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Judging a child because of their actions, scolding or beating them in the name of discipline does more harm than good. Eventually, they build a wall around themselves to safeguard their emotions because they don’t find acceptance from people they trust and love the most- their parents.

This further complicates things and then no guide comes handy to make your kid talk to you. Chances are that they will shut themselves up forever. So how do you kickstart a conversation? By not judging them when they decide to open up.

To uncomplicate things and to understand the incidents and situations that parents often sweep under the rug, Life Beyond Numbers spoke to Madhavi Tara Jadhav, co-founder of That Mate, an initiative which aims to shatter myths and taboos associated with sexual and mental health with the help of comic books, workshops, online forum, cartoon characters and counselling. While speaking to us about the parent-child bond, she says, Have some time for your kids, rather than staring at mobile phones.

A Petroleum Engineer by profession, 32-year-old Madhavi has spent around 9 years in big corporates like Reliance, and Shell India before starting That Mate in 2017. Born and brought up in Maharashtra’s Satara, Madhavi is targeting two tier and three tier cities in India and focussing on children between 13-15 age groups, to help in their overall development and improve their relationship with parents.

In Maharashtra, she has teamed up with 7 schools, some of which are Gurukul, Blossom, Saraswati Sishu Vidya Mandir. “We get in touch with the schools and then coordinate with parents, who along with their children attend the workshop.” For every session, a nominal fee is charged and one has to register to attend her workshop. With 4 members and some volunteers, she is currently functional in Maharashtra and Karnataka. She also plans to launch it in Kolkata soon.

Madhavi says, “In the workshops, most of the time we see children have issues with decision making and they have relationship troubles as well- related to siblings, parents or their partners. We help them with their decisions by guiding them, but it’s the parents and children who ultimately decide what is right for them.”

That Mate Madhvi Tara Jadhav

Madhavi in an engaging ThatMate session with school kids

In a country that has the second highest population in the world, talking about sex is necessary and not blasphemous. Parents should make their child aware about their body including their private parts. Also, they can explain that touching inappropriately without their consent is a form of abuse and that this can come from a stranger and very well from a family member.

Stop creating “nogo zone” for your children and discuss extensively on topics related to condoms, sanitary pads or contraceptive pills without any hesitation. This will help to counter the taboo around sex and sexuality. “Understand that when your child is in a difficult situation, God cannot intervene, but your child can. Only they can help themselves,” she says.

She continues. “When puberty hit kids, there are so many physical and psychological changes that one goes through. Children slowly want to understand their sexuality and they want somebody they trust to explain these changes to them, but parents fail, so do teachers. Therefore, these changes remain unexplained and they move forward with doubts in their mind.” 

Even the chapters on reproduction, it hardly talks about sex. Meanwhile, the teens are introduced to the world of porn and that somehow develops the idea of having a perfect body to have intercourse. This creates performance anxiety and their mind gets flooded with questions. “Parents fear that if they tell their kids about sex, they may get curious enough to try it out. But, sadly not talking is not helping and teenage pregnancy has become a grave issue over time.”

Every day millions of girls get married and most of them are unaware of the sexual act or practices, contraception, and STDs. This is the primary reason that India has the third highest population of people affected with HIV/AIDS.

That Mate Madhvi Tara Jadhav

Session with parents

“When a woman gets married, she is expected to know everything about sex, but the reality is either they know absolutely nothing about it or they know about sex coated with myths and taboos. In our workshops people come up with questions like- ‘Can I have sex during my period’, ‘Will watching porn make me pregnant’. Ignorance leads to misconceptions, and misconceptions, however minor can lead to disastrous situations,” she says.

In this incredible and inspiring journey, Divya Saha, (co-founder, That Mate) helps her. “Without her, this journey would have been impossible. When I have moments of doubt, she helps bears with me and motivates me to stick to this. Apart from that, my partner and friends also support me and help me run this effectively.”

Around 90% of kids become confident about their shape, size, and private body parts. We have seen that the girls are now comfortable about their periods, their period blood, boys too have become aware of Nightfall. Students are quite comfortable with terms like penis and vagina after the workshop, says Madhavi.

Almost 60% of the kids ask us questions during the follow-up workshops. More than 40% of students have started talking about periods with their peers, friends, and parents. About 80% of kids are aware of different sexualities and are comfortable with sexualities and preferences.

That Mate Madhvi Tara Jadhav

Madhavi with That Mate comic books

A student who attends her workshop and doesn’t wish to be named says, “I wanted to have a boyfriend when I was in 9th standard. This was one of those things teens do to look cool. I said yes to the first guy approached me only to realize that he was using me to have good food in expensive restaurants. But, after attending ThatMate workshop, I realized that I was not in a healthy relationship and needed to stay away from it.”

Another student recalls, how she was abused by her neighbor. “I was in 2nd standard and was not aware of inappropriate touch till I attended Safe Unsafe touch workshop.”

A parent has also come forward to discuss the benefits of these workshops and says, “After attending the workshop, my son spoke to me and said he never thought that women go through so much pain every month. He was also comfortable discussing it with his classmates.”

Madhavi is planning to launch an app where students can ask any questions or provide feedback to issues related to mental and sexual health. “When I think of giving up, my mother always tells me that all good things take time. This helps me to stay strong and focussed.”

On asking whether she wants to convey any message to parents, she says between laughs- “Adopt That Mate as soon as possible.”