One of my friends shared with me today a very disturbing piece of news . It concerned her niece’s classmate. Apparently this fifteen year old girl from the tenth standard had accepted a “friend request” from an unknown boy on Face book.. The person she had become friends with was someone who claimed to be eighteen and in the twelfth standard. After about six months of virtual interaction, this person asked the girl to come to Bombay to meet him. When she mentioned this to her friends they became a bit suspicious and after some snooping around on Face book found out that the “boy” in question was a thirty year old man!! I would say that it was really lucky for her that she had sensible friends who guided her properly.. Generally what happens in such cases is a group of girls conspiring with each other to keep this a secret and help their friend run away to Bombay to meet her virtual boyfriend!
While facebook may be a new way for such relationships to develop, that fact that they do is the truth about teenage. It used to happen when we were younger often in similarly innovative ways. I remember once during my teenage when I was talking to a friend on the phone we had a “cross connection” ( the phone lines of Calcutta were notorious for that !) with a man/ boy who started participating in our conversation uninvited. After the initial irritation we started talking to him While I got off the call after that novelty of flirting with an unknown stranger had worn off, my friend on the other hand continued talking to him, giving him a lot of details about herself. Soon, we had this young man at our school gate waiting to meet my friend. It was very scary on one hand while also rather thrilling.. I am not sure what it was that he did with his life ( I mean we don’t know if he was a student or a drop out or looking for employment) but it was obvious that he was pursuing my friend. As bystanders in this “romance” we felt very entertained. Now when I think back, I feel that we may have actually encouraged my friend into it. They were together for quite sometime, I think until she was in her 11th and 12th when her parents got wind of it and put an end to it!
While attraction for the opposite sex is normal during teenage, I think what is dangerous is probably the fascination that teenagers – particularly girls may have for complete strangers. There have been occasions when girls have been stalked by strangers but have convinced themselves that they are attractive enough to engage the attention of an unknown male.
And where female teens are concerned, I think there is something else that is equally dangerous. I would like to call this “experiencing by proxy”. Most girls like to share their experiences with the male sex with friends and the friends get as excited as the one who is actually going through it thereby providing encouragement for this ! I also find it really strange, the way girls can talk their friends into a situation of being attracted to someone. While this influence is strong in the teenage years, it persists until ones twenties. I don’t know why they do it but I guess it provides many with the thrill that they themselves may be unable to experience due to various reasons like restrictions at home, or themselves not being attractive enough and so on…! And I can never understand the girl who believes her friends when they tell her “Oh, I think he must be interested in you!”
So, the girls provided with such encouragement get into dangerous liaisons feeling like heroines. The friends listen goggle eyed as they share the moments spent with the boy friend ( of which about 80% must be made up stories) . Sometimes they do more “daring” things with the friends conspiring with them in this simply for the attention that it gets them in their peer group.
I don’t know how we can address this or whether it can be addressed in the first place! When hormones drive you then it is very important to be part of a peer group that understands and keeps in mind your welfare rather than their own entertainment. These days such relationships are happening while girls are very young, so the maturity levels of their peer group is likely to be equally lower and so the risks are higher. The opportunities ofcourse are much more in the sense that one does not have to leave the house to come into contact with a stranger. You can do it right in your living room or study with your mother or father sitting in the same room.
As a parent, I can only say that keeping channels of communication open may probably be the best way to deal with this. I try not to be shocked when my daughter tells me something about what some in her peer group are up to. I hear about girls who leave their house dressed in a certain way, reach a friend’s house and change into something completely different! I also hear about girls who take naked pictures of themselves on their mobiles and show it to their friends. I cannot imagine what will happen if this phone falls into the wrong hands!
“Don’t freak out !” says junior when she tells me all this. It requires a lot of will power not to .. because if I do I know I will not be the recipient of any more of such bits of information. But at the back of my mind is also the concern as a parent about whether I should share such information with other parents – particularly if their daughters are involved in such activities. The husband tells me to stay out of it but I feel a sense of guilt..!
There is also the issue of trying to get her out of interacting with such peers. But that is something that I don’t think that I should do because then she may just become friends with them to prove a point to me ( never underestimate a teenager’s potential for rebellion). But what gives me comfort is that she herself finds such behaviour stupid and silly – she feels that such risks are unnecessary. I heave a sigh of relief and wonder why I did not think like that when I was a teen. I guess, it was because I had more restrictions and less open ness from my mother to discuss such things – for example if I had told her about the telephone issue she would have gone straight to the school principal along with a dozen other parents!
It is a fine balance I guess – this thing about parenting a teen. I am thankful only about the fact that I have a daughter. So, in some ways I have previous experience to bank upon. Not having had a brother, I would have been clueless in dealing with a boy and his hormones!!!