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The kids aren't alright
It's now common to read of children committing suicide when they score badly in board exams. But two suicides by minors in the recent past stand out. In February 2010, Rouvanjit Rawla, a 13-year-old student of La Martinere school in Kolkata, hung himself after the school's principal allegedly caned him. And in March, Sayoni Chatterji, a 12-year-old from Ulhasnagar in Mumbai, committed suicide for reasons that are still unclear. It was suggested that Chatterji was distraught when her mother read her diary in which she confessed to romantically liking a boy in her class. But reports later said that no diary was found;instead, harassment in school could have been the reason.
Both cases were shocking as the events that purportedly motivated the suicides didn't seem grave enough. These are extreme cases. But child psychologists and school teachers have for some time been alarmed by the levels of anxiety and stress among children. The most common cause, they say, is inadequate communication between parents and kids.
Bubla Basu, an English teacher at JB Petit High School for Girls in Mumbai, believes that parents tend to overwhelm children with their ambitions for top scores. In the process, the child's world is restricted to studies and tuitions. "They don't understand anything has any value except marks, " Basu says. "There's no pleasure in childhood...it's always the shortcomings, the weaknesses. " Recently, Basu started a film club. While some parents were happy to send their kids to it, many were reluctant as cinema is not considered "a skill that will help them get anywhere". Their kids had to fight their folks in order to attend.
Dr Seema Hingorany, a clinical psychologist, says that the most common refrain she hears from kids is: 'My parents don't understand me'. Hingorany says that parents get in touch with her only after their children begin behaving violently. They throw things at their parents, abuse them and even hit them. But by the time they call, major psychological damage has already been done, she says. Mothers in particular "call children dumb and say things like 'I wish I had not been pregnant with you', " Hingorany says. "It damages the child's self esteem. The child remembers this life long. They ask me, 'what justification can you give me not to hit my mother?'"
Parents are often reluctant to have frank conversations with their children. Hingorany points out that many parents are bewildered by kids' reactions. They themselves have suffered punitive action in school and at home, and expect the kids to turn out alright just the way they did. "Children want parents to be friends, " Hingorany explains. "But parents feel they have to fulfill a 'parental' role. They don't know how to strike a balance. " Even important conversations about sex, child abuse and homosexuality are never had. Hingorany once counselled a girl who had been molested. She didn't tell her parents because she was afraid they would blame her.
Basu puts these fraught relationships down to an "erosion of the personal". "I am not surprised that so many kids now are cowed down or just silently withdrawn from parents who have no idea what it is to respect the growing needs of adolescents - the excitement of their own experiences, the need for them to be with friends and in situations that do not add marks to their studies, the pleasure of being left alone and not being held accountable for every moment of their waking hours, " she says. "If the issue is communication, parents need to know whether they listen or they just lecture. "
Smita Parekh, a 38-year-old mother of one, was made to realise by her nine-year-old daughter that she'd become one of those competitive mums. "She told me once, 'You're only interested in teaching me. You never talk to me', " Parekh says. Since then, Parekh has made it a point to patiently listen to her child, even though, she admits, her attention often wavers. "I keep nodding and look very interested, but I'm already thinking of the next morning and what I'm going to make for tiffin. " As a result, her daughter is more obedient and throws fewer tantrums. "So it pays to be nice, even though it might be a bit artificial, " Parekh jokes.
Some names have been changed
pronoti. datta@timesgroup. com
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