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Bringing up father

Kushan Mitra | Print Edition: Dec 25, 2011

Twenty years ago, when I was growing up, my parents' biggest worry was that I spent entire evenings watching television. I was constantly reminded of how lucky my generation was, because television was a luxury my parents did not enjoy in 1960s India. Parents, when I was young, dealt with the 'overdose of TV' problem in several ways, from totally denying their children access to the family TV set, to a more lenient approach, linking the extent of TV viewing permitted to how well - or otherwise - the children were doing at school.

Today as several of my friends become parents, they are facing a different challenge - one which, I believe, is much tougher and bigger than the one our parents did. Children born over the past decade in India - albeit among the middle classes - are digital natives.

Kushan Mitra
Kushan Mitra
Stories of two-year-olds perfectly at home operating iPads, or of kindergarten children surfing the Internet with ease are not uncommon. But here is the thing: the Net, unlike TV, is not a one-way medium. Neither is Internet access limited to a single device, as TV was.

By the time children of today turn teenagers they probably know more about the Net than most of their parents. Whatever rules relating to Net usage their parents may set, they can always figure out workarounds. I am not a parent, but the scale of the challenge is apparent to me after observing many young parents facing it. Not only is the Net a place where kids can engage in and sometimes do incredibly stupid things, it is also one where shady charaters and outright criminals lurk.

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I had an interesting chat with Chuck Hollis, Chief Technology Officer at global hardware manufacturer EMC, who is a parent of three children himself. He said the best way to deal with the issue is to have a frank chat with your children. Restricting or banning access to the Net, he believed, was self-defeating. With almost every electronic gadget capable of connecting to the World Wide Web, banning the Net was almost impossible for a parent.

Instead of using draconian measures, parents should try and behave like parents. Just as parents teach their children the virtues of things like sharing and gifting, they should also give them essential life lessons about what to do and what not to do on the Net.

It is not about telling a pubescent teenage boy that he should not access pornography online. Rather it is about informing children of the dangers of things like 'sexting' - sending naked pictures of themselves to other people. It is about teaching children what to post and what not to post on social networks. That said, I do not believe most adults themselves have got the hang of this as yet.

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Parents have the right to decide if and when their child should join Facebook. But once they allow the children to join, they should not spy on their Facebook activity. Still, a word or two of caution to their children face to face, will not hurt. At the same time, it is advisable not to post on the children's social media pages, you may end up embarrassing them terribly before their friends.

As we get more and more culturally connected to the digital world, it will continue to pose fresh challenges for parents. There are few right or wrong answers to these dilemmas. But of one thing I am fairly certain. Parental censorship is not the answer.

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