By Naomi Datta
On the day of a protest march against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Mumbai, a friend with teenage daughters told me in tones of bemusement: “My daughters want to hold placards in the building compound and protest against CAA”.
He wasn’t quite sure how to handle this. Like most urban and big city parents of this generation, his stance was one of moral ambivalence. There is an academic adherence to liberal values but it is negotiable and largely expendable.
These aren’t households that encourage active bigotry either — except for a few racist jokes on the family WhatsApp group. But what is a happy, extended Indian family WhatsApp group without passive bigotry, inappropriate humour and good morning forwards?
The friend’s bemusement came from a place of bewilderment — nothing in his parenting methods could have awakened this zeal in his progeny. He was baffled.
It wasn’t that tough for me to figure it out — he just had internet-enabled children, children who were picking up attitudes, mindsets and values from the worldwide web. The internet had replaced the parent as the ultimate knowledge source.
This does seem a bit generic an insight, I must concede. Not deserving of the build-up, you may argue. How about I tell you about the Social Proof Theory? This was popularised by psychologist Robert Cialdini. It tells you that people often look for a reference for proper behaviour in a situation. They look at others to imitate actions, especially during a crisis. This is a theory that explains social influence of peers on human behaviour. And where would your children find socially-influential peers? Not on your family WhatsApp group but on their Instagram feed. Which is why, unlike you, who will grow eventually into a slightly upgraded version of your parents, your children will potentially be people you cannot recognise.
I do think, left to herself, 18-year-old Sana Ganguly may well have told her famous father, Sourav Ganguly, “OK Boomer”. This would be right after the former cricketer and BCCI chief put out a tweet saying his daughter’s viral Instagram post on “fascist regime” was “not true” and that “she is too young a girl to know about anything in politics”.
I cannot debate both — the authenticity of Sana’s post, later deleted (she had shared an excerpt from Khushwant Singh’s book The End of India) or her understanding of politics. But I can conjecture that one of the best cricketing brains in the country has little understanding of parenting in the age of the internet.
Before that, a quick test. Do you know what OK Boomer means? If you have kids, an internet connection and that phrase leaves you blank, you have a lot of catching up to do.
OK Boomer is a pejorative retort used to diss a generation older than you and which is out of sync with what is happening in your world. While technically it means Baby Boomers (the generation born between 1946 and 1964), it is actually used to deride anyone with a conservative and outmoded mindset. And if parents don’t wise up to how social media is moulding their genetic stock, they are all just boomers.
How then do you negotiate parenting in the age of social media? You could try cutting off all access to the internet — but you are a parent, not the government.
You still want your kids to like you — well, more or less.
Therefore, as an expert non-parent, I give you a handy guide to bringing up internet-enabled progeny.
First, respect has to be earned, not asked for. If you think giving birth to kids, bringing them up in relative comfort and educating them gives you the right to parental respect for your views, stop being entitled. Nothing in the world is the way it is because you say so. Parenting doesn’t work that way anymore. Unfortunately.
Earning the respect of your children means understanding the curious universe they live in — your selfcentred and sometimes uncommunicative children are socially aware beings on the platforms of their choice.
They are ‘woke’, given to emotional venting and often talk of being triggered.
A therapist I met recently said many of her millennial and Gen Z clients come to her with the desire to post on social media about going for therapy. By the way, no one posts about talking to their parents. Just saying.
So if your teen wants a therapist or counsellor, you just get them one. Also, I can see you googling ‘woke’. Hold on for a bit. Actually do it. It will help in the next tip.
The thing is if you want to remain friends with your kids, squash all attempts at humour. This is not a generation for your jokes about communities, gender and plump people. It is all incredibly problematic and it is best you don’t try. Try and get your meme game on point though — it might help in communicating better with your kids.
Coming to communication, there is another theory we could bring in to understand your children better. It is called the Parent-Adult-Child Model. Psychologist Eric Berne came up with this– and very simply, it means that in different points of a relationship — not just parenting — you take on different roles vis-a-vis others — a parent (this is corrective), an adult (equal and rational) and child (you risk being petulant).
In the new model of parenting, you are never the parent. You can aspire to be an adult, but you will probably end up being a child to your child. The last bit Berne did not say. I did and it is not an entirely accurate analysis. It is merely to make the point that you will never be one up on your internet-enabled child.
All you can do is try.
Naomi Datta is a Mumbai-based writer.
Source: Economic Times