Poonam Mahajan: Games, Whales and Digital Age parenting

Aug 21, 2017, 06:15 IST | Poonam Mahajan

While the Internet is a boon for parents helping their kids with their homework, it is the dark pockets of the cyber world that gives them sleepless nights

Illustration/Ravi Jadhav
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

Does only depression lead to suicide? Does only trauma lead to suicide? Imagine this. A 13-year-old happy, vivacious child who is so full of life suddenly draws into himself and before you can write it off as teenage moodiness, he kills himself! Can anything be scarier for a parent? Can anything move us more, as parents, than reading about Internet games that have turned suicidal? Is anything scarier than the realisation that our young happy children could be drawing their inspiration not from us, but from misguided, dark Internet sources we know nothing about?

When I was a child, I used to scribble in my diary. I used to giggle in class, passing little notes to my friends. Our love letters were written on torn off pages from our notebooks, preserved for all time. Today, my teenage son uses SnapChat! Everything he says disappears into digital oblivion within 30 seconds. He can block me from seeing his stories if he wishes to. It is a whole new world of digitalisation and I am a first generation parent of this new world, learning, struggling and trying to find a balance between giving my children all the information and knowledge in the world on their palms and trying to protect from all that is evil in the virtual world.

And I am not the only one. We as parents want to give the best to our children. We want to get them the best toys; we help them with research to make their projects the best ones in class. We buy them smartphones because it keeps them occupied, gives them the world at their fingertips, and because it is actually cheaper to gift a smartphone to a 13-year-old than to take a weekend family trip!

More than 88% of Indian households have mobile phones, even if they are lacking basic amenities such as toilets and running water. As we modernise the nation, we have digital classrooms and computer labs in even the most remote villages. But are we doing anything to prepare the parents of this generation to deal with the digital age? Contemporary methods of parenting is changing and we are all equally at sea! Your son needs your undivided time listening to his woes and achievements rather than you being active on his school whatsapp groups. He needs to be told everyday and in every way how precious he is and how you are never too busy for him. Because these are the insecurities new age Internet games like the Blue Whale Challenge is feeding on! It is our duty as parents to combat these insecurities in our children, to give them the confidence to turn to us, rather than to strangers in a virtual world for guidance. Our toddler daughters need cuddles and our time to listen to her baby talk more than cute selfies posted on social networking sites proclaiming our love for her.

As a lawmaker, as a youth leader, and as a parent I realise that some solutions can't be found for us by our government. Bans cannot keep away curiosities and blocking inappropriate sites on the internet at home is a temporary and flimsy measure. The only sustainable solution is to be aware, to be updated, to learn as technology advances with our children. My 13-year-old son has taught me to use Instagram and Snapchat and I put aside time to understand his world with him. My 4-year-old daughter loves cuddles and selfies equally and I try to balance both for her. We may be working parents, we may be busy with household chores but we have to make sure our children are our active priorities and more importantly, we have to make sure that they know it!

As the world around us bows down to technology, and our minds become more dependent on mobile telephone directories and google than ever before, we must remember that human emotions and an affectionate touch are above it all.

"As a robot, I could have lived forever. But I tell you all today, I would rather die a man, than live for all eternity a machine." - Bicentennial Man

Ms Poonam Mahajan, Member of Parliament (Loksabha), National President - Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha

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