Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bringing up Generation 'I'

As every generation discovers in time, the hardest job ever is to be a parent. When you're kids, nothing a parent does seems to make sense - it's only when you're on the other side of the fence, when you catch yourself acting exactly like your parents did, making rules and laying down the law - that's when you call your parents and say "Thanks for all the tough decisions you took, thanks for all the bad tempered words you put up with, thanks for loving me no matter what - now please, please help me with my kids!" The truth of the matter is that once we become parents, every decision, every thought is concerned with what's best for the kids - and yes, through all the passionate declarations of 'I hate you' and 'You're the meanest' and 'This is sooo unfair' - there's the hope that one day when they have children of their own, they will understand (as we did) the all-encompassing love only a parent can have!

So why 'I'? Well, Incredible for one! The world today is not what it used to be - today's kids face astonishing pressures and challenges - the weight of the world is literally on their shoulders - and in the headlong rush to perfection, it is becoming harder to step back and be just a kid! As for kids of expat parents like us, the additional stress of having to start over every few years, while dealing with a new culture, and more often than not, a new language! Third culture kids is a relatively new term, but is an apt description for so many kids today - striving to assimilate their parent's culture and their own identity into a coherent unique personality! Incredible? Why, yes!

Also, 'I' for Indulged - every parent in living memory has wanted their kids to have everything that they didn't have when growing up. Be it dance or music lessons, a new bicycle or simply, the freedom to play outside. I look around me today, and I see parents for whom money is no longer an issue. We can afford almost everything our children could possibly desire, we love our kids, and we shower them with gifts! Not to mention the grandparent factor - when I was a kid, I expected nothing from my grandparents other than a bedtime story and undivided attention. Today, Manasi has to only mention that she likes a particular doll or movie, and as sure as the sun will rise, one of her grandparents will buy it for her. I've given up trying to explain that it is not that particular toy that she really cares about but only the thrill of its acquisition! Indulged? Over-indulged, I would say!

The 'I' generation - I for for all the IPads, IPods, IPhones and all gadgets which have brought the Internet to our fingertips! Everything is online, everyone is online - but I'm a paranoid parent - there are cyber dangers lurking behind seemingly innocent corners.  I find myself reeling before this onslaught of technology - struggling to find a balance between protecting my daughter and allowing her to be tech-savvy! 'Keeping up with the Joneses' takes on a whole new dimension - of course, I want my daughter to be cool - but at what cost? Do I really want to give her unsupervised Internet time to chat with her friends? Do I really want her to search the App Store for new games? It's not that that I don't trust her - I do - it's the Internet I don't trust!

The Internet 'I' brings up a the next one - 'I' for Information! The scope is as rich as it is diverse - from Barack Obama's State of the Nation address to the issues in Syria to the Energy Crisis! Last term, Manasi's class worked on a book about Egypt - through research and discussion, they learned about an entire culture, right in the classroom! Of course, living in a foreign country, studying in International schools, and traveling to so many different places all play a big role in this Information Explosion! Naturally, there's such a thing as too much information - kids these days seem to be growing up too fast, grappling with issues well beyond their years. I can't control what my child hears on the playground or on the school bus - the only thing I can do is to reinforce the sense of right and wrong, and then do everything possible to keep the lines of communication open! The Internet is not going anywhere, neither is the Information it provides - so listen to what your child is telling you. You might hear more than you bargained for!

Before I had Manasi - I remember reading an article about giving your kids roots and wings - Identity and Independence, anyone? Independence, they have in spades - trying out their fledgling wings, already soaring far above us, promising to reach dizzy heights. Identity is a bit tricky. In this environment of global culture, the traditional forms of identity - race and nationality - seem to be dissolving. These kids are truly global citizens - they don't carry the baggage of prejudice. Robust family values, a strong moral compass will give them roots - their identity will be their very own!

At the end of the day, being a parent is essentially a one-way street. You nurture your children, you worry about them - and after all the sleepless nights, and moments of unfettered joy - you step back and watch with great pride as they claim their rightful place in the world. After all, for any generation, isn't the reward of parenting - parenting itself??

For parents everywhere...

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