For many Indian parents, raising children has become a very serious undertaking. Unlike their parents, many of who took their cues from that elusive thing we call “instinct” and the advice from “elders”, India’s new-age parents read books, attend workshops, consult experts and quiz others like them.
Yet counsellors in cities across the country say that they are a major cause of stress in the lives of school-going children.
“Performance-related parental pressure is the main cause of personality disorders in 10-to15-year olds,” said Dr Subir Halder Chowdhury, a Kolkata-based consultant psychiatrist.
In Mumbai, which has seen several suicides by school-going children over the past two months, surveys and anecdotal evidence from psychologists suggest that parents are indeed a source of anxiety.
Among the range of challenges that confront India’s newly self-aware parents is the key question of how to maintain a balance between getting the best out of their children without making them anxious.
But a heightened consciousness combined with an overload of information leaves parents confused.
Sangeeta Bhansali, 45, a Mumbai-based publisher, with two teenage sons, says she is plagued by self-doubt. “Sometimes, I feel I’m too relaxed with them,” she said. “I wonder whether I should push more.”
Parental power is another complex question. “If you are too friendly, your children don’t fear you, and it gets difficult to discipline them,” said Poonam Bhatia, 39. “Our parents did not tell us what to do or what not to do because we feared them and did not therefore misuse our freedom.”
Some parents are clearly trying too hard. “Our parents didn’t care whether we were shy or introverted,” said Vaanditaa Gupta, an occupational therapist in Mumbai and mother of two. “They thought we would grow out of it. But parents today are hyper-conscious about the impact that such weaknesses could have on their children’s futures.”
Said Smita Gupta, who counsels teenagers and parents at Childline in Chandigarh: “In urban nuclear families, children are simply getting too much attention.”
Debates and dilemmas
To confront or let it pass?
Kids are instantly torn between two worlds once they become teens,” said Vaanditaa Gupta, 39, an occupational therapist and mother of two. “They want to go out, hang out with friends and, at the same time, they have immense pressure to stay home, study and fair well in exams.
“I already see my son Pranaav, who is in the ninth standard, get upset, frustrated and angry,” said Gupta, “Since he doesn’t do well in math, the school is pressurising him to work harder. At home, I have to do the same.”
Gupta does not whether to sit him down and confront him or let him be. She does not know how to handle his frustration and anger, but is afraid they may escalate to something much more serious.
How much should you push?
Bhansali, who is a mother of two sons aged 15 and 18, says she struggles to strike a balance between maximising her children’s capabilities and letting them be. Against the backdrop of Mumbai’s competitive school atmosphere, Bhansali says is never sure she is doing the right thing.
While her sons, Rohan and Nishant, have always been active in sports, such as tennis and football, pushing them to compete at a professional or academic level is something Bhansali finds difficult to achieve.
“In this city, there are so many kids competing, that even a game of tennis becomes competitive and sucks out the sheer joy from playing,” she said. “When everything is that competitive and results and recognition are slower to come by, the effort levels slack.”
How much time is enough?
As a working father, more often than not, my expectations always surpass my efforts to realise them. I also feel guilty because I don’t spend enough time with my son. Of late, I have been working towards spending limited quality time,” said Kumar. “With time, I have managed to
soften the temptation to see my son follow a trajectory akin to mine, peppered with all that I wanted to achieve but could not due to my infirmity or lack of aptitude.
“I am doing my best to communicate with him by asking him to read books and giving him pep talks, but I am still left feeling that I should be doing more,” said Kumar.
How to bridge the generation gap?
Most parents today are torn between wanting being friends to their kids and retaining the ability to discipline them,” said Mehta. “We find the environment around us changing drastically every day. I have two kids — Urja, 21 and Shivam, 16. Things have changed drastically just in the time that the two grew up. Urja was far more disciplined and studied without being told when she was giving her board exams. But, Shivam needs to be reminded regularly of how important these exams are. Boys are not as mature as girls, until they hit their 20s, so I am also constantly learning new ways to deal with my kids,” said Mehta.
Tips and advice
Give unconditional love
D’Cunha, who initiated something called the Jamnabai Adolescent Mentor programme in 2007, thinks that a real connection between parents and children is missing. “It is most important for parents to accept their children for who they are, instead of constantly comparing them with other children,” he said. “You need to reassure your kids that you love them regardless of their achievements.
“The child must know that his worth is rooted in who he is and not in what he does. For instance, don’t tell your child that he doesn’t like studying or doesn’t work hard. Instead, tell him what he can do to get better.”
Seek expert help
Visiting a child psychologist might help you understand your child and his/her personality in a deeper way, says Shah.
“What parents usually take six months to grasp about their child, a therapist can pick up on in six weeks,” she said. “The therapist can provide parents with quick and easy ways to communicate with their children, keeping their traits in mind,” she said.
“One of the easiest ways to understand the external pressures that your children are facing is to watch the TV shows they are watching and to read the books they are reading — without them knowing of course,” said Shah, laughing.
Form support groups
The age of buffer or cushion parenting, when grandparents were always around to provide support is clearly over,” said Kumar. “Therefore, parents must get together and form support groups, forums, and clubs, where they can share each other’s dilemmas and also learn from each other’s experience.
“There is something called instinctive parenting, but parents of today need more than that. For instance, if you are denying a child something, you must explain to the child why you are doing it. You need to explain the reasoning. Parents can learn how to communicate to their children in these situations,” she said.