The first Internet generation is suffering from loneliness, a study reveals. It’s shocking but true that technology is killing the joys of childhood. Commiss-ioned by Yours magazine, the study included people aged between 18 and 80, and found that over a third of people spend more time chatting online than going out with friends, and this lack of personal contact eventually leads the way to loneliness.
Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Deepak Gupta confirms that he is seeing a rise in the number of parents who come to him with this problem. “Teens are heavily into Facebook and BBMs ((Blackberry messenger). They are glued to both 24x7 and it has majorly affected their daily routine including interacting with family members.
Strangely, youngsters show no remorse. Most say it’s the need of the hour and there’s nothing wrong with it.”
First year Delhi University student Sanya Batra bursts into laughter when asked if she’s addicted to FB and BBM. “Yes, I am, who isn’t?” she says. “I am a social person and have many friends. What’s the harm in being connected if I don’t let it affect my studies and my parents are cool with it? I love being on BB and can’t live without it,” Sanya adds.
Talking about how this growing attachment with technology is alienating youngsters from social scene and can scar their lives, Dr Deepak says, “This problem isn’t restricted to teens alone. Today, 12-year-olds own Blackberry. There is no face-to-face social interaction, every message is conveyed through the screen. How can they guage others’ reaction? If one is not being sensitive to human emotion, it can make one socially and emotionally insensitive. If not handled early, it can expose them to high risk behaviour such as depression.” Class 11 student Vasundhara Singh Bhati has deactivated her BBM as her parents threatened to confiscate her phone. She, however, is okay with this and says, “I had activated BBM for just five days, when my parents started complaining that I am spending too much time on it. I deactivated it soon. My friends constantly pressurise me to activate BBM but I can’t upset my parents. Even my juniors in school complain that their parents don’t like them spending their free time on the Facebook.”
Lifestyle management expert at Artemis Health Institute, Dr Rachna K. Singh says, “Parents are aware about changes in their kids, but don’t see this as a growing problem. They come to us with issues like ‘child is shy’, but not for therapy. Different age groups have different reactions. For a seven-year-old it could be his PSP, for a teen his cellphone or FB. The older they get, the more lonely they feel. A parent was sharing with me that when his child meets his friends, they have nothing to say to each other.”
Dr Singh adds, “Youngsters no longer know the joy or sadness in a relationship. They are unable to share sadness and pain. An emoticon or a LOL cannot make you feel the joy of real laughter. A teen exposed to this behaviour in later years wouldn’t be able to sustain relations, he/she is most likely to experiment with substance abuse, alcohol, sex to find a vent for his/her growing uneasiness.”
ASHWIN MOHAN WAS 12 when he began carrying a Rampuri chaku (switch blade) to school. The reason was simple: fighting off the bullies. “The minute I flashed the knife, they would pull back,” recalls Mohan, now a 32-year-old martial arts teacher who discourages his students from carrying arms. “My knives have turned on me on several occasions and the cuts have been ugly,” he says. Instead, he teaches his students to resolve a brawl verbally or else, to simply walk away. “It signifies strength, not weakness,” he says.
Try telling that to 17-year-old Harish*, a student at a premier Delhi school. “I don’t take it lying down. I strike back,” Harish told TEHELKA, although he declined to answer when asked whether he had ever used a knife, a gun or a rod when he struck back.
According to a recent study of 550 adolescents conducted by Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital across three schools and two Delhi colleges, almost 12 percent of students between the ages of 14 and 19 now carry weapons. The weapons included knives, guns, sticks, clubs, hunters and swords. About 13.5 percent who carried a weapon have threatened or injured someone with it over the past 12 months.
Dr Rahul Sharma, who conducted the study, told Tehelka, “Students were given questionnaires and they were allowed anonymous and voluntary participation. So we can’t be sure if everybody wrote the truth.
But the study does illustrate a worrying trend. It comes six months after the Gurgaon school shootout — a first for India — in which a 14-year-old was killed by two of his classmates. On December 12, 2007, Akash Yadav had allegedly stolen his father’s revolver, and smuggled it into school along with his friend Vikas Yadav. Shortly after classes ended, Akash and Vikas — both are sons of Gurgaon property dealers — pumped five bullets into Abhishek Tyagi. Their rationale: Tyagi had been bullying them.
Akash was admitted to the Gurgaon school just six months prior to the incident — he lived with his maternal grandmother in Faridabad before that — and his mother, Kamlesh Yadav, recalls that he would repeatedly say: “Mummy, main is school mein sirf ek saal padhoonga. Phir mujhe nikaal lena (I’ll study in this school for only a year. Withdraw me after that).” Kamlesh had thought her older son was having the standard “adjusting problems”. So each time he said something about changing schools, she just reassured him, saying, “It’ll be fine”.
The 32-year-old Kamlesh says that Akash, now in a juvenile home in Faridabad, had always been a quiet child. “He never discusses anything with anyone. Not even his friends.” Of the three times she has gone to meet her son at the juvenile home, the 14-year-old has been silent through most of the visit. Akash’s father, Azad Yadav, is in jail too, booked under the Arms Act, and Kamlesh says she can’t fight the case alone.
Unlike the Gurgaon homicide, which was carried out in broad daylight, another murder — on the premises of a premier school in Lucknow, 11 years ago — had taken place quietly, in the dark. The school was shut for the annual term break in March. One Friday morning, just before dawn, two persons made their way into the bachelors’ quarters on the school premises and fired, through a broken window, at the school’s sleeping physical training instructor, Frederick Gomes. Sources told TEHELKA that the principle suspects were the 30-year-old instructor’s former students, whom he had confronted a few days before the incident. “He had caught the two boys with a girl in the school premises. He reprimanded them and slapped them. I think the boys decided to teach him a lesson,” the source said. While the sensational murder did raise concerns about firearms being so freely available to children, the case remains unsolved till date.
