by Swati Sanyal Tarafdar
“I always walked back home after school, mostly all by myself, and sometimes accompanied by a friend who might be sharing a part of the journey. And I have allowed my children to do the same ever since they were eight years old. What is wrong with that?” Parvati, a mother of three wonderfully independent children, wonders aloud. Bewildered, 40-year-old Parvati sits looking at the article that stares at her from the spread out morning newspaper.
In January, a couple of Indian dailies carried the story on their front pages about the parents of a 10-year-old boy and his 6-year-old sister who were arrested in Silver Springs, Maryland, USA, because they allowed the brother-sister duo to walk back home from a neighborhood park a mile away. The Maryland parents have since been found responsible for what Child Protective Services calls “unsubstantiated child neglect.”
The story made a buzz in my city too. It appeared on our national dailies emphasizing the fact that Indian parents too are not far from adopting ‘traits of over-protectiveness.’ How much protectiveness is too much? Is that ‘love and care’ going overboard? As a mother of two young girls, 3 and 6 years old, I am constantly on edge when letting my children play in the community area, allowing them to stroll within the apartment building saying hello to friends, or dropping them at the art centre for a session. Even when they are at school, the questions often pop up. Are they safe? Is the male attendant in the primary section safe enough? Are they getting bullied by the classmates? Is there something that I should know about their school environment?
These fears among parents are nothing new. They rise from the basic parental instinct to protect and provide for their offspring. They were in the minds of our parents when we were younger and will be there when our kids will become parents themselves. But really, how much worry is too much? And is it over-protectiveness we should be worried of? It may seem ridiculous to find parents being hassled and arrested because they allowed their children to walk home independently; but at the same time, would I be confident letting my daughters take the public bus home or take a walk in the neighborhood?
“I have absolutely no qualms about my children walking home from the neighborhood park provided we know that the locality is safe,” says Reshma, mother of twins and child counselor at a corporate school in Gurgaon. “It is not only okay for children to be by themselves, at times, it is absolutely required,” says eminent Child Psychiatrist Dr. Vishal Indla of VIMHANS Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, India. “Spending time by themselves, playing on their own or with peers, performing age-appropriate tasks independently make children self-reliant, self-sufficient, and leads to their holistic development, which is absolutely important at this time,” he tells me.
However, the world is not a safe place and I cannot put aside the fact that a woman in India is raped every 20 minutes. There are 93 recorded cases of rape every single day. Terrorists barge into schools and hotels and open fire, killing hundreds of students in this part of the world. And “The National Crime Records Bureau, India’s official source of crime data, is systematically undercounting virtually every crime in India on account of a statistical shortcoming,” reports The Hindu, a national daily.
So shall we be living in fear? As parents and caregivers, we need to put our fears in perspective, emphasize experts. They suggest teaching children to handle threatening situations instead, teaching children to help themselves, answering their questions and meeting their curiosity. I hear the same ideas from India’s mothers.
“There is no doubt that the intentions of parents are mostly good. But the line between caring enough and a tad unnecessarily extra is a thin one. The outcome might not be all good if one keeps going overboard,” says Dr Indla, a father himself. “Be alert about [your] child’s safety, but at the same time be alert about the signs of over protectiveness too,” he adds. Dr. Indla suggests that we need not hold the hands of an 8-year-old as we walk down the street. That we let our children pack their own bags, take care of their belongings, and eat some meals by themselves. He does not feel we should micromanage every aspect of our children’s life.
“I cannot keep my child indoors in fear that she might fall and hurt herself. I cannot keep her at home because terrorists might strike at her school … I like to do whatever helps to make my child safe and secure, and yet let her enjoy life,” says Anita, a mother of three from Kolkata. This mom has put her 10 and 8-year-old daughters in martial arts class and plans to put her 3-year-old son as soon as he is ready. She wants her children to work hard, play hard, enjoy life, and be ready to punch back whenever required . She is preparing them to do just that.
Dr Indla feels we should not isolate our children from what is going on in the world around us. “Instead, when children ask about incidents concerning violence, terrorism, or other negative incidents, answer matter of factly, noting their levels of maturity and age.” You need not give out a lot of details, but you should not shy away from answering.
Reshma explains that it is better to tell children of adversities and then brainstorm what they must do in the situation. “Visualization and brainstorming helps prepare us much better,” she tells me. Parents who live in fear, instill nervousness, lack of confidence, and negativity in children. Break away from it.
Mothers of young children in India are finding ways to stand against the dangers their children face. A new wave of parenting sensibility is on the rise. Many Indian mothers encourage their children, sons and daughters alike, to rise up to the sky, to reach for the stars. You cannot hold on to the handlebars to keep her from falling. You have to let it go and she’ll have to learn to balance herself. Help your child become strong and healthy, physically and mentally, other mothers tell me.
Shall we let our children live in fear? No. Train them to fight back. Train them to be safe and sensible. Insist on using protective gears, seat belts, and helmets. And help them to enjoy the ride life has to offer.
About the author: Swati Sanyal Tarafdar is a freelance writer, instructional designer, and content developer born and brought up in Calcutta, India. She writes educative material and content for clients all over the globe and her feature articles have appeared on several reputed Indian dailies including The Statesman and The Hindu. She has worked as a TV journalist for Zee News (Indian news channel) before diverting to instructional designing, where she worked with several multinational companies, developing e-learning courses for international clients. As a feature writer, she likes covering education, human rights, gender issues, parenting, people profiles, and positive, inspiring stories.
Swati has a Masters in Economics and a Post Graduate Diploma in Mass Communication and is passionately working towards creating a common platform for helping Indian housewives find productivity, worthiness, and tackle depression. She dreams to write a book on which she'll have her own name as the rightful author.
She currently lives with her husband and two daughters, 3 and 6 years, in Vijayawada, in AP, India. When not writing and researching, she is learning to be a fine parent, a better human, and a good cook.