Should we discuss sexual violence with children?
Outrage over the rape and murder of Priyanka Reddy in Hyderabad in India has been splashed as newspaper headlines, in Twitter feeds, on Facebook timelines and in the Young Times' inbox. Children as old as nine and 10 have written about rape, sexual abuse, and safety of girl child, in the form of poems and stories. These letters didn't appal me one bit. We'd witnessed a similar wave of anger last year when the Kathua rape case (Asifa) had made headlines in India. A poem titled, I wished someone noticed me, by Mizhi Sudheer, a student, read: "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. 'Rapeism' remains to a daily practice. I wished someone helped me with a notice. Asifa is my name."
These lines hurt me and gave me strength. Here was a child aware of the evil and is calling out for help (awareness) on behalf of many little minds, who too would have been affected by the facts of this and many such cases. All this got me thinking about how we are too careful to hide newspapers from our children, lest they read about the trouble brewing in the world. We decide to protect them from such plagues. We don't sit down with young boys and girls and talk to them about the bad vs. good touch. Often, we're shy, awkward and unprepared; hence we fail our children.
Yes, it's always a slippery slope deciding on what and when to talk with the young minds; especially when the topic on hand is a taboo - rape, molestation, incest, and beyond. Where does one draw the line, rather should one at all? Why not build a society where a child can walk up to a teacher, counsellor, elder sibling, nanny or a parent and get his/her questions answered about personal hygiene to self-safety without any nervousness? Why not normalise the conversations on such topics?
It's terrifying and uncomfortable, just as it is necessary. The statistics support the latter, but the children need not be buried under the weight of numbers. Rather we need to explain to them the meaning of words like consent. As an adult, one has to be both sensitive and informative when raising the topic. At the same time, one needs to talk about it with both boys and girls.
Words like age-appropriate are there to guide us, but we need to observe the changes in our surroundings and make the right call. Also, there are portals like Common Sense Media that can help parents and caregivers take a call on things like whether a 10-year-old should watch Stranger Things or to wait another few years. However, it does happen sometimes that while we discuss our thoughts with other parents, kids finish watching the series on a sleepover at their friend's place. We choose books for them with caution and concern too.
When caught in traffic jams, we constantly remind ourselves not to use foul language, for we have young ones in the vehicle. Just then 11-year-old screams out a loud, "Oh Fish!" and we sigh.
It's time we accept that they're growing up faster than we wish or can imagine. Just as we need to accept that the world we grew up in is gone long ago. The children are exposed to news and views; it's up to us to steer the discussion in the right direction. Another student wrote to us saying she wants to address the most talked about but the least cared about topic, which is women's safety around the world.
Let's together show her and all the other girls and boys that we do care. It's our turn to be pro-active in these discussions. Only then can we aspire to help them as well as protect them.