How many words can you make out the word 'paper'?
Scramble-unscramble is a simple game that piques young players' interest in different words and gives them the confidence to play with them. How many words can you make out of, say, the word 'paper'?
I grew up playing this game, and it happens to have survived the test of time and is hugely popular with the young minds.
Recently, I played this game with a few preteens. The primary word was 'paper' and the young minds were quick to dish out a list of different words in no time: Reap, Rap, Ape, Are. and amidst it stood out one word in particular that struck my attention: Rape. As would be the case with most adults, my mind instantly sought certain answers, primarily the why, how, should, could, and what around the word. Should a 10-year-old be aware of the evil? Could an 11-year-old possibly know that a plague like such exists? What does the word mean? How and where did the young mind pick up the word from? The answers to all of which, are perhaps hard to find, yet these are questions that need to be raised time and again.
Just like art reflects life, I'd say conversations in school buses, classrooms, and playgrounds reflect life as well, closely and as seen by the youth. Not very long ago, I was at a school bus stop in my neighbourhood when I heard children (under ten) discuss the future of the US. The discussion was heated and a continuation of the Trump-dominated chatter through the bus ride. Current issues dominate all minds, after all, I figured. Of course, politics is a rude shock, but conversations around a social evil are the rudest and painful. When the eight-year-old Asifa Bano was abducted, raped, and murdered (Kathua rape case) in India in 2018 my inbox (Young Times) was flooded with poetic pieces that spelt anger, pain, and helplessness. A 15-year-old girl wrote: "I roared out loud before to die, I realised a while ago that my life is a lie. Brutal scream they heard of mine. They tore my skin beyond the limits of a line." Poetry interspersed with words like alone, night, pain, girl child, fear, and death continues to flow in, breaking news aside. Genders aside as well.
Look around and listen carefully, and you'd know that the young boys and girls are talking about grave issues like rape, amongst other burning topics. The discussions at the moment may be limited to their peers only or are anonymous expressions - as poems, stories, artworks, and even memes. The youth reads the newspapers and watches films that discuss issues of a girl's safety. Fortunately, they're being raised in an environment, where they are taught to ask questions. Unfortunately, if their questions are not answered they have the option of relying on mediums that may not be adult-approved.
Yes, we wish to protect our children. We monitor their watching habits - trying our best to expose them to viewing age-appropriate material. We go through the ratings, guide them, or sometimes hand-hold them to form good habits. At times, we enter into squabbles with the teachers, our neighbours and beyond for their sake. We may be aware of our failure to protect at all times, but we never stop trying. Don't we?
Yet, when it comes to certain issues, we choose to stay silent. We bubble-wrap their lives.
A question to ask here is: How will our children walk ahead confidently if we blindfold them? How will our daughters seek protection, raise a voice or safeguard the lives of their loved ones if we don't acknowledge the existence of crimes like sexual assaults? How will they grow up to be responsible, alert and sensible beings if we are afraid to show them the complete picture?
A month ago, I came across a video posted on Facebook by a teacher on the difference between bad and good touch. Her audience were little girls (six and below) and a doll served as a prop to draw attention to the subject. She followed it up with questions about the steps they need to take if encountered with such a situation. It was heartwarming to see her effort, just as much it was to read the comments by various parents of sons and daughters on the same.
The next time you come across the word rape or your child asks you its meaning while watching the television, don't switch channels or brush aside the query. Talk to them. Tread with caution and care. It is time to hit restart. To talk about subjects that are considered taboo. To open our minds to the sensitive and harsh. To protect, teach, and prepare our children for not just an age-appropriate world, but the society they are growing up in.
This piece was first published in Khaleej Times.