Growing up is not an easy task. The distasteful feelings I get as I type this gives me a flashback… A flashback of the past 18 years which have brought me to a point of dissatisfaction. There is so much to deal with as the years add up. It starts feeling more like a chore and less like a journey.
This, is accompanied by one of the biggest problems of growing up in an Indian household:
The expectation to grow up without being allowed the freedom to do so. Over-involved parents establish control over the most mundane parts of a child’s life to ensure that their child is “protected”.
But, at what point does it become overbearing? At what point does a parent’s protectiveness become the factor that prevents a young person from exploring the world for themselves? I reached out to three 19-year-olds who have struggled with this very concern, to see what they had to say about it.
The first one of them is Kara Mehra*, currently residing and going to college in Delhi.
“I feel like a majority of Indian parents don’t understand the concept of personal space or the freedom to choose, when it comes to their children. I am answerable to my parents for almost everything I do. I have to seek permission before I can go somewhere and state a reason as to why it’s important to go. Even after this, they keep on calling me to ask me about my whereabouts.”
Kara sounded frustrated about being nagged all the time.
When asked about whether they have to deal with parental control, still, even after turning 18, the words of Ananya Sachdeva* and Sanya Mukherjee* (both of whom are currently residing and pursuing graduation outside the country) stood out to me. They provided contrasting pictures within a similar context.
The former said, “Yes, I still do… Even after living in a completely different continent and being away from my family, I am supposed to share my location every time I go out. I am strictly not allowed to attend any social events.”
Sanya on the other hand had a different experience, “After I turned 19, parental control subsided immensely. In the lockdown, I made an effort to heal my relationship with my parents. I would sit down and talk to them. I actually shared parts of my life that I was comfortable sharing with them.”
Sanya’s parents knew she had plans to apply abroad. They have been supportive of her since she was in her pre-teens. Throughout the lockdown period, Sanya convinced them that she can be independent and take charge of her adult life. Her parents recognised her effort and every time they failed to, Sanya would have a conversation with them about it.
“I don’t think my life feels constrained anymore. However, my teenage years still prevent me from embracing spontaneity. Some part of me still feels like I will let them down if I go ahead and explore a new part of my city alone,” she admitted.
Talking to people with bitter experiences reinforced my belief that parents’ interference in their children’s lives is an uncontrollable aspect for many. It is seen as something one just has to deal with, one way or another, to ultimately reach a point of independence.
What also stood out to me in the process of writing this piece was that it was mostly the women who recalled negative experiences related to parental control. The men’s answers were starkly different.
None of them had experiences of their parents checking their phones or not allowing them to go out to a particular place. All of them voiced the same answer: “My parents have always been pretty chill that way, bro!”
I could relate to them, too, on some level. My parents have always given me a lot of independence to begin with. I have never felt as if I was not living my life on my own terms. Whether it be about something as basic as being outside beyond 9 p.m. or something as major as a career choice.
This begs the question, is the practice of parental surveillance deeply rooted in patriarchy? Maybe it is not the entire picture. I am pretty sure that there are men out there who may have experiences of strict parental control to recall. But, among those around me, there was only an indication of a large gender divide.
A point of view to consider can be that spaces have become astronomically unsafe for women and hence it is believed that they need to be protected more than men.
But, instead of suffocating women, what would be more effective would be to exercise the same supervision and control over men, who make these spaces unsafe for women in the first place.
Supervision, hence, while important, is positive only to the extent where it does not blur the line between parenting and over-parenting.
I think parental supervision ultimately boils down to the question: is it helping the child in making more informed decisions? Or, is it a form of suppression they will carry with them until they reach a point where their parents can no longer effectively intervene or exercise any form of control?
We need to start working towards building a more nurturing parenting culture for the children, who will grow up to become adults tomorrow. Parents need to understand that stopping children from living life on their own terms only leads to a breaking point of unwanted rebellion.
I believe that if parents meet their children in the middle, their children will also try their best to do the same.
If young women like Kara, Ananya and Sanya are given more freedom to begin with, maybe they will never feel the need to go out of their way to feel independent. Maybe, they would never need to lie to their parents at various moments in their lives, to obtain a level of independence that they could have gotten through dialogue and honesty.
But, since such spaces don’t exist for them, the only device left is to either lie or rebel or to wait until they are not under their parents’ watchful eyes.
A little independence goes a long way. It gives children the space to explore and figure out so many things about themselves. It allows them to make mistakes and come to rational decisions about various aspects of life by themselves. This is the need of the hour, especially as living at home becomes more prevalent amidst the pandemic.
Parents need to hand over the reins of a child’s life back to them. Let them live life on their own terms and when asked to, be there as a helping hand. We don’t want to feel steered, we want to feel guided. Yes, there is a big difference between the both!
*Names changed to protect privacy of individuals
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program