May 9, 2017
A recent video in circulation in WhatsApp is that of a young child being fed his mother while she pretends to tilt a bottle of alcohol down to his lips. The toddler refuses to have his food but when she pretends to give him alcohol, he immediately opens his mouth. While this video was meant to be funny, it raises the question of parenthood and our comfortability with alcohol. Alcohol had remained a social taboo for long and drinking constricted to bars and clubs. Nowadays, we see parties and social gathering where serving alcohol is quite common.
Social drinking by parents has often had a negative impact on children.
It was five years ago that `The Guardian’ reported that children under the age of 18 who watch their parents drink are “twice as likely to binge on alcohol”. Such disturbing news created a widespread warning for parents, advising them to reduce alcohol consumption in public places or gathering, especially in the view of children.
Among the four types of child abuse under the Constitution, neglect of children and failing to provide basic needs and proper supervision is considered to be a criminal offence. There is a particular mention of criminal offences that include allowing the child to participate in drug and alcohol usage. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2015 demands that the environment that the child belongs to must be child-friendly. This means behaviour, conduct, practice, environment or treatment is humane, considerate and in the best interest of the child. Then, even the process of pretending to give alcohol to a child can be considered as an act that can cause potential harm in a human being under the age of 18, influencing them in the wrong direction.
Whether this is alcohol, drugs or cigarettes, such items shown to children are often not considered criminal acts. They are seen as jokes. Child Welfare Acts and National Health policies have clearly declared that mental wellbeing and emotional welfare of a child are also part of his or her good health. The high rate in minors drinking alcohol and succumbing to drug abuse has prompted us to understand that these are mostly due to peer pressures and parental negligence.
Pediatrician Dr K.S. Subramanian says the alcohol video is an issue more to do with the parenting of the mother than alcohol. “Children like to do the unnatural. The parents I see often promise their children chocolates or chips in exchange for an injection. They prefer chips over food because this is what the parents use as rewards. These rewards act as entities of a cheating tendency and they form an attachment to it. In the video, the bottle is used as leverage which would cause an attachment to the bottle, the smell etc,” he says.
He also adds that children are extremely impressionable and while no mother would give her child alcohol, the very act of showing the bottle creates a negative trait in the child. “TV serials and movies that show excessive violence and how to get away with crimes, how drinking alcohol or smoking is cool, are all negative influences. There must be laws that ban such scenes. A mere warning will not suffice,” he says.
Conforming with this, Radha Chidambaram, a parent of two adult sons, said that bribing a child with small rewards may have a short-term positive result. But, raising a child does not end there. In the long run, such parenting only inculcates an attitude within the child that he or she can manipulate the negative aspects of someone to get what they want. This is unhealthy and anti-social, she adds.
Sridevi, a student counsellor in Vidhyodhaya School in New Delhi, believes that a parent would mostly not intend harm and that the video would have been created for the sole purpose of being funny. “Parents have to resort to rewarding their children because toddlers can be fussy and do not want to eat healthily. A reward for good behaviour always wins over a punishment for a negative one. Nevertheless, the parent has to remember to exert moderation in the rewards they provide, so that it is constructive,” she says
Nurture has always won over nature. Parenting of children in their best interests paired with a good environment should ensure their mental, physical and psychological well-being.
Dr. K. S. Subramanian is a pediatrician in Chennai. He can be contacted at [email protected]