BENGALURU: When my son was about a year-and-a-half-old, I used to take him to a ‘mommy and me’ session once a week. The kind where we all sang rhymes and clapped our hands and cooed when our genius children wiggled their bums and made statues when they heard the word ‘stop!’
At one of the sessions, a young boy was chasing a little girl with a riot of curls on her head. He was fascinated by her hair and kept wanting to touch it. The girl didn’t like the attention and kept crying. The boy’s mother laughed off her son’s behaviour. But the boy just wouldn’t stop. Till the little girl’s mother went up to him, shook a finger in his face and said in a loud voice, ‘Don’t touch her. She doesn’t like it. Keep away.’
I still remember the awkward silence in the room. The boy’s mother’s shocked and fumbling apology. I remember feeling a little sorry for the woman at the time and thinking that perhaps the other mother was making too much out of the situation.
I don’t feel that way anymore. I’ve often revisited that moment in my mind over the years, and realised that the mother was signalling to her daughter that she shouldn’t stay silent if she didn’t want someone touching her without her permission. She was also telling the boy that ‘No means No.’
Fast forward to the present. My two boys are playing in a corner of the house. They’re laughing, teasing each other, they couldn’t love each other more in that moment. I’m at my desk, working and smugly thinking ‘Ah! How right we were to have two children. See how well they get along.” Of course, as any parent knows, this moment of peace lasts all for five minutes. Ok, 30 seconds and there’s screaming, invectives and scuffling just around the corner.
The fighting is often triggered by an unwanted touch or a mean comment. And instead of hearing that the other person doesn’t appreciate being touched a certain way and stopping, it carries on unabated. The events of the past few weeks have made me wonder: What do young boys who never stop when someone says STOP grow up to be? What kind of entitlement will they possess that will make them say ‘Hey! This person is saying they don’t like what I’m doing but who cares?
I’ll keep doing what I want to do anyway.’ They will grow up into what we’re currently seeing in the newspapers and on our social media feeds here in India, in America and in many parts of the world. It’s not pretty. It’s downright ugly.
As parents, we need to keep telling our children from a very young age, that they don’t have the right to invade someone else’s personal space. We must also tell them that if someone does that they have every right to call it out loudly and firmly.
So, these past few weeks, every time I’m called in to moderate a fight and take sides, and sometimes, even when I’m not, I step in and say ‘Step away now. When someone says NO they mean NO’.
Our children must learn that there are boundaries. Boundaries to their behaviour and boundaries around them that others cannot breach.