Adapt empathetic attitude towards children

It is very depressing to read the news of school and college going students committing suicide, more often these days. Nearly 9500 students had committed suicide in India in 2017. Of late, the students’ suicide has assumed epidemic proportion, some 26 suicides in a day. And according to the American College Health Association, the suicide rate among the young — aged 15-24 — has tripled in the US since the 1950s.

One of the main reasons for this alarming situation is pressure on the students for academic performance. A 13 year old girl Julie Sharma, a class VI student of the civic-run KD Gaikwad School, Sion-Koliwada-Mumbai, hanged herself on October 6, unable to bear the insult and humiliation of her teacher slapping her in front of the class for not doing the home work. In another instance, on the same day, Shalini Behuri, a class X student of AES School, Wadalba, hung herself after her mother scolded her for not studying hard enough for the ensuing board exam.

The Class X students of Cambridge School-Ryan International Group of Institutions-Kandivali has devised a new method to boost the school standing in terms of results. The School has recently divided the SSC students in three groups — smart, average and weak — based on their marks, without bothering how damaging such exercise is to the self-image and mental health of students. When the parents vehemently protested against it, the school has reversed the decision, stating that it was an experiment only for a day. However, the school claims that this “as a practice has worked for us in the past. We devise strategies for various groups of students to help them do well in the board exams.”

Another worrying trend is the self-harm or self-injury inflicted by school children — a phenomenon clinically described as “non-suicidal deliberate self-harm” — where adolescents injure themselves with knives, blades, sharp objects or even the pointy compass from the geometry box — as a method of coping with pent-up stress and anxiety, more common among girls. Professor K John Vijay Sagar of the NIMHANS is of the opinion that “youngsters these days are under significant stress — academic stress, interpersonal stress with peers or parents relationship-related stress.”

It is important that the parents, the teachers and educational institutions adapt an empathetic attitude towards the children and teenagers. They must make conscious efforts to reach out to them and understand their stress triggers. The modern fast-forward life style motivated by commercial and materialistic considerations, unhealthy influence of the social media groups, commercialisation of education, peer pressure and undue emphasis on academic performance — all these are stress triggers. The school and college going children need freedom to choose their courses and careers and healthy home and school environment to make them feel relaxed and destressed. Parents and teachers should encourage them to talk about their problems and concerns with open-mind without any inhibitions. And the cause of feeling of inadequacy and “I am not good enough” should be addressed squarely.

G Ramachandram is a professor of Political Science. and a retired principal.