In Focus 18th July, 2018

Why It Matters When Parents Don’t Talk To Their Children.

Parents not talking to their children about issues such as sexual intercourse or gender identity has adverse effects on not only the child’s future, but many around him/her. So, the first thing to ask is, why do we need to have a conversation around inter-generational dialogue?

Why is inter-generational dialogue frowned upon in society? Why is it that somebody who created you cannot talk to you? Isn’t the very idea absolutely ridiculous? Didn’t most parents (especially as pre-marital sex is such a big no-no in India) know what they were getting into when they had their children? So ideally, shouldn’t parents be ready to handle not only their child’s behavioural lapses, but also any emotional conflicts or problems plaguing them? Apparently, the answer is a resounding “No!”

And here’s why. From a young age, be it in an urban or rural setting, girls are given a long list of things they are expected not to question, or even think about. Take the question of sexual intercourse for instance. Girls are told not to think about sex, not to attain pleasure from it, and to only see it as another obligation in the long list of jobs they’ve been handed since birth (unfortunately, this list doesn’t include a career or even a voice.) These girls are isolated and they grow up into women who don’t know much because they haven’t been taught how to ask questions. These women are now almost befuddled and confused by the liberal sensibilities of the ‘new age millennials’ around them. They fortify their minds, they build up walls – as though to block out all these new ideas of feminism, equality and much more. In fortifying their minds, they are made quiet. And it doesn’t help that their husbands (whether having grown up in an urban or rural setting) have always been bluntly or subtly told that they are the superior sex. This mindset has been transmitted from generation to generation, creating this environment of superiority. This leads to a generation of men who don’t feel accountable to answering questions of those they perceive as “inferior to them”.

All of this has led to an environment of silence – a taboo surrounding such subjects. As for kids? Well, they’re a whole lot smarter than one thinks. They pick up on these subtle undercurrents at home, and keep their questions to themselves.

However, this doesn’t stop them from being curious – they continue craving information from somewhere. They want to know, they want to explore, and they want to be told. So, they turn to what they consider the next most reliable source of information – their friends. Their friends are those who in their own households are going through a similar phase of curiosity and (often) silence. Despite the emotional gravity of their questions, they are met with gasps, exasperated retorts, and belittled. And sometimes – if the child continues to persist –  met with the aggressive nature of parents many children know all too well. So, between themselves, they gather what little pieces of information they have and try build on it.

And this is problematic – especially in the case of adolescent boys. Their narratives and ideas are pieced together mainly through songs, movies, television shows and news articles. In India, objectification of women, whether through sexist Bollywood jams or through regressive songs, is sadly an everyday thing; as a result, the very same ideas and the very same patriarchal principles of their grandfather’s and father’s generation are transferred over to these boys, who try their best to replicate what their favourite star does on screen. If you think about it, most Bollywood films have very regressive storylines. Even something as vanilla and PG-13 as Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge essentially had Shah Rukh persist and stalk Kajol, until she really had no other option other than to say yes to him.

We’ve all grown up with that film – and so have these boys. When they see this ‘optimistic’ future, where every girl will finally say yes if they persist long enough, they pull the same lines, and imitate the same expressions, but sadly do not get the same outcome. Not every girl says yes – something that they learn the hard way. But the boys persist. And when the girl’s resounding nos keep hitting these boys, they get vexed and react in horrifying ways. And that is one of the leading causes of so many awful acid attacks and rape cases – that despite the boy’s persistence, the girl said no. It’s unfortunately a tale as old as time.

You know what isn’t a tale as old as time? Breaking the cycle. Striking up a conversation. Sitting with your children and not meeting those questions bursting with curiosity, with a big bout of anger. Yes, what I am describing is an utopian future. It cannot be easily achieved. But this culture of ‘not-conversing’ has so many bad side-effects that derail so many lives, so it needs to stop. It is this culture that allows this vicious cycle to keep repeating itself. So, we have to take some action.

Therefore, it is time to break these taboos. It is time for both parents and children to step out of their comfort zones. It is time to end this culture of silence that society has so comfortably cocooned itself in for all these years. In its place, there has to be an open, engaged and non-judgmental dialogue. And when we purge ourselves of this silent lifestyle, then dialogue will be initiated. Then we will create a safe space that allows us to meet curiosity with honest, non-judgmental and non-regressive answers. And that will finally put this culture of silence where it belongs – in medieval times.

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