The popular perception of an agony aunt, mostly a gender-neutral term, is someone; you approach, when in deep shit, either to come out of it, or to avoid sinking deeper into it.

Well, I had to spend some time working on the title, so it captures the essence of what I want to convey. The trigger for which was, a recent disturbing post on GurgaonMoms by a lady, surely a responsible citizen and most probably a concerned parent herself.

She witnessed an obnoxious episode of two boys, zooming on a ‘Dhoom’ bike; first accost and then spit on two young girls, barely 15/16, without any provocation, before zooming away. As the lady rushed to their rescue, she could smell the spit reeking of alcohol.  She then decided to escort them till their condominium.

On the way, however, she was shocked to know that the girls decided not to confide in their parents. There was an outpouring of shock and dismay, at the dastardly act, and some like me were worried about their decision of not informing their parents. Probably, they eventually did inform them, but even if, it was their first and momentary reaction, it was worrisome.

Form me; it had an added effect, as an old fear reared its ugly head again. That is, why do children hide from their parents, even when they are the victims? Why they prefer instead, to face the traumas and indignities, heaped on them, in silence, and all alone? Finally, who are they protecting, themselves or their parents? Both the scenarios are equally disturbing and glum.

Ideally, parents should be the first choice to go to, or contact, in case the child is in distress. Yet, most likely they are the last ones to know. Haven’t we all heard or read about enough such cases, to finally sit up and be worried? One such episode stayed in my mind and disturbed me for long. I have tried to take some parenting lessons from it.

This happened about a decade ago, some young boys and girls were enjoying the view, at Marine Drive, Mumbai. A boy and a girl were singled out, and taken to a nearby police post. The constable concerned, took about 45 minutes to get drunk, while girl was inside and her friend outside, before he raped her at leisure!

No one bothered to call their parents, neither the girl inside the dingy chowki, nor the boy outside, nor their friends who were left behind. While the newspapers were describing the lurid details of what transpired inside, I held my head in shame, as I tried to empathize as a parent.

I think; I am amongst those educated, enlightened, and frank parent, whose children should not be scared to approach her and confide in her. Probably, we all would love to believe the same, yet, most likely, most of us might be unsure of, how our own child would have done in such a scenario?

How many of us, have had this dialogue with them, that, they can come to us, and tell us all; no matter what they have done or where they are? Why do children start hiding simple things, like boyfriends and girlfriends from us? Why do girls don’t report stalkers or eve teasers, that sometimes takes tragic proportions?

Why are we squirmy about discussing safe sex with children? Is it because, we are scared, it might be perceived as a tacit condoning? Why, all wait for the child to ask, or the school to handle such things? In my children’s school, during a workshop on Parenting, the facilitator asked parents, to raise hands, if they agreed, that their child might have watched porn on the net, even if inadvertently, even once.

I was one of the few, who had raised her hand; my kid was then in class 6! What the facilitator said later, was shocking by the middle class scruples we have, but real. About 97% of the children in that age group had watched porn on the net, at one point or another. And, no, they are not sex maniacs. One kid watches by default, or is told about it by an older kid, and it spreads like wildfire.

Mostly, the kid urging the other, doesn’t even mention it, the ruse is “go to such and such site and you’ll see something funny”. So all the kids watch it by default, it does not mean they get hooked to it, but yes, they do get curious for sure. Any sensitive parent would handle it well, and no guesses on, what a hyper parent could end up doing.

Most of us would be hyper, even if momentarily, as most of us have no such examples, to emulate from our own growing up years; when kids were brought home from the hospital, and sometimes, when mothers were more forthcoming; they told us, pregnancy happens, when parents sleep next to each other. Till the biology teacher came and broke the myth!

Through the same workshop; I came face to face, with certain other shocking statistics, that as a psychologist by education, I should have been prepared to handle, but was not. Actually, after my son came home from his session with the same facilitator, he shared a few things, that I felt, he shouldn’t have known, even if the topic was ‘Sex Education’. Therefore, I decided to confront the facilitator, during ‘The Parenting Workshop’, that he was to do later.

During a break, I went up to him, gave my educational background, probably to justify my legitimate  academic concern; that sex education, with children so young, doesn’t mean that we talk about “semen containing protein, and not being harmful to ingest”! What he told me got me really worried, my tall claims of being a psychologist notwithstanding!

He said that children themselves were asking these questions in open forums. He also told me; girls of class 6/7asking, “if one got pregnant, having sex during menstrual cycle”? Some of them even highlighted instances of exploitation by close family members, most notably older cousins. And this was a trend, in schools across the country. That I was ready to faint, after being enlightened thus, won’t be an understatement.

