Make your kid worldly-wise

When Aparna's husband got grey hair, her five-year-old son came running to ask her if his father was growing old and would soon die. The Dad decided to have his hair dyed! From death to issues about money, children are often shielded about the realities of life.

While children need to be nurtured in a protective environment, they have to be prepared for the challenges of real life. Says Tina, a teacher, "They live in oblivion. When they reach college, they are suddenly introduced to competition and realise that every kid has a success story."

Sunitha Narayanan, MSW, University of Chicago, believes parents, school and community resources have to work together to build a support system. She says, "If the family is going through a divorce or parents are separated, children should be educated about the pros and cons of their situation. If a parent is suffering from cancer or other terminal conditions, it is necessary to prepare the child for the inevitable. Teenagers should be informed about drugs abuse."

The world out there is not hunkydory, with good always triumphing over bad as in fiction. Says children's author Subhadra Sengupta, "Kids are much more rebellious, questioning and peer pressure is a serious issue. Most importantly, they should know that every one is not a good person. We are bringing up children too protectively. Everything is done for them, instead if occasionally they are made to take a DTC bus or go and buy the groceries, cook a meal or manage money they will handle life better. They see life through a car window, not the best training for life."

Children enjoy role-playing in make-believe situations and this is a useful way for parents to assess what they've picked up from the environment. Says Aysha Rau, of the Little Theatre, Chennai, "Role play games in theatre are helpful for children to communicate what is happening in their lives and to also express their feelings of insecurity, anger and helplessness in various situations." Adds Ashish Ghosh, director of theatre group Anant, "In my workshops with children, they have revealed things that will shock any 'adult'."

With rise in sexual permissiveness among youth, it is important to make teens understand certain issues as early as possible. Says Sunitha, "Children around the age of 10/11 should be introduced to the importance of privacy and their body; equip them with words to use when they feel that others are in their space."

In a study, reported by the Daily Mail , UK-based children's charity Kidscape assessed the online activities of 2,300 11 to 18-year-olds and found that 45 per cent said they were sometimes happier online than in their real lives. One told researchers: "It's easier to be who you want to be, because nobody knows you and if you don't like the situation you can just exit and it is over."

However, no amount of preparedness can substitute for real life experiences. As illustrator Tapas Guha says, "Children should be allowed to talk about their problems openly, meet other kids who have actually experienced such issues. However, nobody takes words seriously irrespective of age. Only when you are hit on the head, you know the pain!" At some point, one has to let go, but there's time to cushion the free fall when children are still growing.

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