The digital world can be a dark, depressing place to inhabit, especially when you’re a teenager trying your best to fi t in. The recent Bois Locker Room case in New Delhi has opened up Pandora’s Box on the question of children’s social media usage,
Talk, ask and listen
communication and provide a safe space to have open conversations with their children. “Understand that times are different now from when you were growing up. Rather than labelling your children as being too modern, accept them and make sure they don’t see shame and taboo in the things you might,” says Shah. “Consider them bolder and let them explore it. Trust your kids to have the values you raised them with.”
According to Jenisha Shah, clinical psychologist at Mpower, the Centre, it is important to provide a listening space for your children to voice their opinion, to have conversations about things that have been spoken about in negative connotations — mental health, casteism, racism. “Be emotionally present for them. Opening up a dialogue with your child will help you understand each other better,” says Shah.
“Keep your understanding and conditioning aside, but do use your experience to take them down a safe path. You could ask them questions that help them figure out the negatives and positives of each situation. Don’t enforce your views on them,” offers Shah.
Talking about sex and sexuality is essential. It begins as early as age 1 and 2, when explaining body parts without attaching shame to any of them. Be comfortable talking about the subject. Gain the vocabulary and be vigilant about what’s happening in society. When a child is nearing puberty, it also helps to provide practical information. “Don’t just teach biology, also teach behaviour. You could tell a boy it’s normal to have an erection, but also talk to him about what he could you do if he has one at an inopportune moment,” shares Shah. “Children need to understand that they must give and get permission (consent) to initiate anything sexual ranging from talking to touching,” adds Shah.
Empower and motivate
Know your child’s friends and just in case you find them in the wrong company, help them understand that it’s okay to have the courage to stand up for themselves. Use dinner table discussions to bring in ideas of empowerment. Apart from the home environment or imitating behaviours they might have observed, Shah says that it is a “feeling of emptiness inside” and a desire to “feel powerful and influential” that makes children resort to bullying. “Keep them motivated; ask them — at whatever age they are — what they’re most passionate about. Get them to focus on a topic that gives them meaning, a purpose to their existence,” she says.
Maintaining cyber hygiene— offering age appropriate devices to children, a regulation of screen time, a mutual agreement of screen usage within the family, communicating with your children about identifying threats — plays a key role in a child’s mental health and behaviour patterns.
Patankar, who conducted a survey of internet usage trends faced by 1,600 school children across Mumbai in 2018, has found an immense lack of discretion on the parent’s part in terms of screen introduction or age appropriateness. “I’ve come across a five-yearold playing a ‘strip and kiss’ game; something her mother found to be cute until we explained the connotations and possible repercussions,” shares Patankar.
With older children, forbidding the use of devices might be counter-productive but setting time limits is essential. Shah adds, “It helps if you explain your reasons why there’s a time limit. Talk about how increased usage might affect their behaviour, increase in irritability and so on. This is especially true for the lockdown period, considering they’re also studying online.”
Patankar urges parents to update themselves using resources such as the guidelines from the National Council of Educational Research and Training and the ECA. Cyber bullying — cyber stalking, flaming (using abusive language), outing (sharing private information to humiliate), harassment, rumouring, trolling, exclusion — is rampant among children above Class 4. “If your child is being cyber bullied, here’s some advice you could give them: 1) cut off ties with the bully, when you respond you encourage them, 2) report it to the platform and bring it to light, 3) never delete the evidence, 4) report to police if it does not stop, or organisations like the school/college,” says Patankar.