‘Authoritarian parents can destroy the lives of children more than dengue, malaria or swine flu’

Most people love and appreciate their parents. We don't doubt that. The problem is, parents can't tell this unless you show it by the way you treat them. Parents get very upset when children do not share their secret or difficult moments with them. Dr Harish Shetty, Consulting Psychiatrist at LH Hiranandani Hospital, Powai lists out some common scenarios that occur with children in families

Worried over how to deal with their kids, parents make a beeline to psychiatrists
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A great family is one where kids share their bad news early. The repair and restoration of the pain in the minds is quicker and faster. Adults who share their difficult moments at home inspire their children to do the same, says  Dr Harish Shetty, Consulting Psychiatrist at LH Hiranandani Hospital.

He added, “When the dad is upfront about his loss of job with the family he is an evolved man.  Here fear and shame gets demolished. The myth of the superman or the superwoman disintegrates. Though this is difficult it is not impossible.”

Below, Dr Shetty highlights some common scenes:

Scenario 1: A 12-year-old child enters the kitchen and suddenly screams, “I like her so much.” The mother drops her utensils and is shocked. She screams back, ‘Is this the age to fall in love.’ And he decides, ‘no more sharing of this stuff at home ever.’

Parents who get ‘shocked’ easily stop kids from sharing

Solution: The mother may quietly sit down and reflect what his son has shared. Deep breathing/ pranayama/ vippassana, may help her. The thoughts that may trouble her may arise from her beliefs that are wired during childhood. They may be, ‘falling in love is bad’, ‘falling in love at such a young age is bad’, ‘it may affect his studies’, and so on. As she sits down calmly and thinks or bounces the same with a close friend she may realize that, ‘liking someone is affection at its best’, ‘such feelings are fleeting and may not last too long’,’ ‘These are normal responses’ and so on. The belief systems may get dented here. The mother should calmly go back to her son, apologise and listen to his beautiful feeling for someone with respect and complete attention. Acknowledging his pure feelings helps bonding.

Scenario 2: A 14-year-old quietly in a good mood shares with his father on a Sunday, “We bunked classes and went for a movie dad.” Dad hears it calmly and also shares jokingly that he had done the same at his age. It’s all right is the final signature statement of Dad. Two weeks later when the semester marks reach the father he is livid. His son scores less in Maths. And Mr Dad hits back like this…”You bunk classes and then scoreless.Stop your nonsense,” He screams!  The 14 year old decides, no more sharing as the father got back at him after he revealed a secret.

 Parents who ‘get back’ at their children stop them from sharing

Solution: The mind is emotionally hijacked when angry and so the dad may chill for a day and take his 14-year-old out. We are all victims of our belief systems that are slowly transformed without our conscious knowledge through experiences and earth shattering events.  When he takes the 14 year old out let him look into her eyes and retreat his statement he made a day ago. As the emotions settle down the father may stop blaming and look at logical reasons with a calm mind. The 14-year-old may also be in a state to discuss and reaffirms her faith on her father. Logic and honest sharing builds trust and faith.

Scenario 3: An 18-year-old shares with his mother that he cannot understand any subject in his engineering course. She calmly listens and tells him that she will have to tell his father who will take a final decision. The father shouts and insults the boy…’is this why I have spent lakhs on your education’, he wails. The boy decides to bunk classes stealthily and work in a call centre. The parents are not aware and they believe that the boy is continuing his education till they get a call from the college.

Authoritative parents stop kids from sharing

Solution: Here the mother is not empowered and is blind to the fatwas of her husband. She could have said, “Let me discuss with your father and we will both come back to you.” Here, the lack of communication and the power of decision making with the father can ruin the child’s future. Authoritarian parents can destroy the lives of children much more than dengue, malaria or swine flu. Early examination of the child’s discontent through a career counsellor, a psychologist will help diagnose the issue. If all evidence points to the fact that the 17 year old is a misfit he needs to be withdrawn. In this era making a wrong career choice can be corrected and if one gets down the ladder early a new ladder is always present.

