When 14-year-olds let lose rage-filled rants of rape against girl classmates, it is time we examine how we are bringing up our kids!
When eight 14-year-old boys from an elite Mumbai school discuss ‘gang banging’ a classmate in a WhatsApp chat, talk frequently of ‘rape’ and ‘one-night stands’ with classmates, and then ridicule classmates as ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’, the country cannot help but sit up and notice.
How did the children become so insensitive and crass? Where did their parents and teachers go wrong? This is the thinking we believed was limited to people such as the bus driver, the conductor, the fruit seller or fitness trainer who violated Nirbhaya – all underprivileged school dropouts. When did it infiltrate our homes and schools? Where is the sensitivity and dignity that education and a privileged background is supposed to provide?
Unfortunately we cannot dismiss the interactions as kid talk; to talk like this, calling girls ‘trash’ and ‘bi**h’, the boys had to be convinced of their ‘superiority’ and their ‘birthright’ to violate girls with or without permission. But wait a minute. Let us not be too quick to point fingers at others. Are you sure you are teaching your own children the right values and gender sensitizing them? How can we ensure that our children are being sensitized adequately and their conversations on sex education being given the right direction?
This is not the time to hem and haw around issues that we believe our children are unaware of. That puts them in danger of catching the wrong end of the stick and being misled. If you are not willing to talk to them openly and honestly about sex, sexual attacks and self-defence, they will rely on friends and the internet. Make your sons understand in so many words that violating the dignity of a woman is a heinous crime. It is a shameful act for the perpetrator, and not for the woman. Teach your daughters how to deal with boys and unwanted attention, and to report any untoward behavior.
Tell your children that using dirty language and words denoting violence or sexual acts is neither macho nor acceptable. Discipline them if they use or even tolerate sexually-explicit or violent language. Teach them not to be judgemental about other people’s life choices and sexual orientation. Ensure they learn compassion and empathy. One way to do this is to take them on visits to old age homes, orphanages and slum areas and introduce them to community service.
If you suspect your child may have friends with whom he feels obliged to exchange bawdy feminist jokes or vulgar images, do not let protests about ‘privacy’ or ‘independence’ hold you back from periodically checking your children’s phones and messages. It is your duty as a parent to ensure your child is on the right path. Allow night outs and sleep overs only with friends whose families you know and ensure that an adult is always present.
Encourage your children to have friends of both sexes. This helps them bond over similarities and be sensitive to the gender differences. Being kept separate and not allowed to mingle arouses curiosities and encourages a competitive, excluding attitude towards each other. Boys who grow up with girls as sisters or friends are naturally more understanding and sensitive towards women.
But the true lessons begin at home. If you are sprinkling your conversation with four-letter words irresponsibly, you have no moral standing with your children. If you crack bawdy jokes or even let them pass without objection, you are party to the vulgarity. Remember, your child is always listening and picking up signals from you.
And yes, this may seem inconsequential but is significant — Do you immediately fall into male and female groups at social events and weddings? At a wedding recently, where I was relegated to the wives’ group even though I barely knew any of the women, I mentioned that we should sit together with the men. Immediately I was told off by one of the wives, “None of those guys interest me! Take a look at them! I am far happier with the women.” I explained painstakingly that neither was I “interested” in any of the men, but that when both sexes sit together, the tone and tenor of conversation changes and becomes more interesting! In a mixed group, men rise above bawdy jokes targeting women, and women go beyond talk of children and maids.
Well, I don’t think I raised my popularity stakes that evening! But if we ourselves perpetuate the differences, indulge in irresponsible talk and are uncomfortable in mixed gender groups, how can we teach our children any different?
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DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.