A certain boy, no more than thirteen years of age, had been sending sexually explicit text messages to a girl in his class. She complained to the teacher, who confiscated his phone for the duration of the year. The result? His mother bought him a new phone and the harassment continued.
A few months later the boy, now emboldened, sent the girl a number of obscene messages in quick succession. This time when the girl approached the teachers, she broke down. Her friends rallied around her, swearing they wouldn’t let this go unnoticed. They decided to each tell their parents what had transpired.
That evening when the children gathered the courage to share the contents of the messages with their mothers or fathers, thirty sets of parents recoiled in shock. All hell broke loose and within the hour the moms network was on fire as the spotlight on this boy grew. One or two parents did try to play down the situation but their feeble ‘boys-will-be-boys’ argument was shot down with an almost savage ferocity. His other transgressions, major or minor, came to light and seemed to take on a life of their own, each transforming into a brick that would seal this child’s fate.
That very night emails went out to the school from parents who stood in solidarity with the girl who had been the target of online abuse. The principal, sensing the gravity of the situation, assured everyone of immediate and appropriate action.
When an incident like this takes place, the school, burdened with the unenviable task of the final say, attempts to do the right thing, and in the process, someone always gets hurt. In this case, it was the boy, and while the general feeling was one of satisfaction that the school had treated this matter with the seriousness it deserved, there was also a lingering feeling of sadness for the boy. In his mind, all he did was play a prank. Sadly, he had not been taught that there was a line he should never cross.
We lay so much emphasis on telling parents to take a break, we forget to tell them that while they don’t have to be a perfect parent, they do still have to parent! They don’t have to raise geniuses or prodigies, but do need to teach them right from wrong, and should step up to shoulder some of the responsibility for actions of their pre-teen. Every boy this age is hormonal. Every boy knows about the birds and the bees and can teach us a thing or two about them. But the boy that takes it upon himself to send obscene text messages to a pre-teen needs counselling, needs to be dealt with firmly, and most of all, needs parental attention.
Today, when numerous MeToo articles detail the harassment faced by women at the hands of entitled men, when those men, many in positions of power, are facing repercussions of their actions along with social and professional stigma, when the narrative is all about how important it is for parents to teach their sons the concept of consent and mutual respect, what kind of a dialogue are these parents having with their son? Have they taught him that he should respect girls? Have they taught him the difference between teasing someone and badgering them?
There’s no doubt that parents want the best for their kids. If our children want something we can afford, why shouldn’t we get it for them? As we give into our children’s demands, it becomes more and more difficult to draw the line. We ourselves lose perspective. While no parent wants to deprive their children it is essential to delay gratification or encourage them to reach a certain target before giving in to demands so they don’t grow up believing they are entitled to whatever they want, including women! And we must punish our children when they do wrong – for their own good – for the world is growing less tolerant and will not be as forgiving with our children as we are.
This boy is now forced to face the fact that his actions have consequences. His consequent removal from school could also be a blessing in disguise for the family, as they will look at his transgressions more seriously and can take steps to turn him around for really, he’s just a kid, someone who misguidedly tried to impress a girl, or his friends, or both – and learnt the hard way that there is a fine line between harmless pursuit and harassment.
Thankfully the parents didn’t try and arm-twist the school into keeping him on. For when parents call in favours to get their children off the hook, they do them the biggest disservice of all.
(This article was published in The Hindu, Open Page, on December 23, 2018)