x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Brave new world of modern parenting

The Indian educational theorist and school founder Lina Ashar's new book serves as a guide to raising a child in the digital age.

Lina Ashar an Indian childcare expert. Courtesy Random House India
Lina Ashar an Indian childcare expert. Courtesy Random House India

Rearing a happy and well-balanced child has never been easy, but the myriad new temptations and dangers that exist in the 21st century have made successful parenting a whole lot more challenging.

With this in mind, Lina Ashar has written a book that she believes provides parents with the childcare knowledge they require in the modern age.

Ashar is the founder of the Kangaroo Kids nursery schools and Billabong International High School chains in India, both of which also have branches in Dubai.

Now, she has condensed all her experiences of running the schools and bringing up her own son in a new book, Who Do You Think You're Kidding? Parenting in the New Age of Digital Revolution and Globalization, published by Random House India.

While there is clearly no shortage of tomes offering parenting advice, Ashar believes her work provides a different voice.

"I realised that there are not many [parenting] guide books out there that are written by an Indian for an Indian audience," she says.

"My book does have a universal appeal but there are some specific cultural references that Indians will relate to."

For example, she laces her copy with examples from Bollywood movies of parenting techniques, such as Anupam Kher's character from the hit movie Daddy, as an example of negligent parenting.

The book also relies on Ashar's expertise in neuroscience to explain why children act in certain ways as they age, from the so-called "terrible twos" until their teenage years.

"When you are 2, you begin to realise that you are not just an extension of your mother and you are an independent being. Thus, you start throwing tantrums and demanding you get your own way," she explains.

Raised in England and Australia by Indian expatriate parents, Ashar claims to have a good understanding of the pressures facing children who are reared away from their homeland.

"Expat parents sometimes forget that their children are growing up in a different context [than they did]," she says.

"They're not back in Bombay [Mumbai] and it's a totally different world out there. For example, my father always treated us like we were back in the motherland, like it was Bombay 40 years ago. So he was very conservative and had this time-warped view.

"What this means is that kids are being pushed by their parents in one direction and their peers in another direction, so it creates a lot of conflict."

Nevertheless, Ashar argues that raising your child in a multinational society like the UAE gives your child an advantage.

"If you are an expat parent in the UAE... your children will grow up in this cosmopolitan place and get to make friends with children of all nationalities," she says.

Likewise, she believes that modern technology should not be viewed as a threat to parents or children.

"You have to accept you won't understand all the latest technology," she states. "So you should never be afraid of saying: 'I don't know' to your child if they ask you a question that you can't answer. But you should say: 'OK then, let's work out the answer then.'

"We have to admit that the world has changed. So we need to use similar kinds of communications as the kids, whether that be SMS, Facebook or the internet. So never be scared to communicate with kids in their own mediums."

Another common error is punishing children too harshly for their wrongdoings. Ashar says this will lead to children fearing their parents.

"One of the biggest mistakes people make is making their children afraid of them, so they end up doing things like smoking behind their parents' backs.

"You have to try to make your child grow up not to be scared of you and be happy to tell you the truth. You can't make decisions for them. You just have to talk them through the decision-making process so they can make an informed choice."

However, some would argue that it's impossible to learn how to rear a child from a book. She disagrees.

"First of all, this isn't the ultimate guide to parenting. It's more of an awareness tool," she states.

"And yes, some parenting is innate and cannot be learnt. But a lot of our actions are a product of our subconscious that was formed when we were growing up as kids.

"This book will help make you aware of this so you can work out which elements of your upbringing were toxic and then not repeat these mistakes with your children."

hberger@thenational.ae