Government not serious about identifying children with learning disabilities
Dr Harish Shetty, Consulting Psychiatrist at LH Hiranandani Hospital, Powai

Scenario 4: A 19-year-old confesses to her mother that she is in a relationship with her friend. This girl is doing well in life both in her education and her relationship. The mother is so happy that she in her life was not allowed to walk the same footsteps and her parents stopped her from falling in love. She announced it to the whole world. It is also her habit. The girl felt violated and refused to share any more secrets.

Loudspeaker parents stop children from sharing heavy stuff

Solution: Whenever a story or an event is heard we go through a range of emotions and experience various thoughts automatically as our mind software is wired much early in childhood. Most of the time, the response via these automatic thoughts and feelings may not be healthy. The beliefs in our minds are transacted then. Our unfulfilled urges may also be expressed.  Such stories may open our own stories and our responses may be coloured. The best thing that her mother could do is to share completely how she felt with her daughter and that may have stopped her impulsive sharing. She may also look back at her life and resolve her pain herself or with assistance and help. Alternatively, she could have actually told herself that she will never share this with anyone. Practicing confidentiality and being secretive are two different things. Confidentiality is an attitude that needs practice whereas being secretive is a trait or part of nature.

Scenario 5: A 15-year-old suddenly shares with both his parents that he has been taking cannabis. All hell breaks loose and they take him to a family elder. This gentleman gives a long sermon of what is right and wrong and how he has become a bad addict. The boy begs to be taken to a mental health professional but the parents are scared and ashamed to reveal this fact to anyone. The boy is frustrated and continues smoking weed & hash in defiance and vows never to ask for help from his parents. He refuses to give his 10 th exams.

Shame, stigma and orthodox thinking, stop kids from sharing with parents

Solution:  When parents share how they feel about their kids cannabis habits with aware and mature friends a lot of shame may decrease. A visit to an empowered teacher or a mental health professional can help them understand the problem in its right context. As the stigma is put on the table fresh rational thoughts emerge from the minds. This can help.  Yet the old software may yet bounce back intermittently but may slowly diminish in intensity.

Scenario 6: A 19-year-old girl is depressed as she broke away from her friends group. She refused to share with her parents as she did not want to burden her parents with her issues. Many children do not share as they do not want to hurt those whom they love the most. Many get destroyed in due course of time as the pain mounts.

Love or depression can inhibit sharing of difficult stories and secrets

Solution:  The young need to realize that sharing divides the pain and does not multiplies it. One may not begin by parents but start somewhere. I cannot hurt anyone is also an unhealthy belief as hurt is an interpretation and not a feeling. Yet earlier sharing with parents may have had disastrous responses so also one may be inhibited. But the young do not realize that conflicts also help parents to mature and become more accepting of their children. If you are very depressed you may not feel like sharing at all. Here baring it all with a mental health professional is a great start. As the depression recedes with treatment the courage and the ease to share is better.  Children may also not share if their parents are mentally or physically ill. Here an informed decision needs to be taken by the teenager after discussing with an empowered teacher or the best available mental health professional.

Scenario 7: 14 year old shared everything with his mother till last year but stopped this year. He just feels that somethings he needs to share with friends and everything need not be shared with parents. His parents are upset as they feel that he has changed after the 8th standard. This boy also has stopped sharing usual stuff as his parents are obsessed to know everything about him all the time. They do not have a life outside their home.

Obsessed parents stop kids from sharing 

Solution: It is normal for teenagers to slowly open their wings and share more with peers. Sharing A to Z stops around 12-14 years. This needs to be accepted and understood. Here, parents need to have a life outside their children so that their obsession goes down. Anxious parents also behave in a similar manner. Bored mothers are also too preoccupied with their children. These issues need to be addressed separately so that the child breathes fresh air freely.

There are many more scenarios that can be described but these are some of the common ones. Every crisis or a conflict with children is an opportunity for the parents to evolve and grow emotionally. Parents who listen with their mind, body and soul grow much faster to be effective parents.  Parents who seek help in crisis from mature friends, empowered teachers and mental health professionals thrive. Shame and Fears are roadblocks that parents need to be aware .Trust and faith are like plants that need to be nourished all the time. This may begin with parents.

The author is a Consulting Psychiatrist at LH Hiranandani Hospital