When a celebrity is caught doing unsavoury activities, we are quick to take sides. What lens are we looking through?
Photo from Dainik Bhaskar
A new celebrity scandal is usually what the media lunges at, spreads like wildfire and more often than not - sensationalises.
You can read about it here.
A few days ago, news broke about a supposed rave party occurring on a cruise liner, off the coast of Mumbai. With thousands of guests on board the ship, the NCB had already received intel about the planned consumption of narcotics during this event. The bureau conducted a raid on board the ship, and guess what they found? (In addition to banned substances) they discovered a young celebrity, and it seems that was that - the media promptly put on their blinders to everything else, and painted our screens with incriminating visuals, stories and accusations about the young celebrity and his famous father - creating a whirlwind debate about “good parenting” - which really just seems to be a blame-game in disguise.
Who is actually to blame here? Can we even really blame anyone?
We’d like to discuss the 3 perspectives from which we can approach this debate. First, what role do parents play in the decisions their children make? Second, where does the young adult’s independent responsibility begin and end? And third, what responsibility does the public and the media have in being true to the conversation without a moral lens.
As parents we are our childrens’ first teacher, role model, caretaker and essentially their entire world until they are school going age. After this, they are exposed to many new and different influences, be it teachers, peers, media or prominent figures. They begin to learn and absorb everything from the world around them, yet, their central value system, and a large part of their opinions and responses to things are learned in the home - via observation.
You may not directly tell your child that Manchester United is the best team (according to you) but they are in the room watching you applaud when Man U scores and grimace angrily when they lose. Now your child is with his friends at the playground, and they begin talking about football.
What do you think your child’s primary opinions are going to be? Most likely, he will tell his friends that Manchester United is his favorite football team.
Although this is a minor example, it just goes to show that children are always watching and listening to us, even when we are not directly addressing them. They observe how we behave around certain people, they note down common words/phrases we use to describe people or situations and they adopt the general attitudes we have towards the world around us.
As parents, it is our responsibility to think through the things we say, and how we say them. You are under a microscope (the keen eye of your child) and this is the choice you make when you become a parent. Just like the choice you make to be a public figure - inviting yourself into the public eye and all the scrutiny that comes with it.
Before becoming a parent, we are free to speak and behave as we wished, as independent adults. We could be anything we wanted, do anything we wanted, say anything that crossed our minds and even if people questioned us, it wouldn’t matter because we were only responsible for ourselves.
But now we are parents. It may feel very cool to be the bad boy, indulgent dad or the ‘spoiler’... the hard question to ask yourself is - does it help my child and what is the value I am trying to perpetuate by doing/saying this?
While all this may be true, we would also like to bring in a point that may at first seem contradictory.
Yes, parents are the first and primary role models for their children, but are they truly responsible for every decision their child makes?
It’s easy to berate Shah Rukh Khan for what he has said in an interview many decades ago about the values he’s bringing into his parenting game. But, let’s not forget that every time we are expressing some values we are also healing our own experiences... for SRK it could be hurt from his childhood, coming from a life of struggle where he needed to secure certain provisions for himself and his family. Maybe for him on his journey, this would look like good parenting regardless of what has happened now...
Who is really responsible for what has happened here?
Who is responsible for taking the content of an over a decade old interview and using what was said as a cause for the young adult’s behaviour? The only effect this is having is taking away a sense of accountability from the young adult and placing the responsibility of this situation on the parent alone.
More importantly, should a parent continue to face beration, both by others and themselves for their own past mistakes? Even a parent is not a perfect being… They should, just like any other human being, be given the space to grow and change, to learn how to respond in ways that are relevant in the present day.
How would you respond if it was your child caught in this debacle?
Are you going to let yourself be so caught up in your own emotions that you become unavailable to your child, wherever they might be? He might not be a minor, but he is still somebody’s son. As parents we need to identify the best way to be supportive to our children without crossing into the territory that is - enabling. When we cross over to the side of enabling, we are essentially taking away our child’s opportunity to learn lessons from their mistakes.
One great way to understand this balance is an explanation taught by Karen Rayne in her book ‘Breaking the Hush Factor’.
When our children are young, we play the role of a manager in their lives. Effectively, we decide what they do everyday, controlling all aspects of their lives. Soon, when they reach the age where their independence starts to blossom, in terms of them making their own decisions and thinking independently, our role as their Manager shifts to that of a Consultant.
As a consultant, we are no longer in control of their lives. The role we play now is supportive and advisory - they will seek out and consider our opinions, but at the end, they will act out of their own judgement. This shift can be scary for parents - bringing about feelings of isolation and worthlessness. This is the true test of parenting - how will you make a smooth transition from manager to consultant with grace and dignity, where you will be able to make yourself available to your child without offering them constant advice, criticism and ‘I told you so’s’.
Whatever the parent chooses as his value system and whatever the language he brings in his interviews, it does not take away the factor that is - an individual's choice. The choice of a young adult navigating his landscape and making choices. His choices may be coloured by where he comes from, but if we don’t allow him to fail and find ways to recover, we are not giving him room to grow and decide, ok was this a wrong turn? What do I need to do to back out of here? What do I need to change?
The key here is to remember that children think differently than we do since they don’t have the wisdom that comes with age - and the only way they will attain this wisdom is through the process of making certain mistakes, falling down, scraping their elbows, but getting up and moving forward, with the support of their parents.
As parents we need to be pillars of support even in these moments of failure, because you need to be the safe space they can recover in. Some would say, in a situation like this, that being supportive is being an enabler - that they deserve to be thrown to the sharks so that they will learn from their mistakes.
This is not true. Being supportive does not mean you are supporting your child’s erroneous choices… It simply means that you are supporting your child, as a human being, who is allowed to make mistakes but who still deserves respect, kindness and the confidence that they can do better and choose better next time.