“Do I have to show my face? I don’t want my parents knowing I said that,” said a teenager whilst writing a note to her parents for Project KHEL’s Teen Talks social media campaign.
In a school fair in Lucknow, Project KHEL —a non-profit dedicated to empowering young people by teaching them life skills through sports and play — asked teenage girls to write a message to their parents in an attempt to bridge the communication gap between young people and their elders.
After admiring their work from afar —I’m a Peruvian journalist who has been globetrotting around Asia for a few years — I decided to visit India and travel to Lucknow, to see for myself how such a young start-up was able to do such powerful and life-changing work.
On my third day in the city, I accompanied the team on their mission get teenage girls involved in their campaign — which is aimed at discussing issues such as puberty, relationships, suicide, sexuality, amongst other pressing (and often taboo) topics with teenagers, both male and female.
The task: approaching young women who were roaming around the grounds of a school fair and asking them to write a message addressing an issue they struggle to communicate to their parents about.
Initially, I thought this task would be easy sailing. But, much to my surprise, some young women grappled with the idea of making their message public.
“My parents are perfect,” one young lady said. “I don’t want to say anything negative,” said another. “Maybe later…”
Their initial resistance to speak of the issues they face with their parents surprised me. On my side of the world, girls would flock to the opportunity to complain about their overprotective parents, about their struggles to gain more freedom, about the misunderstandings and generational gaps they face on a daily basis. Here, it took a bit more persuasion to get the girls talking.
And then, we approached the parents. Some were hesitant whilst others jumped right into the task. This is when I realised that the fear of talking about certain issues was two-sided, making the task to create a means by which teens and parents can communicate, ever more urgent.
Such apprehensiveness – to me – seemed frankly, unhealthy. A society where teenagers are not openly critical and rebellious but rather shy and restricted seemed worrisome. As someone who grew up in a conservative society, the channels by which I could openly express my opinion, and the teachers and fellow friends that supported me, gave me the confidence to push my parents to grow with me.
Throughout the day, young women, most between 13 and 18 years-old, wrote their messages. Some brainstormed their thoughts as a group and others took to the pen knowing exactly what they wanted to write. Those who have participated in the past were the most outspoken and less daunted.
The messages varied: from those who jotted down thank-you notes to their parents, to those, who with no hesitation, addressed issues such as forced career paths, unwanted marriages, and the (dire) need for trust, privacy and space.
As word got out, the facilitators no longer had to go in seek of girls to recruit, but rather, the stand began to receive young women who wanted to make their voice heard.
By the end of the day, the panel was filled with hand-written messages, from both young women and parents, making requests, stating opinions and asking the other party to listen and make an attempt to see an issue from the perspective of either the growing teenager or the worried parent.
The most compelling and thought out messages were, to no surprise, those of who decided to cover their faces, leaving any trace of their identity out of the shot.
“Let girls work after completing their education and please don’t get them married”
“It would be nice to, you know, to pursue the career I want to, and not what you want me to”
“Daddies should be friendlier with their daughters and lessen the physical distance”
Such life changing and life rearing decisions were left unsigned, this can only be interpreted as evidence of how much more needs to be done to empower young women to stand up for their futures. The campaign is online and teens, as well as parents, are encouraged to write messages and send photos to be published on this unique and, it seems, extremely well-timed and crucial social media campaign.