Inside The Mind Of The New Age Child

Updated: Nov 30 2002, 05:30am hrs
Indian popular cinema is one medium that truly reflects the social values, the beliefs, the underlying code and even the mood of the Indian society, which at the best of times is a myriad of differences. If Bollywoods evolution was to be tracked over the decades, one is sure to gain insights into the chronology of the Indian societys progression, how its various institutions have developed, into the changing dynamics in roles and relationships...all of these enhanced by rich and vivid images.

As a researcher, my focus is on kids, their role in the home and in the marketplace, their relationship with their parents and with the rest of the adult world. Even among them, Indian cinema reveals dramatic differences. The oh! so sweet, bubbly, bobbing plump little Munni of Parichay (for those of you who remember her), with her adorable fills and bows has been dislodged by the contemporary, assertive Anjali of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Not only does Anjali make her own decisions, but she successfully steers the parent as well. Even her name denotes the distinction: she is most definitely an individual in her own right, not merely a cuddly, cute, cosseted creation of the parent.

But I guess, change is the buzzword among the young, and however dramatic will be accepted as inevitable. What is truly startling is the changing face of parenthood. The stereotype of parent-child conflict for control has vanished. The child is released happily from the Nursery into the Playground by the parent, without any sense of loss or resentment. On the contrary, parents are revealing in the changewatching with pride and joy the growing up of their children, taking pleasure in the transfer of control, empathising with their childrens needs and demands placed on them. And images around us confirm this:

The verging on brattness Milk Treat Mummy wont say No! kid is actually found cute by the mothers.

The wacky, irreverent Bold Ho Jao humour of Fanta evokes laughter.

The scruffy, outdoor, Maxcle-an child is certainly more stimulating than the clean, scrubbed, buttoned up, good student.

The in-control, assertive, demanding child has actually enabled the parents to visit the child within, and perhaps even relive a childhood they did not experience. Gone are the shac-kles binding each into predefin-ed cliched roles handed down by generations. This is the time for experimentation, explorat-ion, mediation, a time to redefine the relationship and make it more rewarding for both.

At NFO KidSearch, we examine the parent-child dynamics all the time- in our syndicated studies (Junior perspectives and Teen perspectives), as well as all customised research we do on child markets. And in all the work weve done, apart from the strong winds of change, weve noticed that the transition is not only painless, but is taking place in an atmosphere of complete harmony.

Redefining Relationships
The Indian parent-child relationship has travelled from the traditionalI know whats best for my child to a harmonious, uncontested acceptance of each others individuality and points of difference. The formulaic rebellious stage, witnessed in Western societies, seems to have been skipped altogether. Today, mothers believe that their daughters (and sons too) need to keep up with changing fashions, and that times have certainly changed from their own days, when new outfits were purchased only on occasions. Fath-ers, with excitement matching those of their sons, add eagerly to the collection of Hot Wheels cars. Brands worn, matter as much to the parent, not only to keep up with the others, but also to make sure that the child belongs to his peer group and does not feel any sense of deprivation. No gift or present is ever purchased without making sure of the childs pleasure or desire. Indulgence is no longer a bad word, and good parenting is no longer synonymous with a mile long rule book of dos and donts.

And in return for this support and involvement, Indian kids accept and even welcome the intervention and sometimes-dominant role played by the parents in their lives. The juniors are happy to let their parents have a bigger say on the clothes they wear, the friends they go out with; an the teenagers actually want parental participation in the choice of life partner. The move from the Playground into the Street Corner, which is most Western cultures is accompanied by a distinct and visible severance of the umbilical cord (my old man syndrome, negotiation and compromise at best, and rebellion and distance if not), is trouble free. While peer perspectives begin to matter as children enter teenage, the family continues to remain the cornerstone of security, love and belonging. In fact, even the coolest ones, state unambiguously that disrespect for elders is certainly uncool.

The Girl Child
Possibly, the furthermost swing is in the attitude of the parent towards the girl child. Despite less than one-fifth of mothers working, almost all of them want a dissimilar and more equal future for their daughters. Over 90 per cent expect their daughters to work, and an overwhelmingly large majority of these dream of professional careers. And they are investing in making it happen- in education, in grooming, in additional skill sets- girls are no longer treated as less equal. And the girls are responding with confidence, poise and enthusiasm. In a show of self-belief, over half the teen girls state that they are equally capable of taking on the mantle of the main earner. Childhood therefore, while altered irreversibly in many ways, still includes and involves the parent. The real metamorphosis however is in parenting-parents are reaching out eagerly to embrace and identify with the childs world-view, to get in touch with the child within, and more than anything to build and enduring, talking, rewarding relationship with their children. A relationship that is build on mutual respect and love, in mutual recognition of each others individuality and points of view, one in which the giving and taking is spontaneous rather that prescribed.

The Indian family as an institution has emerged all the better from the test put on it by the wave of modernity, individualism and materialism. Unlike areas, where we have followed algorithms from Western societies, we seem to have looked inwards in the area of roles and relationships, and woven a unique fabric that is a viable, resilient blend of individuality against the backdrop of family security.

That we continue to do so is something that all of us hope and strive for. That the Indian family will withstand the trials faced when the majority of women go out to work and assume equal roles, and when the children assume more independence.

(The author is Vice President, KidSearch-Child specialist division of NFO MBL India)