THOUGH KILLINGS have been rare, other kinds of violence have often gone unrecorded. Psychologists and counsellors say, if children are exposed to a weapon, there’s a strong chance they’ll bring it into play. “If a child has seen a parent or relative using a weapon to settle a score, he assumes he could do the same,” says child and adolescent psychiatrist Deepak Gupta. “Parents need to understand that they can’t allow easy access to firearms. In the Gurgaon incident, all three became victims of their parents’ heedlessness,” he adds.
Although Gupta hasn’t come across a single case of a child carrying a weapon for self-defence, Dr Shailja Sen, a clinical and family psychologist at Sitaram Bhartia Hospital in Delhi, has. Eight percent of the current load of students who come to her for counselling admit to carrying weapons (mostly knives), not to school, but when they go to parties outside the school premises. Sen says most of those boys are 14- 15 years old and are part of a school gang that functions like a “mini mafia”. But many of them feel trapped: they want to break away from the gang but are unable to do so because of peer pressure.
Violence and aggression amongst children might be a metaphor of the times we live in, but where does it stem from? “The country seems to be in a phase of adolescence. The market is opening, money is flowing and lifestyles are changing. The outcome: puzzled parents and confused children,” says Sen.
For Amit*, fights are standard. One of his classmates revealed that Amit is part of a gang that uses knives or rods to threaten anyone who picks a fight with a gang member. When confronted, Amit denied this and then angrily asked, “Weren’t you part of a gang in school?” When told that in the girls’ boarding school this writer attended, nobody beat each other up or used weapons, the riled boy insisted that fights were “normal” and that the media blows such incidents out of proportion. “The way a fight is fought hasn’t changed. My parents did it too,” he retorts.
Counsellors say that, in India, students using weapons to get back at bullies or at rival gangs, is still a one-off event. But they agree that aggression among children has escalated over the last 10 years. Cartoons, movies, animated programmes and all other media seem to echo the same theme of power, violence and antagonism.
But weren’t the films made 20 years ago equally violent? “During our time, there was only one angry young man: Amitabh Bachchan. Today, every actor on the screen is angry and glorifies bloodshed,” says Gupta.
Education consultant Abha Adams concurs, saying that fights have become more extreme over the years. Children as young as five and six years use their fists to settle differences. “There’s a growing sense of anger, frustration and an inability to control one’s emotions. It reflects a lack of respect — for oneself and for the other person,” says Adams.
Another factor contributing to their frustration could be the way our education system is designed. While our economy is changing fast, our competition-driven education system plods on as before. Children are taught that they have no value if they aren’t on top of the pile. And children who aren’t very good at academics or games or anything else, end up at the bottom of the pile. They are often ridiculed by classmates and also face recriminations at home, from parents. It is then, psychologists say, that a child feels the need to regain his self-esteem and resorts to violent behavior. What schools need to do is to allow them time and design the curriculum in such a way that helps children introspect. “Unless we give that time to children, we are going to continue being part of the juggernaut that is hurtling from one conflict to another,” warns Adams.
Likewise, Ruchi and Adarsh found themselves in a fix when their 17-year-old daughter showed discomfort when she saw her parents holding hands while out for shopping in a mall. Most couples may have encountered a similar situation with growing kids at home. Often, with kids in their teenage years, couples find it uneasy to enjoy moments of privacy and romance. For these couples, it becomes hard to keep up with their intimacy levels with adolescents observing their every action and asking questions.
Does having kids denote the end of marital contentment? Do kids unconsciously come in the way of a couples' marital ecstasy? We explore...
Dr. Deepak Gupta, child and adolescent psychiatrist, opines, "Teenage kids observe their parents closely, so it is for couples to understand that whatever they do in front of their kids, it has to be like a normal behaviour and not something which appears unusual. Let your child feel that you love each other as husband-wife, a mother-father and not like a romantic couple. Give them an impression that the love and affection holds the same meaning for them also."
Draw a line when your children are around
Contrary to the age old belief that having kids marks the completion of a family with children bringing two partners closer, a study in recent past revealed that having children can send marital bliss in a downward spiral. Most couples complain that it's tough for them to justify their expression of romance to their kids and on being repeatedly questioned; they (parents) eventually end up wasting whatever little time was meant for romance.
"Getting comfortably intimate with my wife was never an issue even being in a joint family, but only till the time our child grew up. I observed that our son was too keen to watch our acts of intimacy and whenever we came close or touched each other, he would notice and react in some way," shares travel agent Kalyan Prakash, (35), a father to a 10-year-old.
So here pops the main question - how does a couple get intimate in front of their kids without putting them on the edge? Dr. RK Gupta, clinical physiologist suggests, "Couples should ideally define clear boundaries when it comes to physical closeness in front of kids. Avoid certain acts that may arouse the kid's curiosity or get them hooked on to observing your actions. Adolescence is a tender age and if kid gets disturbed by your intimacy, it's high time to find a reason and solution. Sometimes kids when they see their parents intimate either don't socialise much or become introvert. In worst cases, the kid may not share a healthy relationship with his/her parents. Instead of worrying about how to get intimate in front of them, try creating a healthy environment with humour and understanding.