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The importance of having a chat

The importance of having a chat
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First Published: Fri, Jul 09 2010. 08 03 PM IST
Updated: Fri, Jul 09 2010. 08 03 PM IST
My son’s 16, my daughter 14. I find both of them singularly unambitious. I’d have thought my son, especially now that he’s nearing the end of his schooling, would have had some idea of the direction he wants to take. But he seems to have no certain idea of what he wants to study for the next couple of years, forget the line of work he wants to take up. I’ve tried to chat with them, help them find out what they like doing—but both of them seem apathetic to the idea that they will actually have to work for their living one day. I find that their friends have similar dispositions. I was a very driven young man myself, and have worked hard to get where I am, and I am passionate about what I do even today. Is it too early for me to be pressuring them? I wouldn’t like them to feel insecure, but I do want them to have a goal in life. What would you advise?
Well, at this age some of them do seem infuriatingly and frustratingly aimless and listless! You’ll have to have faith that they are learning, growing, thinking behind that nonchalant and blasé front. However, what you can do (or have another significant adult in their lives do, if you think they will simply yawn at you) is to draw them into setting two short-term goals at the beginning of, say, the school year, or the calendar year, or on their birthday, or on Diwali—or any day that signifies new beginnings.
Try and get them to come up with goals. You could start with asking what they would like to change by the end of the coming four months. If they look blank, you can lead the conversation a little, and encourage them to have some goal—it may not necessarily be something that you as a parent think is a goal, but if it comes from them, that is a start. Having a goal thrust upon them does nothing to motivate teenagers.
Help the conversation along by asking them what really bugs them currently and one thing that they think is going well in their lives. It could be about friendships, or wanting things, or something about their own appearance, or school stuff. Once they come up with something, ask them to come up with five things that they need to do to achieve it.
If you find that this works somewhat, try to draw them towards one or two long-term goals, meaning something that can be done by the same time next year. See if any of the short-term goals tie in with the long ones. Make it like a game, if possible. I fully understand that drawing in lackadaisical teens is no small task—but perhaps in the process of doing this you may have some fun with your children, and not feel so anxious and hopeless.
My daughter has recently begun her periods. She is just a little over 10. She goes to school on these days and was managing okay. The problem arises when she needs to go to the toilet for a change. I put the pads in individual envelopes, and she just takes the envelope with her and goes. However, a month ago, a couple of boys in her class (class V) saw her and asked her what was in the envelope. She refused to tell them and kept walking towards the toilet. Finally, one of them grabbed it from her hand and then began to tease her, saying she wore diapers. She simply could not explain anything to them, and the story spread quickly through the school. Now she says she will not go to school during those days. What do I do? Someone needs to educate these boys. But I don’t want to embarrass my daughter by making this a school/class-level issue.
Yes, someone needs to impart a few simple lessons to your daughter’s classmates. One, on bodily functions, and two, on treating girls with some respect and sensitivity. No doubt these sound like big concepts to introduce to young children, but the incident that you describe is a sure sign that the time for it has come.
A schoolteacher and principal—who I admire for her practical, yet sensitive way of handling tricky situations with her young students and their parents—told me how she handled a similar incident. Perhaps there can be some clues for you in this. When she realized there was a lot of ignorance, misinformation and teasing around the issue of periods and sanitary pads, she first sent around a well-worded circular to parents requesting them to tell their sons (and daughters) a few facts of life regarding the human body and its functions, and the changes that occur during this age.
Some of the parents felt it was too early, and that they would like to tell their boys only when they were 12 or 13. However, as quite a few young girls do begin to menstruate early, she felt this could not be left till so late. She had made a mental note of the boys who had been involved in teasing and name-calling, and called their parents in. Without blaming them or taking them to task, she told them of the teasing, and said it would be so very good if these boys were given age-appropriate explanations.
On her part, the principal took a sanitary pad into the class, at first in an envelope. She pulled it out and showed it to class V, and asked them if they knew what it was. Some of the girls and boys did know, but quite a few were clueless. Yes, many of them thought it was a diaper. She told them briefly what it was, and said it was a time when girls needed to be given privacy and understanding, not teased. After the first few uncomfortable giggles and whispers, she says, she found them listening quietly. She also went out of her way to reiterate that there was nothing funny or “dirty” or shameful about the process. She added that while having your period was not some awful secret, neither was it something any girl should be forced to declare or discuss.
She gave a lot of children and their parents a gentle but effective and long-lasting life lesson, and much to think about. Needless to say, the mood and attitude in this class changed, and as more girls entered puberty over that year, everyone found the transitions easier and gentler all round.
Of course, this puts the onus on the class teacher/principal of your daughter’s school to do something, and do it with grace and sensitivity. You could suggest it. If they choose to handle it in this way, you could also request that your daughter’s name should not be brought up.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Jul 09 2010. 08 03 PM IST
More Topics: Learning Curve | Gouri Dange | Chat | Parenting | Child |