Parents and children need to connect better to avoid discord

Changes in time do not seem to have done much to better the communication between parents and children. The communication gap is evident generally, and it is pronounced in matters concerning reproductive sexual health.

A study published in the November issue of Indian Journal of Paediatrics (IJP) done among 3,625 parents-children group in Kerala shows just about 29.2 per cent children feel that their parents know about their physical and mental changes. Just 26.7 per cent of children say they received information about reproductive sexual health from their mother. Only 17.5 per cent say their parents take precautions to prevent sexual abuse. And though 179 of the young adults reported abuse, only 28 parents knew about it. Sixty-four per cent of the children interviewed for the study say they knew about menstruation before menarche. The need for better communication is more in the present times, says Nithya S. Poornima, a clinical psychologist working among children and parents. Studies done among school children in developed countries show nearly 54 per cent of girls are worried about their appearance because they do not match internationally accepted standards.

Relationship problems with the opposite sex are more prominent now among girls as young as 14 or 15. It is not just the suicide rates among teenagers that are increasing, but violence among teenagers too is on the rise.

Teenage Dating Violence or TDV is growing in India, though not to the proportions of the United States where one in three adolescent girls face physical, emotional or verbal abuse from their partners or peers.

The result of all these manifests as low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders that lead to mental health issues among adolescents.“Parenting styles have to be changed to suit the times and mothers are the main agents of change,” says Dr M.K.C. Nair, director of Child Development Centre (CDC).

The CDC is planning to introduce a series of programmes to foster better dialogue between mothers and girl children. Joining them in this effort are the Indian Medical Association and the Indian Academy of Paediatrics. “The programmes will be taken to mothers through Anganwadis and grassroot level workers. The training will be mostly on how to focus on hygiene and health care,” says sociologist M.L. Leena, who has been part of various study groups on adolescent issues.

To extend support to their children, mothers should first work on themselves, says Dr. Poornima. “They usually ignore themselves in the interests of the family. There has to be “me-time” for her.Mothers should also learn to give quality time to their children. Often mothers are just physically present near the child,” she says.

As per the study that came in IJP, 65.2 per cent of parents and 40.9 per cent of the teachers in Kerala do no talk about growth and development related issue even now with children. “What is needed is a graded exposure. For example, an eight to 10-year-old girl could be introduced to the concept of menarche slowly,” says Leena.

An environment a child interacts is most often misconstrued to be the quality of the peer group the child belongs. But there is also a need to understand the quality of the environment around the children whether in schools or colleges, says Anju Raj, a medical practitioner and mother of a six-year-old girl.

“Menstrual related issues among youngsters are on a rise. A major part of it is due to unclean rest rooms in schools. Even among children as young as five or six, there are more cases of urinary tract infections.”

The child should not be forced to follow socially accepted standards, whether conventional or new age, on any issue of development. Also, it is important for mothers to make girl children confident about their body and not let the child blindly follow fad diets or accepted norms or role models just because they are successful.