Being a parent is a tightrope walk. From the moment a wriggly newborn is put into your arms, you are overwhelmed with doubts—breast or bottle, cloth or disposable diapers, oil massage or not…. And just when you think you are past the days when every decision seems critical, your child grows up and presents you with new concerns. We have shortlisted a few choices that all parents face:
Deadline: At six-months plus
The choice to be a vegetarian is no longer driven by religious reasons. For parents who at some point had been non-vegetarians, or in cases where one parent is a vegetarian and the other is not, it becomes difficult to decide which of the two options is healthier. “I am Jain, and a staunch vegetarian, but my husband and his family are not. When I suggested that our son, Keshav, be brought up as a vegetarian, everyone at home said it would affect his growth,” says Radha, a 26-year-old first-time mother.
Dr Vidya Gupta, consultant paediatrician, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi, says that as long as you work a reasonable amount of proteins into your child’s diet through sources such as dates, milk, soya and eggs, your child will not lose out by being vegetarian. “Both choices are healthy, if diets are planned well,” says clinical nutritionist Ishi Khosla, director, Whole Foods, adding that, “if you are a non-vegetarian, choose lean meat—fish and eggs—for a healthy diet plan.” If you go green, check with your child’s paediatrician about the required amount of protein per kilo according to your child’s weight. Protein requirements reduce as the child grows up, but you need to be extremely careful in the early years.
Deadline: When over one year
Shoma Basu confesses that her children, Meghna, 10, and Kunal, 12, watch a lot of television because the household is into a lot of TV viewing. “The kids have a TV in their room, but I do go in and out to monitor the content. Fortunately, they still watch cartoons,” she says.
Madhumita Puri, executive director, Society for Child Development, believes television viewing habits should be examined at two levels—on content and quantity. “Two hours should be sufficient for both toddlers and teenagers. For toddlers, you need to supervise the viewing and ensure that they understand what they are seeing is not true of the real world,” she says. If the content being viewed is tailored to give a positive message, there is no harm.
On the other hand, you need to be careful with older children. “Viewing cannot be supervised without giving them a reason. If you plan to restrict what they see, then explain yourself so the child does not feel misunderstood,” says Puri.
A word of advice: Restrict your own TV viewing, and do not watch any and every programme with your children around. Remember, your child will follow your example.
Deadline: When the child is ready for regular school
Meghna goes for a piano class and an art class once a week each, while Kunal plays table tennis in school. He now goes for guitar classes, and once in a while takes a golf lesson with a coach. Kapur sends Ananya for swimming lessons three times a week and tennis lessons twice a week. “If it were not for these activities, Ananya would get no exercise,” says Kapur.
Both Basu and Kapur say the idea of enrolling their children in activity classes is not for them to acquire skills, but to remain fit. Both mothers point out that academic pressure will be high by the time their children go to senior school, and feel that this is the best time for them to enjoy multiple activities.
Dr Gupta says parents should identify an activity that the child is good at, and encourage him or her to hone that skill. “It is pointless to develop a jack of all trades. If you feel that a particular sport or activity isn’t really your child’s forte, switch to another class. But sending your child for an activity that he or she doesn’t have an interest in is pointless. It just becomes an additional burden on the child.”
Deadline: Around the middle
One of the biggest gifts Namrata Kapur has allowed her 13-year-old daughter Ananya is a cellphone. Kapur confesses that she does not know if peer pressure was the deciding factor or not, but Ananya wanted it so badly that she finally gave in. “I did have some caveats, of course. For one, it is on a fixed talk-time scheme, and she pays for it with her pocket money. She is only allowed to use it on weekends or if she is out visiting friends. And taking it to school is definitely a no,” says Kapur.
Basu, on the other hand, keeps a spare cellphone at home. She gives it to her children when they are out with friends, so she can keep track of their whereabouts. “My kids are not getting their own phones till they are at least 15 years old. And even at 15, it is not guaranteed,” says Basu. “Getting a phone will depend on how well they perform academically and whether they keep good company or not.”
Dr Deepak Gupta, child and adolescent psychiatrist, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, says: “A parent should decide the cut-off age for a child getting a personal cellphone. Just ensure that your child understands why the cellphone has been given to him and is not distracted by it.”
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org