Kiran Manral began her writing career in the world of media and advertising. Then, over 15 years ago, she took to blogging about her son and became India’s most famous mommy blogger.
Having written 10 books over nine years (with two more in the pipeline!), the Mumbai-based 49-year-old is equally prolific on Twitter where she has over 66,000 followers.
Her books include both fiction and non-fiction titles and her novella Saving Maya was longlisted for the Saboteur Awards UK, supported by the Arts Council England. Kiran is also the founder of India Helps, a network of volunteers who assist disaster victims.
In her new book Raising Kids with Hope and Wonder in Times of a Pandemic and Climate Change (Westland), she talks about the burning topics of our times – climate change and social justice – topics we can no longer avoid talking to our children about. We talk to her about the book and parenting in these times.
What can parents do to bring up environmentally conscious and responsible children? What are the challenges you have personally faced in this regard?
I have always worried about the world we are leaving behind for our children. While our generation and the previous generations have unapologetically messed up, it’s never too late to become environmentally aware and to do whatever little we can in our individual capacity to mitigate the damage we caused.
One household being aware of their water consumption, one household recycling, upcycling, sorting out their waste into wet and dry, one family eschewing the use of plastics, walking close distances, cycling rather than taking the car, being conscious of the e-waste they generate – it all adds up.
Walking the talk is important, we have to do things that lessen the carbon footprint, and become conscious consumers. Children don’t learn from what you tell them, they learn from what they see you doing.
For me, the challenge has been to get my son to see the larger picture, of how our actions compound and affect the wider community, country and planet. This I’ve tried to address by talking about things as they happen – simple things like ‘let’s walk to the store’ rather than take the car, or why I prefer a bucket bath, eschewing firecrackers, switching lights off, reducing the consumption of electricity, carrying cloth bags when I go shopping.
Making small steps towards sustainability part of his day-to-day life makes it doable and non-radical, something he can adopt without worrying about a complete shift in lifestyle and habits. Start small, then build it up and through it keep talking about environmental issues, without being preachy – that’s been my modus operandi, to be honest.
The pandemic and associated lockdown created a humanitarian disaster in India. How should we educate young children and teenagers about such issues?
They’ve seen the stories on the news, on social media, in the newspapers. As parents, we need to discuss what has happened with them. Tell them, in an age-appropriate manner, about inequity in income and wealth distribution, about how people migrate to earn a living, about how a nation needs to take its poorest and weakest into consideration when it makes decisions, and how the decisions that impact them need to be considered first.
This is the moment to have conversations that will encourage a social conscience amongst children and also awake empathy in them towards the plight of those compelled to walk long distances just to reach home. With empathy comes social conscience and with social conscience comes responsible citizenry.
We need to start teaching our kids to think beyond themselves, and to get them more active in social-welfare work, environmental activism, in whatever little capacity, even if it means a beach cleanup, visiting an orphanage, or volunteering with an elder helpline. It all adds up. It will all make a great impact on their ability to think about others less privileged than them.
Can compassion be taught and developed? Or is it something children imbibe from their parents’ own actions?
I think it is a mix of both: one can definitely encourage compassion, and children also see it from how parents behave and deal with those less privileged than them. I think if there is dissonance between the public face and the private face, kids pick that up too – parents who give huge donations elsewhere but are miserly with domestic staff, for instance.
I also think that some people, and that includes children, are natural empaths, and this is something to be encouraged.
With the new generation born after the advent of the internet and smartphones, what can parents do to make sure kids stay safe and take wise decisions online?
I would have said monitor their conversations but they’re too smart for us and have conversations we won’t be able to monitor, so I would say keep the communication open. Let your child feel he or she can come to you with anything and not be judged or shamed. Also discuss all the risks that unsafe online behaviour can open them up to. Also, know all your kids’ friends. If you can.
How do you draw the line between privacy and fame on social media?
I think we all post curated versions of our lives on social media. There is sharing but there is no oversharing. I cannot speak for others, but I am very aware of what I post on social media and I like to offer glimpses of my life, but not throw the window completely open. I’d been one of the earliest mommy bloggers in India and my blog, Karmic Kids, was among the top parenting blogs in the country for the longest. Back then I did share a lot, happy moments, sad moments, but became more circumspect over the years. Now I don’t share if I feel anything will come back to haunt me later.
Famous parents often post pictures of their children without permission. This has created a new fallout, especially in the West, with children later growing up and protesting against their parents for doing so. What is your take on this matter considering the Indian context and our media’s obsession with star kids, so much so that many Indian parents start their baby’s social-media account from the moment of birth in expectation of future fame?
I’ve been guilty of this too, when the offspring was small. Now I don’t post anything about him on social media without his express permission, and now he’s a teen so he can do his own posting. Seriously, though, I say to each their own.
But yes, I do find this obsession with star kids strange and amusing, but since the parents are participatory I’m sure they’ve thought through on their decision to make their kids accessible to the paparazzi and taken an informed call. I think it says more about us as a people about our thirst for celebrity than anything else.
What’s the one thing you have learnt about raising teenagers that you never read in a book?
That you relive your own adolescence, your own insecurities and fears with them, and you worry for them in a way you never ever worried for yourself.
First published in eShe’s October 2020 issue
Syndicated to Money Control