Kids these days

By Shakti Pherwani

“I don’t care,” proclaims a sophisticated, yet shrill voice – as the four of us settle into comfortable coffeeshop armchairs, “I’ve told Sagar he has only three months left to work on his applications – Oxford, Harvard aur MIT toh definitely – and as backup, two other colleges of his choice – but he has to get in next year; otherwise no car for him!”

Kabir seizes the moment whispering, “Soon Priya and you will have to do all this!!”– we burst into laughter, going on to insinuate the overbearing ‘you’re-married-now-so-your-next-step-in-life-must-be-to-bear-a-child’ banter to the couple seated across from us at our table.

“I wish my mom was like that ya! I desperately wanted to go study abroad,” responds the recently married twenty-something friends’ twenty-something wife.

“I’m glad mine was not! And do you know how expensive it is to go study at an Ivy school if you don’t have a scholarship?” her husband retorts as he reaches out for the menu, knowing just about where this conversation is going. The car ride to the coffee shop has already seen the couple banter about mounting lifestyle expenses. Kabir and I simply exchange looks.

Priya defends the lady on the next table,” But, if she can afford to send her kid; why not? I would want to give my child the best of everything too! And check out her bag – it’s the latest Luis Vuitton! ” Almost catching our prying glances, Mrs. LV’s phone goes off suddenly – she has received a phone call from her brother in the US, information she must tell all and sundry.

She rushes out of the cafe with a sense of urgency, suddenly speaking with an accent. We look around the coffee shop and notice how aunties and uncles have begun to increasingly usurp our local hangout even at this hour of the night– although, I am quick to point out to the young teenagers holed up at a corner table (sitting facing each other, but glaring into their smartphones) we might be, uncles and aunties.

Mrs. LV quickly re-enters the store, with an announcement-“So sorry, Rahul ke liye naya phone mangaya haiuska thirteenth birthday hai na next week– my brother is landing on Tuesday.”

“Lucky kid, man!” Says Priya, looking down at her barely six-month-old device, “Even I want!!” Her husband retorts in disbelief, “He’s only thirteen!! Our child is not getting a cell phone till they finish school! I didn’t even have one till I was in college – and I had to save up and buy one for myself! Why do they need a phone anyway? They should enjoy their carefree school days.”

Being the one in the group who works with children in schools on occasion, I point out how kids have increasingly become gadget-conscious and brand-oriented over the past few years.

“Kids are always going to want what their friends have. You have to plan your finances properly and work towards the lifestyle you want to give your children,” adds Priya knowingly, sipping on her iced caramel latte. Her sister has a three year old.

I am quick to respond that sending a child to school nowadays has a lot more to do with just being able to afford the hefty fees and upkeep. “While uniforms and open classroom settings seem to create a unifying learning experience, kids these days are very aware of the cars they came in, the shops they buy their clothes from and where they vacation. In short: they talk money.”

I then go on to share a simple occurrence from earlier that day at a school’s annual show drama rehearsal.

Having walked into the rehearsal room five minutes before schedule – I found two of our actors; boys aged around thirteen, holed up in a corner; their faces lit up by the beaming smartphone they were glaring into. It was a Saturday and so it was okay for them to bring their phones to school. “Have you learned your lines or have you only been playing games? Please put the phone away.”I request, turning on the lights in their corner of the room, putting down my belongings.

One of the boys goes on to inform me that the phone was a birthday present he received barely three days ago, but he has had the least amount of screen time with the device, what with all his friends grabbing at it. He then informs me that the other boy slept over to rehearse the scenes – but they didn’t get much done. “He played so much that my mom had to confiscate the phone at dinner time! I thought he was coming home to practise with me, but he came only for the phone,” he concluded, dejectedly.  In his own defence, the other boy tells me proudly that that his parents are going to buy him the same phone when the school year ends, “but by then it will become so old!”

 “And so,” coming back to the table, I said “It’s not really that easy. If your kids’ friends have phones; your kid’s going to want, or should I say need a phone!”

Priya responds, “I don’t see anything wrong with kids having a phone. We can make a rule – after you do your homework, you can play on it for an hour or two. It’s how they’ll learn to use them. Have you seen how quickly technology is advancing? And kids are smart nowadays. You have to be reasonable, honey.”

She quickly recounts how her baby niece accidentally called her using Facetime last week using her mother’s phone. The kid even knows which button to press to speed-dial her father! Audio-visuals are increasingly being used to teach children, she informs us, so clearly she can recognize the shapes on the icons and has become familiar with the interface!

Kabir weighs in – “Dude, you’re talking about not allowing them cell phones, my baby cousins are already on Facebook!” Back in 2004, the minimum age to sign up for Facebook was 18 years, today it is 13 years.

We start to laugh as Priya’s husband responds “No Phones, No Facebooking. And No selfies. We will send them to play with the other kids in the building compound. Like we used to do.” trying to establish some authority on the matter. “No one does that anymore,” she replies realistically.

I respond instantly, challenging his decision “So say we do it your way – no phone and no Facebook – and we are talking about the kid of say, 2020.  How will they receive notification for the Facebook event, which is an invitation to a classmate’s birthday party? Jokes shared on WhatsApp are being discussed in class the next day – and your kid feels left out, what then? Part of raising your child involves enabling them to mingle and successfully socialize with others – it’s where they learn how to share and work within a team! ” At this point, homeschooling is starting to sound like a really good idea to our paranoid friend.

As twenty-somethings (with reasonably well paying jobs) combating lifestyle expenses that are escalating at an alarming rate, planning a family appears to be a daunting task: buying kids branded gadgets, clothes and toys are only just the tip of the iceberg.

The takeaway from our conversation falls to sound financial backing, which is crucial in raising children within the “standards” considered acceptable today. Without dual income parents or adequate inheritance (preferably both!) , the undertaking appears extremely difficult.

A survey conducted last year indicated that purchasing a flat in Mumbai could take up to 68 years: it must be true considering that today young married couples are increasingly living in rented houses.  Combine that with the boom of international curriculum based schools cropping up every other year, education costs have skyrocketed. State- board education is not considered good enough– and so parents today are dishing out lakhs to pay for kindergarten fees!  What’s a parent to do?

Our banter is interrupted suddenly by a cordial waiter, “Sir, we will be closing soon, any last orders?”
“Yes – one baby for them – and the cheque for us please” Kabir replies as we burst into laughter. The waiter nods in amusement as he walks away.

“Not for the next five years, thank you very much,” says Priya’s husband scooping what remains of the piece of cake on our table. She’s quick to respond, “Yes, please. I already have one big baby to take care of! ”

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