Sunday, 7 September 2014

Emotional disconnect at the family level is driving Children into depression, encouraging them to experiment with dangerous living, sex and a desire for a virtual reality as opposed to life in the real world

When my students confronted me one day and stated that they thought I didn’t connect to them well enough, I was taken aback! I asked them why they felt that I didn’t connect to them,  they replied that it was because I didn’t ask enough about their personal lives; what went on at home, their personal tiffs, girlfriend and boyfriend problems, and so on. I took a deep breath and replied that although, I would love to enter into a discussion of their personal lives, I however wouldn’t encourage such activities in excess because of the fact that we had a target for syllabus completion and since theirs was the last year in school, their future careers would depend on the grades they would get in their boards. Added to all this there was, I explained to them a respect for their personal space which I didn’t want to invade, and wanted to keep sacrosanct. Often discussing intimate personal details might leave the student vulnerable, and I feel that this should be handled by more experienced professionals, guidance counselors and Psychiatrists, moreover one never knows, sometimes the discussion of private lives might open up a can of worms that the teacher might not be able to handle!
So then, what is it that students want to discuss with  their teachers? Why do they want to open up? Would they be ready to unburden themselves with any person they come across in life? Does it mean that teenagers today have become so vulnerable because they want to share their private lives with any one who is ready to lend a sympathetic ear for them? This brings me to another occasion when a student stood before me and talked about the books she had read, she talked about the philosophy of hope and motivation that she appreciated in these books, and my, she spoke for a continuous thirty-five minutes, and I told her to take a seat, but then she said that she liked standing. I was doing my work while she talked, but kept asking her questions from time to time to show that I was listening to her – and yes I did listen to her! Thankfully, I learned that her love for the motivational books she read was shared by her parents.
The increasing lack of emotional disconnect between parents and children,  aggravated by the steady decrease of quality time that parents spend with their children because of various reasons might be affecting the emotional development of growing children. Are we lacking in our ability to nurture our children in healthy teenagers and young adults and our responsibility towards them by not listening to them, and perhaps showing interest in what they did in school, and what they with their friends? In times when parents have begun to become more and more emotionally detached from their children because of the demands of their careers, it has become the duty of employers to avoid giving graveyard shifts to working parents, and teachers need to communicated their observations with parents. While teachers might step in as surrogate parents, and attempt to lend a sympathetic ear, this might not be an easy task when the number of students goes up. One solution to this problems is appointing mentors from within the teacher pool and assign them mentees. This however will only work if enough time is given within the existing timetable for the Mentor-Mentee sessions, otherwise, this would turn into a damp squib!
In times when everyone is had pressed for time, teachers and parents included, it is growing children who suffer the most. But then this doesn’t mean that students have all the time in the world! No, the stress and pressure to  perform that working parents suffer from  does  filter down on  to the children.Students who plan to take up white collar jobs, those who want to become Engineers and Doctors, or those who want to become Directors and Managers in big companies will also take up coaching right after school, meant to prepare them for a slew of entrance exams that they need to get through in order to get admission in a college of their choice!
Is technology driving us crazy? This is a question that comes to mind when I think about how much students like discussing their personal lives with their teachers in spite of the fact that they have a slew of Social Networking sites on which to share their ups and downs amongst thousands of virtual friends. Virtual reality is no substitute for the real thing, and surrogacy and outsourcing can simply not replace the duties and responsibilities of parenting which includes spending time with children. Parents who spend time with their children remain younger and motivated. They have happier children who have better self-esteem, they are parents who share the joys of reading inspirational literature, they might even enjoy watching T.V. with children. Parents need to maintain that emotional connect with their children and welcome with respect the individual tastes of their children. So if the parent likes reading and her daughter doesn’t, then it doesn’t mean that she should force her daughter to read, rather she should try to understand what it is that her daughter likes the most.
Today, in India we have moved away very quickly and much too fast from the joint family system to the nuclear family system, and this has affected how children relate to others in the society. In many cases where this shift has taken place within the child’s consciousness, it might have left some emotional and mental trauma, in a situation that has changed from times when Grandpa or Grandma would spend much time with their grandchildren and now there is no one to talk to them and Dad and Mom come home so late, and are so exhausted that they don’t have the strength to discuss the day with their children. I know of another student who looks after his younger sister in the absence of his parents. He cooks for his younger sister, supervises the maid, and handles more or less everything that an adult parent should. This is a boy who seeks to constantly unburden himself before me, which means receiving phone calls at odd moments. Once I received a phone call as late as eleven in the night!
Are our young adults and teenagers so disgruntled with their existing lives that they want to indulge in drug abuse, participate in conti-parties (contributory parties),  with alcohol and weed thrown in as an afterthought? It was amazing how young some of the children were when one conti-party was “buzzed” by authorities in Gurgaon a year back. Some of the children were not more than ten and eleven years old. When the parents arrived to take charge of their children, they expressed disbelief and surprise on seeing their children, some in varying stages of intoxication. Could we conclude that the  expression of disbelief and surprise by the  parents on seeing their children was genuine? Was it for the first time that they saw that they had failed as parents rather miserably for not having paid attention to what their children had been up to? Had they really tried to verify whether their child was going for tuitions? Today, information about these Conti-parties are passed on through various Apps, like BBM, where only those who are added as friends get to know about the forthcoming event. If only parents had spent more time with their children, this Buzz(t) would never have happened!
So then why do sometimes promising and sometimes average youngsters join terrorist organisations in the middle-east? Are they so disgruntled with life that they think it would be better to martyred for a cause that they think is valid although it might not be for others. When recently the parents of a Mumbai boy, who joined a terrorist organization in the middle east and was subsequently killed, expressed their surprise and ignorance about the activities of their son, it put a question mark on their own parenting skills. Had they been so detached that they were not aware about what was going on in the head of their child? A recent story about a girl from Scotland who went to the Middle East to be a bride and fight in the Jihad is yet another disturbing story about what happens when this emotional disconnect creeps into the relations that exist between parents and their children these days. The girl’s parents have been pleading with her to return, but then I guess this appear has come out too late. Is this new phenomenon a cry for recognition, a rebellion against relations that have gone sour, or perhaps the result of being fed up and disgruntled  with a rather sterile and unemotional life in a world that is dictated by an almost machine like obsession with precision and regularity? Is the very fabric of the society being threatened by lack of compassion and empathy the exists in the very basis of the society, the family? If the family as an important unit of the society cannot provide for the emotional needs of a growing child, then is it not high time that educationists, great thinkers and policy makers, prime ministers and presidents thought about sitting together and chalking out policies that would prevent the family as an important institution from fading away?
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