The media we consume, the language we use, the relationships we cultivate, the discriminatory behaviours we practise in our families and societies, all these influence our children. Our culture and upbringing may compel us to believe that parents can never be wrong or that mothers know the best. This is the most dangerous parenting myth that can do more harm than good,” say authors Manisha Pathak-Shelat, Professor of Communication & Digital Platforms and Strategies and Chair, Centre for Development Management and Communication, MICA, and Kiran Vinod Bhatia, a doctoral candidate at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison, as they launch their book, Raising a Humanist: Conscious Parenting in an Increasingly Fragmented World.
The book is the result of over three years and interactions with over 120 parents. Initially, the authors reveal, they were met with certain reluctance and discomfort. “The parents we interacted with didn’t get on board with us immediately for this project. It took time and effort to encourage them to share their fears and apprehensions about introducing changes in their homes and communities. Some of these fears were very real ‘What if you challenge an elder in your community and then all the other members ostracise you?’, ‘What if you question family norms and it causes immense friction in the family?’, ‘How to bring about changes without necessarily disrupting peace and love in our families and neighbourhoods?’” the authors mention.
According to them, as parents teach their children the ways of being in the world, they must continually change and update their own ideas, values, and practices. The parents must learn to unlearn. While it is important to respect the wisdom in some age-old traditions, debunking parenting myths is critical to stop cultural practices and norms which perpetuate prejudice and threaten the peaceful co-existence of different communities in a plural society. Shelat is a parent herself and is upset about the growing suspicion and hatred in the society. “I want my daughter to grow up in a world that is nurturing, fair, and that respects difference, dialogue and empathy,” she says in a conversation with The Morning Standard.
“This book has been written as a conversation about what we can do together in our homes and communities so that our children lead fulfilling lives and contribute to making this world a better place,” she adds. As a researcher, her long-term interest has been to examine how ordinary individuals use communication and media to participate in positive social change.
“Kiran and I are both academics who are closely engaged with people, their realities, and the challenges that they encounter in daily living. We understand that these are times when what is going on in the world makes us question the wisdom in being kind, fair, and critical. But I am an incorrigible optimist. I believe there is a lot we can do to make the society a better place for everybody if we ask some critical questions and develop empathy for others, and hence this book.” The book talks about how our socialisation creates echo-chambers where we only want to be with people like us.
According to Shelat, it traps us in labels of caste, class, religion, and gender and these labels are used for discrimination. “We discuss how such discrimination limits people’s life chances and well-being. We show how the religious and cultural texts from which we draw lessons were created in different times and why it is important to question their relevance today while we still respect our core values,” while adding, “We suggest how unlearning is required to open our hearts and minds, how critical thinking helps and how we can communicate through our differences while practising self-care.
We analyse how media reinforce certain stereotypes and show the potential of media to challenge stereotypes too. We offer many tips on involved parenting and on using technology and art with a purpose to connect and create a better world.” Talking about the research that went into the making of this one, Bhatia informs that as experienced media educators in several schools they adopted an ethnographic and participatory approach to research.
“We immerse ourselves in the routines of the parents and children we work with to understand their life experiences — socio-cultural norms in their communities, beliefs, and life conditions. Based on this in-depth understanding of their lives, we encourage them to work with us and identify some of the limitations they experience in the children-parent relationship.” The authors aim to tackle a range of issues — from digital literacy and media use, gendercaste- class realities, art and activism, to family norms and interpersonal communication. “Never in the book do we undermine the uniqueness of the individual parenting journey and importance of self-care.
We acknowledge the real-life challenges and at the same time show possibilities for creating a better world.” Next on their list is to write a book that directly addresses young people and helps them engage positively with the world. Along with this is also a research- based academic book on transcultural citizenship that will examine how media facilitate engagements beyond one’s local cultures and geographic boundaries and how such engagements shape young people today.
RAISING A HUMANIST
by Dr. Manisha Pathak-Shelat and Kiran Vinod Bhatia
Publisher: Sage India
Price: Rs 495