels such camps are beneficial. “Most parents are working; there is more pressure for kids to perform at school,” she says.

However, the study did find some positives. Marks are cool and school is fun. “School is no longer perceived as an authoritative institution. They like to think of themselves as smart, not studious,” says Ghate. But she warns, “Underneath the ambition and technology know-how, is a generation that is very vulnerable.”

(With inputs from Disney Brar Talwar)