Since, the children were assured of confidentiality, so as to encourage them to came forward and confide, informing parents would amount to breach of trust. One such episode would switch off children en-mass, with the possibility of their suffering in silence. The other reason, however, got me really worried; that is, the tendency of complete denial and or total aggression from parents, thus, excluding any possibility, of them becoming the true guardians of the body and soul of their own children.

Instead, the facilitator focused on providing professional intervention and counseling; where children were trained to handle and thwart such episodes in future. We can have many an ethical debate on this; but the moot point is, are we really ready for an open discussion on this? Or, do we prefer the ostrich approach, who buries its head in sand, when danger strikes, and pretends it’s safe!  By closing our eyes, and ears, can we wish away the ugly truth?

I nonetheless, requested him to give a general advice, to all the parents; to not blindly trust their child’s safety with anyone, not even with close family members. Something, that we all know, but do we practice?

So, it brings me back to how many parents, through acts of omission or commission, are left out of the security ring of their own children? Simply put, why our children are scared to reach us, in their moments of ‘real’ or ‘perceived’ crisis? I don’t have the answers. Sometimes, asking questions is the first logical step, something we Indians, are innately uncomfortable with; especially if the questions are bottom up and not top down.

So let’s allow our children to ask questions; on anything under the sun, good, bad or ugly, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. Be it, on our established, and hereto unquestioned social mores and practices, our values and ethics, our religious faith and tolerance, our belief in God, on caste, creed and prejudices, we should encourage all. Children understand their parent’s reasonable expectations, more than we would like to believe. So let there be a dialogue and not a monologue, or a vacuum; where we either close our ears and or not speak at all.

For we never know; when, our reluctance to talk, might alienate them forever, and they go elsewhere seeking answers or support, that we should have provided. Let us not be scared to answer; logically, without prejudice, for the added bonus could be; pruning of our own illogical and or outdated belief, ideas, and thoughts, acquired more as a process of social conditioning, than on logical reasoning. A questioning society is truly educated, enlightened and progressive; and societies should move ahead, rather than move back in times.

But more than our words, children watch our actions. How do we react to things, events and people in our society for example? One such case comes to mind; a very senior minister’s daughter, committed suicide, as he refused to agree to her intention to marry a boy of her choice; she hung herself the same day.

The most tragic part is yet to come, a few days after the mourning; the minister, who was left totally bereaved and also dumbfounded, confided in another colleague; who happened to be my father-in-law’s classmate, that’s how I got privy to this story, and wondered, “Why did she have to kill herself? Had she persisted enough I would have said yes”. He was probably preoccupied with something and didn’t give her enough attention that she disserved and dismissed her unintentionally. But the girl took it hard.

What a colossal loss a simple act to? But, can we take some parenting lesson from it, by viewing it from different perspectives? A typical analysis could be; lack of communication that often, pits two generations against each other; or a busy parent with no time to form an open, trusting relationship with his child.

But a deeper analysis could be, probably our children scrutinize and form opinions about us; on our actions and reactions, to the world around us that might, inadvertently; paint a rigid, stubborn or unreasonable portrait of us in their minds.  Most parents come around to their children’s decision, to marry outside their conventional choices; but what if they give up, even before they approach us, or don’t persist enough, the results could be tragic.

I once, attended a workshop with a German lady, who had married a high-caste Hindu, and had come to live in U.P., in 1967! In her tragic, comic encounters in an orthodox household, was hidden a poignant tale.

By her admission, back home in Germany those days; girls wore skirts and not trousers, meaning they too were conventional. As she was the only daughter of her parent’s brood of 5/6, her father was quite devastated with her decision to marry a rank outsider. Yet, he came around eventually, and told her; as he gave her return ticket to India, “This house is yours, and always will be, no matter how old you are, no matter where you are, you can always come back to it”.

I am not suggesting that our parents don’t love and empower us; yet, those words sounded, ethereal in our own Indian context. Mostly, in our society; the onus of family prestige and image lies on the delicate shoulders of our daughters, and they suffer silently, many come from rich and educated families.

On a different context on parenting, she added, “I have told my daughter, no matter what you do, you can always come back to me, and I will always love you”. Isn’t it about time we instill the same confidence in our daughters and our sons?

The first accusation a child hurls at a parent, after being scolded is, “You don’t love me”.  So, are we ready to reiterate to our children; “Darling, I will always love you, even if I am mad at you sometimes, no one can love and care for you more than I do, for not only are you the best thing that ever happened to me, you are an extension of me.?”

I pray to God, that I am successful in instilling this confidence in both my children. Thank you, Rosita, for giving me a different perspective! Parents do need to be their children’s agony aunts, to handle their real or imaginary shit! For isn’t it what we have been doing, since they were born! Pun intended!