Tania is like any young teenager. She spends almost all her free time staying connected with friends and browsing the Internet. She has many friends and a busy social life. Her parents, like any parents of a teenager, worry for her safety and are curious about her online activity.
In today’s world when we are so well connected with the outside world through mobile phones and the Internet, it is almost ironical that parents are getting more worried about their children’s safety
than they were before. Just like Tania, millions of youngsters spend much of their time on the Internet. While there is no arguing that the Net has become an integral part of our lives and is indispensable for our academic, professional and personal growth, its reckless use can expose us to dangers that we may not even be aware of.
Teenagers long for privacy and non-interference from parents and teachers in their personal and social lives. Their need for privacy is judicious and developmentally appropriate. As we grow older, we develop a sense of responsibility and begin to believe that we can take charge of our own lives. We also develop new interests, make new friends and have questions in our head that we either feel shy asking our parents or believe that they are not the right people to answer them! The Internet answers a lot of our questions without being judgemental or punitive.
Parents worry about their children because they see the teenage years as a vulnerable and highly impressionable period in a child’s life. They are happy to see their children becoming responsible and capable of taking their own decisions but worry when their children stop connecting with them.
Communication breakdown between teenagers and their parents is a cause for mistrust and suspicion to develop. As parents find their children becoming evasive and non-responsive, they begin to suspect and doubt their children’s activities and intentions. On the other hand, young people find parents’ questions intrusive and an invasion of their privacy. Parents begin to nag and children begin to hide.
In a survey conducted in Ireland it was found that a majority of teenagers erased their online history and there was a significant divide in what parents believed their teenaged children did online and what the children actually participated in. This so-called ‘digital divide’ is characteristic of parent-teenager relationships in India too. Erasing online history, blocking parents from their social networking accounts or not allowing anyone to view their mobile phone conversations are some of the things which create suspicion and doubt in parents’ minds.
If youngsters were less evasive about sharing what they do online, discussing not only their concerns but also the fun elements of their lives on the Net, and parents refrained from being overly judgemental, giving space to children when appropriate, there would be no room for suspicion and doubt.
Trust and mutual respect are essential elements of every relationship. In these fast changing times, the onus to adapt and learn to cope with situations is on each one of us.