Childhood, censorship, and other things

I’ve not quite been myself the past couple of weeks, it’s been near-surreal, especially when it’s combined with lack of sleep and wild fluctuations in the weather. But anyway, I just feel like blogging at the moment, after reading this post. And I’d better do it before the enthu runs out.

Everyone, nearly everyone I know remembers (their) childhood as being pristine, pure and innocent. And they enforce the same on any kid they have the power to enforce it on. I’m not an exception, take this post for example, and this one. Partly because the younger sibling is much younger, and I find a streak of protective older-sisterliness creep up, to protect her from the evil, evil world, to tell her what would be right, and what would be wrong, just to protect her from making the same mistakes I made.

But given that she’s got a mind of her own, and a personality to match, and is not a kid anymore, I am forced to rethink my own stance on things like this, and thank god I didn’t have much power over her when we were growing up, and my more sensible parents let her do whatever.

My parents, like most other parents, go the whole spectrum from unreasonably strict to shockingly lenient. But thinking back, they didn’t quite mollycoddle me, and more or less let me do what I wanted [Except of course pursue my love of fire and matches at age 8 and my fascination with lizards at age 6].

And for a kid, I did read a lot. And not all of it was age-certified. In fact, most of it wasn’t. An aunt’s Cosmo collection, another’s subscription of Women’s Era, and various Health magazines… apart from India Today, The Week, Outlook, Readers’ Digest…. well, yeah, I used to read much more than I read now anyway.

What surprises me now is the amount of content about sex, sexuality, human reproduction, menstruation, adolescence there was, in these family-friendly publications. And an awful lot about drugs and violence, too…. in fact, I think it was the articles about the Mumbai Underworld, and the ones about drug trafficking I read with earnest pleasure and genuine interest in the subject. I have a sneaking feeling I knew more about hemp and marijuana back then than I do now. And oh, how many people used to write about homosexuality back then.

And I’m none the worse for it. Better, possibly.

I’m wondering if that’s because there’s no harm in children being exposed to information about sex, violence, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, or is it because of other reasons.

My extended family and social circle wasn’t very appreciative of promiscuity or intoxication or violence, so even in my most rebel-teen years, even if it did occur to me to do something crazy or creepy, it was unthinkable (and given the circle of friends I had, impossible) to carry those ideas out.

And all the information I gleaned was from these respectable sources, which meant it was just Information, boring and dry, which wasn’t susceptible to give you racy ideas about how to roll your own weed or some such. And removing the aura of intrigue around anything related to sex (which these health magazines did rather well) and instilling the fear of STDs in anyone who bothered to open an issue of My Doctor meant I was able to view anything related to sex and sexuality with a detached air, not one of fascination or one of shock and scandal, rather early on. And my formative years coincided with the AIDS scare years, where the importance of monogamy and a morbid fear of incurable diseases that killed you slowly, but surely, and painfully, impressed itself rather deeply in my mind.

Plus, it’s just text I was exposed to. Not movies or graphic images which leave a larger impact on the psyche. Or for that matter, anyone lecturing.

I think one of the reasons I was so easily able to consider so many different religious ideologies and not get all obsessive about even one, or do anything to show my extreme devotion if any, was because I explored by reading.Ā  If I were to attend discourses or visit different places of worship, I don’t think I would have been able to make a detached decision on anything related to religion. Even if you’re reading the most gripping book there is, your mind is still active and thinking, and there is a distance, a wall between yourself and the idea you are perusing. You manage to absorb what there is without being involved.

Movies or images or talking to people or experiencing things for yourself make a deeper impact. The experience becomes so personal that it is near-impossible to be detached about it. Maybe this is why I give more positive reviews to movies I’ve watched on the big screen than what I watch on my laptop.

And, if you read extensively, you can find opposing sides of each viewpoint. That gives you a better-rounded view of the whole situation, which is hard to replicate with people telling you stuff. You also don’t have to have the additional constraint of weighting a point of view based on the person it came from… Vir Sanghvi is as distant to me as R. Madhavan, so in such a case, it’s all about which point of view on its own merit.

