8 am: I am drinking coffee and reading the papers when my 11-year-old son walks into the room and loftily announces ‘Mom, I can make anyone pregnant now!’ I violently choke and spew coffee all over my sofa. (Yes, the same sofa that I have reupholstered three times in the last three months). At a loss of words for the first time in 15 years, I feebly mutter, ‘Uh I don’t think err... you should do such things; it’s not the right uhm... time and uh the girl and you uh...’ ‘Yuck that’s gross mom!’ He shrieks, ‘You always think of such dirty things, I don’t even talk to girls though you keep insisting that soon I will be running after them. I didn’t mean it like that! Eww! I was doing some research for a school project and the youngest boy who has made anyone pregnant is 11! The Internet says it’s a world record, that’s all. Dad is right! You say gross things all the time!’ and the prodigal son storms off.
The Internet! (Can we have some drum rolls please). How are parents supposed to protect their children and the innocence of being a child while living in the era of the Information Age?
We simply can’t shield them from this onslaught of data! Install parental restrictions on their iPads or computers but don’t forget they have grown up with computers and can figure out half a dozen ways to bypass the system if they really want to. So let’s face it, they are going to get exposed to everything under the sun and we really can’t stop it but what we can do, are two things to protect them.
1 Treat things light-heatedly: The man of the house may not always agree but I make jokes about everything in our house from smoking and sex to drugs and alcohol and though the prodigal son now thinks I am a bit loony, he also knows that there is nothing he can’t discuss with me. The thrill of the forbidden fruit has disappeared and all these things aren’t really so cool to do, if your middle-aged mom keeps talking about them!
End result — he is militant about annoying people when they are having a drink, lecturing them about how alcohol is so bad for their health and steals everyone’s cigarette packets and throws them out of the window. (Police chief Dhoble is a close second in the art of how to be a killjoy; the prodigal son beats him hands down).
2 Lead by example: Children are smart. They are not interested in hearing what you say; they are only watching what you do. Leading by example can be done in two ways: Either you indulge in a few bad habits and your offspring looks at you thinking ‘God! I never want to be like that’ and spend pretty much the rest of their lives doing the opposite of what they see. Do I hear a nicotine tinged sigh of relief? Nah! In order to evoke the disgust principle you have to truly wallow in your chosen sin. Sixty cigarettes a day, children choking on second-hand smoke and a quick, painful and deathly bout with lung cancer (hmm... sigh of relief has turned into a gasp I see) or you lead the life you would like them to lead. Be the person you are always lecturing them to be. Don’t be a self-indulgent, moaning, lazy, pessimist, if you want them to be the opposite. Remember they are always watching.
We can either go on complaining about how precious our childhood was and how innocent we were at their age or we can face reality that this is the way it is. That our children are going to see the good, bad and the sordid very early in life and to prepare them to deal with these situations, we the parents, need maturity, finesse and most importantly a sense of humour. If you can make them laugh with you (mine laughs at me most of the time, but it works out to the same thing) and they know that they can talk to you about anything without the fear of being judged, then when that moment comes in their teens where they are not sure which step to take, they will hopefully turn to you and that my friend, is the most priceless protection you can ever give your children.