My Parenting Report Card Is In And It’s Not Pretty
One year after they went back to school post-Covid, parenting a teen has only gotten trickier. Priya Ramani offers some exam tips.
The other day my almost-13-year-old made a dramatic announcement: “Your parenting skills are a 0/10. Not even a 5.” Even in my worst moments of self doubt, I’ve never rated myself nil, so my daughter’s ringing judgement was a bit of a blow. I told myself what I always tell myself in moments like this: she is as expressive as you. Translation: good luck dealing with mini me.
I also felt fiercely nostalgic for the younger version of my child who, when she was learning about the world’s continents, would say: “You’re the best mother in Asia, America, Africa…” Back then, even my most self-loving avatar couldn’t compete with my child’s XXL assessment of me.
It’s one year since children went back to school post the pandemic, and parenting a teenager has only gotten trickier. Even as the rush of in-person school has worn off, students, teachers and parents are still struggling to get back to the world as it used to be.
“Anecdotally, a lot of children I know have had issues with increased device use as screen-time became normalised during the pandemic. Motivation too became a problem. Many children who were doing well had a drop in academics as continuity of education was lost in online school with teachers having a tough time engaging remotely located students, while themselves adjusting to the pandemic,” says Ragini Yerragudi, a Bengaluru-based counsellor. “Physical fitness took a hit with many children forced to live indoors and unable to participate in sports and outdoor activities.”
Post-Covid studies of teenagers have revealed all kinds of worrying things: a social confidence crisis; more mental health worries; and of course, digital addiction. One survey of nearly 10,000 parents from 287 districts found that 28% children spend six hours or more on devices. Thirty-four percent spend three to six hours on their gizmos. “I got a talk on how ‘Gen Z was born with gadgets and so I must understand how terribly unfair it is to take them away as a penalty’,” a mum told me about her tech-savvy teen.
One study even found evidence of premature ageing in the teen brain. Indian experts who specialise in adolescent care have estimated that it will take five years for things to go back to ‘normal’.
As my daughter’s final exams near, our conflicts are on the rise. I swear I’m not that cliched grade-obsessed desi parent, but I do know the transition to eighth grade will be hard for her if she doesn’t get a fix on the basics. And next year, I don’t want her to join the ranks of teenage girls who throw away their sporty, extracurricular lives because it suddenly doesn’t seem like a priority. I gave up serious sport at the age of 14, and I don’t want her to inherit that legacy. So I’ve been trying hard to think of ways to help her study.
Providing a steady stream of snacks—fruit, steamed momos, air fryer fries, cold coffee (less coffee more milk); asking experts to help with subjects such as Hindi and Math; seeking inspiration from the husband—who smiles his way through everything and who has never been rated zero by our child or any other woman; eating dinner together; and occasional desperate bribery (if you do this, I’ll give you…) are my five basic foundational strategies.
On top of those, I have a few more tricks such as tuning out; dialling a friend who will reassure me that both me and my child are amazing; and focusing on my own work, leaving my daughter to figure out what she needs to do.
Learning from those who remember what it was to be young and struggling is another aid I use. I was struck by the lyrics of the song Sukhnidh Kaur, 24, musician and research fellow at Microsoft, posted on Instagram recently: “What do you do when you’re 12 and it’s all suffocating?” Kaur sings about the time her grades suddenly plunged; when parent-teacher meetings were all about how she was brilliant but not consistent; and her mother talked about her ‘potential’. For one week after listening to this song, I did not worry about how much or little my child was studying.
These days my Bible is Lisa Damour’s Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through The Seven Transitions Into Adulthood which unravels all kinds of mysteries right down to why your daughter finds your questions annoying and how fighting with you builds her emotional intelligence. Find your go-to books and people to help you cope with this time.
“Don’t worry that owning your mistakes will reveal flaws your daughter hasn’t noticed before,” says Damour. “She already knows you’re not perfect. In fact, she can probably list your faults better than anyone.”
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.