Which is why I totally don’t get these parents (in the article linked in the first paragraph) scandalized by what their kids are reading. If anything, all the reading I did about sex and sexuality made me reasonably well-informed about possibilities of abuse, forms of abuse, and more open to the LGBT cause, which point of view I don’t think I would have held if I wasn’t that into reading in my childhood and early teens. And better off than just having an adult explain things to you – while it lends legitimacy and a sense of security to whatever you know, adults have a propensity to sugarcoat the ugly truth, and to pass their own prejudices on.

And what on earth is so shocking about children coming across swearwords? They are not going to be scarred for life, children are more resilient than that. If you’re that worried, you should just probably put it across kindly, or even not-so-kindly that there is language which is acceptable, and then there is language which is uncouth, uncivilized and unacceptable.

I think what is needed is not censoring, but having a role in shaping your child’s perception of right and wrong. Children are not passive consumers of information, and things are not going to be any better when the whole world constantly insults children’s ability to learn to tell right and wrong apart themselves.

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
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6 Responses to Childhood, censorship, and other things

  1. Karthik says:

    Have you read Lies We Tell Kids? It makes some interesting points, especially about swearing. (In short, that we have it backwards when we believe that kids shouldn’t swear because it is uncouth and unacceptable.)

    Some of his related essays (What You Can’t Say, for instance) are equally thought provoking.

    • wanderlust says:

      i think it’s a relatively recent phenomenon to give alternative explanations as to why kids shouldn’t do something adults are. lying to kids is eternal, but lying about swearing or other vices, im not used to. in my day (and possibly yours), we got a terse ‘you’re too young’ or ‘you’re just a kid’ or even ‘you’re a kid. act your age’. whenever we wanted to, dunno, travel somewhere all alone, drink, swear, ask uncomfortable questions. and somehow, we accepted that we didnt know it all, and we didnt mind grabbing an adult’s hand while crossing the road.
      oh, and there are also lies of omission. no one says ‘prostitute’. she’s just a ‘bad woman’. it’s left to the imagination of kids to, dunno, maybe assume she eats children for breakfast. and i dont think kids are really complaining… it’s too complex on their minds to explain about the flesh trade and the arguments for and against it, and why it’s bad, and why the people who indulge in it are not to be associated with…. too painful.
      it’s also not easy on a small brain to process such a lot of new info about the world and understand the scheme of things perfectly. you can’t say schools are lying to kids about wave-particle duality… it’s something that requires some background to fully grasp.
      just saying ‘bad’ will suffice. they’ll fill in the gaps as they go along.

      a few months back, i said ‘damn’ while talking to my nine-year-old nephew. he wasn’t scandalized, or thrilled, or whatever. he said ‘um, i’m not allowed to hear or speak that word until i’m much older’. šŸ˜€

      • Karthik says:

        So are you rankled by the sight of children swearing? ( If yes, why?)

        I don’t have an opinion on whether kids are incapable of forming sufficiently accurate mental models of the world.
        I do know that I had severely broken ones growing up, some of which still persist. Like you, I stayed away from uncomfortable questions as a kid, but I believe my childhood would have turned out better (at the expense of innocence) if I hadn’t.

        • wanderlust says:

          No, im not rankled. especially since i wasnt the most pleasant-tongued child around. nor did i stay away from uncomfortable questions…sometimes i asked questions just coz they were uncomfortable šŸ˜› it’s all a phase… and part of figuring out right and wrong for yourself. it’s fine if you have an inacurate view of the world in childhood.. you need to start somewhere!

  2. I have this thing called ADHD, which prevents me from reading anything that might take me more than 30 seconds to finish..but your post had me glued.
    And I completely agree with *everything* you’ve written. Very well put.

  3. Pingback: Open Letter To Aroon Purie « The NITK Numbskulls Page

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