Love? Really?

‘So?’

‘SO?’ Preteens do that. They often bounce back the question, with a question mark added.

‘Well, what happened at school today?

‘Nothing. The usual. Oh! Aditya got a rose by the way.’

My heart first leapt to my throat, swooned a little and then dropped to my heel. It is Valentine’s Day and my son’s friend got a rose. The heart behaved the way it did not because of the rose in question, but because of the casual tone in which I was informed. ‘Oh there is the maths homework and a project, and a girl proposed to my best buddy.’

My mind instantly split into two – one part telling me to chant and be calm, and the other screaming it’s gut out, repeating, ‘proposed? At ten?’ Thankfully, the calm side won.

‘And?’ I was hoping he’d spill his guts out, and tell me some more.

‘And? The test? That went well.’

So, that is all it was going to be. I went back to checking the scraps of food remaining in the lunch box. He came back and whispered, ‘I didn’t get any proposals and frankly, I don’t think I care.’

The heart leapt in a big hurrah but the calm side slapped it into position.

‘Cool.’ I use that word to sound absolutely nonchalant, unworried and beyond shock.

The good thing is that we have an open dialogue on topics ranging from gender differences, infatuation and love, to the more grave ones like online pornography. The worrisome thing of course is that no matter how much they are prepared, there might come a time when the heart tugs at reason. So at that time, where do I want to be? The judgemental, righteous parent who scoffs off the idea of preteen or teen love as being immoral? The understanding parent who helps the child through his feelings? We need to get a few things clear:

1. It is normal.

Write that somewhere, and read it every day. No matter what the moral brigade tells you, crushes, infatuation, feelings for another person are absolutely normal. Period. Don’t torture yourself and agonise the child by telling him it is immoral to fall in love. We have to understand that this is the time when the hormones bubble up a happy cocktail making even the most ridiculous of the crushes seem life altering. And morality, character and whatever other upright big words that come to your mind are absolutely not linked to the feelings of this age group.

2. Listen more, talk less.

Without being condescending, give a fair listening ear. Do not flinch when your ten year old tells you that he somewhat fancies a particular girl, or when the twelve year old says that the entire class is full of pairs. Be more interested in knowing what they think and feel. Chances are they already know about it all, but if we belittle or negate their feelings, we might push them to being defiant, and to approaching the matters of heart out of rebellion, rather than gaining a true understanding.

If they are confused, discuss. Tell them it is fine to feel that way. Take that burden of guilt off their shoulders. Often most kids are secretive about their ‘love’ since they are afraid of the parents exploding. Make sure that the child knows that you do not explode on matters of the heart.

3. Arm them with knowledge.

What would you rather have? A hormonally high, curious child who has no idea about his bodily functions, or a child who knows exactly how the birds and the bees make the world go around? Seriously, enough of putting your head in the sand, and pretending that the kid is just happy to watch the nth re-run of Tom and Jerry, and that he can rarely think beyond chocolate chip ice cream. Either you tell them, or they get their own twisted ideas courtesy ‘knowledgeable ‘ friends. There are some exceptionally wonderful books out there that can help you tide over your own hesitations, and set the facts straight.

4. Peer pressure – take it seriously

A big factor in falling in love at this age is peer pressure. It is considered cool to have a crush, be in love, and the top trophy, of course, is a girl-friend or a boy-friend, whatever the case maybe. Never belittle the pressure. It is very real for them. Teach them ways to deal with it. Peer pressure needs to be taken head on, and it takes a tremendously well-adjusted, self-respecting child to not succumb. So rather than ridiculing the whole idea of peer pressure, we need to make sure that the child is absolutely comfortable in his skin, and is able to differentiate between true needs and peer pressure induced wants.

5. Distract!

Sounds evil, but an occupied mind can rarely be distracted. Give your child varied opportunities to learn new things, experiment, and generally be neck deep in the wondrous world of his choice. My younger one loves origami, and the elder one enjoys making cartoons. So besides other books, there is a special shelf for books and material related to their passions. They play tennis, golf, and we have joined a guitar class together. Thankfully, till now, whatever spare time they have, they prefer to spend it reading. So basically they have no time for love right now!

6. Cell phones can wait.

Call me orthodox, but I do not understand why a ten year old would need a cell phone. He is not travelling alone, doesn’t have to call the electrician to fix the tube light, or call up the boss with an innovative excuse for being late. Mobiles come with facebook, twitter, whatsapp and a myriad of other social networking tools. How do you plan to prevent them from logging on? For that matter even SMSes have emerged as a new age form of teen networking which has it’s massive downside – from bullying to gossips to blatant threats – they play a big role in escalating the pressure.

7. They will grow out of it. Chill!

At the end of it, how many school time romances have you seen blossom into fruitful relationships? Chances are, very few. So our kids will grow out of it too, if we help them. The idea is for them to know that the ship won’t just sail away and not come back, if they do not get on it. There will be time, more appropriate time. Now is the time to be friends – best of friends – irrespective of gender and what others think. We as parents have to be supportive, rather than judgemental.

8. However, set some limits

An understanding parent is not necessarily a permissive parent. Set some reasonable rules regarding birthday parties, going over to friends’ house, and phone calls. Help them take responsibility for their actions. Restructure the rules, as they grow older. So, while it is fine to have feelings and crushes, the homework doesn’t get day dreamed away.

There will be roses, secret muffled voices over the phone, attempted white lies, and unexplained gifts. At ten, it can get a lot worse if we do not support them and educate them. Yes, our tiny toddlers have grown, and perhaps, when our jaws drop at them mentioning love and attraction, we are actually frantically trying to hold on to their childhood. They will grow up but if we are there, they will grow up well. So I draw in a deep breath, and tell myself each day, ‘this too shall pass.’

The elder one sauntered in with a smug grin, dragging his bag along.

‘What? What’s the smile? You got a rose too?’ I asked expecting a dire reply.

‘What rose? The bugger got a rose?’ His eyes widened. ‘I am just thrilled that I finished off the series I started reading last week. Who gave him a rose? Oye, idhar aa! I’ll fix his rattled brain.’

Before I could explain, he had already rolled up his sleeves, and entered the younger one’s room.  I just smiled. All’s well today. Tomorrow may or may not bring heartache. I like to believe that I am prepared.

Originally posted at: Mycity4kids.com

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