Recently there was a post on one of the many parenting forums I’m on, asking for recommendations to watch with the family. “Please no violence and murder” the post said and “no kissing-vissing, only clean family fun”. It made me pause for a minute and think about how kissing which is such an inherent, instinctive gesture of love, is clubbed with goriness and murder. This is very normal growing up in India – a feeling of shame or ‘yuckiness’ associated with kissing or physical intimacy and anything to do with sex. This includes an inability to refer to body parts such as vagina or penis by name, talking about them laterally instead, using euphemisms or not referring to them at all.
While scenes with sex and nudity would not be appropriate for kids to watch as they do not quite have the maturity to process them, two people kissing is not something that would scar a child. So many times I find that the scenes in Chhota Bheem for instance, are more violent and inappropriate for Rumi than watching Ross and Rachel kiss. Similarly, a child will not get scarred or disturbed in any way by homosexuality, any more than he / she would by the thought of heterosexual love. What we need to really examine here is our own feelings about these topics.
When was the first time we learnt to be ashamed or squirm at the words vagina or breasts or penis? When was the first time someone asked you as a woman to sit properly, use a dupatta, cover up; even as your cousin splayed across the couch with his legs wide open? If you dig deep down what are your own feelings about sex? Is it something functional, a part of your relationship and marriage, something you had to do to procreate? Or is it enjoyable, pleasurable, intimate? Your thoughts and views will shape how your child comes to view their own sexuality and hugely shape their mental health.
Which is not to say that everything about sex should be an open book to your child. Sex for you can be extremely private and personal. What is required is a calm, sensible answer if your child has questions. I have spoken to Rumi briefly about my menstrual cycle because she watched me carry sanitary napkins to the bathroom and sterilize my menstrual cup. I told her as succinctly as possible that this is something that happens every month to all women, something that helps us have our babies. “Does Nanu also get a period? What about Sarika didi?” She was curious about a few other women and then dropped it and went off to play. I truly believe that the truth is always so much better than coming up with nonsensical lies because if home is not the place where kids gets honest answers, they are certainly going to seek them elsewhere and get all sorts of wrong, half-baked information. The most important thing you can do for your child is to treat them like an intelligent, independent entity, no matter how young they are.
Very often when we are all dancing in the living room and the husband and I do a wild spin, Rumi’s friends giggle helplessly as they watch us, expressing shyness and surprise that we are hugging. We nonchalantly say to them that just as you girls are best friends and holding hands, we are best friends that are dancing arm in arm too. Once, her friend overheard one of us use the word ‘darling’ and laughed and whispered to Rumi, “haww your baba said darling!” I laughed and said “Yes he did, because he loves me.” This same friend, who comes from a relatively conservative family, starts giggling and saying “he is your boyfriend” when Rumi plays with boys from the building. This same child squats and relieves herself by peeing everywhere possible in the society, almost every evening. I really wonder, do the parents not see the problem here? Something that is so unhygienic and unhealthy for the child and people around is easily allowed but love between partners would embarrass them and cause them to avert their eyes. These families strictly don’t allow English sitcoms for the kissing scenes without realizing the damage that regional soap operas wreak with their melodramatic and archaic content.
I remember my own acute embarrassment when I watched Raja Hindustani with my parents in the theater and that long kissing scene made me just squirm in my seat. But that was also a time when such scenes were rare and kids today are exposed to so much more in terms of song lyrics and visual content. What we should do is take a long hard look at whether a kissing scene in a movie is going to damage their psyche or whether it is something that makes us uncomfortable for hitherto unexplored reasons?
When I am bothered by the cleavage of the woman at the next table, what does it tell me about myself? Do I want to dress like that but I am not allowed? (By people around, by society, by my own lack of confidence?) Do I find it indecent? (What are my notions of decency and where have they come from?)
I do not talk about ‘no judgement’ because all of us judge everything all the time. That is how we form and have opinions on things around us: by judging, evaluating and discarding. But a long, hard look at our own notions and perceptions is extremely important when we are raising our kids as they are the future; shaping how the world and society will be tomorrow.