Mahima discusses the dangerous Blue Whale Challenge, an Internet game, and other causes of depression that affects the tender minds of teenagers, leading to suicides. Anitha, a student activist, became a prey to depression. There is a felt need of parental guidance to stop this menace, she reasons, in the regular column, exclusively in Different Truths.
Am I ready to be a parent?
This question tricks me every time I read about a youngster committing suicide, be it blame the Blue Whale Challenge or anything else.
The Internet game is not to be blamed alone for teenage suicides. Two children in India posted their last photos before jumping to death under the Blue Whale Challenge. That’s the only time since I remember that teen-death news went viral. The whole world became concerned about their children. A force came together to counter this menace. Before this incident, we would read, share and condemn it, to forget it because it was not a threat to our children.
But, what about those children who killed themselves under various other circumstances? Why aren’t we bothered about them? Well, if Blue Whale didn’t swim into your house, other reasons might – depression being the topmost.
Here’s a case of Anitha — a student activist against the NEET, who finally decided to end her life failing to secure a seat. The death of this young, talented girl left us numb. A girl who aspired to save lives, be an inspiration, chose death under depression. Many on social media opined, “NEET killed her.”
Though not defending any wrong policy, we are saying that she isn’t the only one who killed herself over shattered hopes of a cherished career. All we are asking is who drives such children to such tall aspirations, which, if shattered, drives them to death?
Suveera Sharma, an NRI in Hong Kong and mother of a son and a daughter, solves the dilemma in simple yet very inspiring words, “It is indeed very sad to see all this happening. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Maybe it’s time to take collective responsibility for our children.”
Thus, I decided to be the first link in the chain of this collective responsibility and pen this piece-of-advice guided by experts from across the world.
My close friend, a former journalist from ANI-Reuters and motivator Shobha Rana Grover was once debating another article of mine on parenting. I abridge this German NRI’s motivating views here, “Parenting is neither a cake walk nor does it have any set of rules. But, just like science, it is a dynamic subject which can be handled with a little help from experts.”
I spoke to a few parents and experts. And I discovered a wealth of information.
Limit Social Media, Games and Gadgets
Well, being a freelance-columnist and content writer, my work is mostly dependent on the extensive use of social-media. And thus, I believe I am going to face a tough challenge bringing up my child, whenever I have one. I really need to learn how to schedule my work! Why? Because, Dr. Yusuf Afaque, a former resident surgeon at AIIMS and now Professor at Aligarh Muslim University once told me, “The saying —as you sow, so shall your reap — doesn’t only apply to seeds; it applies to habits inculcated in children as well. If we teach them to brush teeth early morning, why can’t we teach them to keep the phone away while we eat?”
He has a valid point, how many of us were allowed to watch TV while eating? It was mostly the family time, which is now lost to feeding the child in hurry under the influence of TV/games/smart phones to save our time! Yes, save the time which we are losing in making our child a robot, who is gadget-dependent, rather than a human.
Today, the child has your phone in hand. Tomorrow, as a teen under peer-pressure, he secures his own smart phone through you as you are bugged with his/her constant demands. And then in future, you blame him/her for playing the Blue Whale Challenge or perhaps watch other stuff including porn?
Yes, Aditya Bhalla (name changed) was suspended from school for watching porn. Who’s to blame? Thankfully the parents owned the responsibility saying, “We never thought our shying away from his questions at a younger age about sex-education and a no-eye on his day-to-day behaviour will lead him to this.” Now, his father sits and talks openly with him about life, about everything under the sun as a friend. He confided in us, without fear later how and why he got used to watching porn under peer-guidance.
Aditya’s mother reveals the shocker, “Aditya did download the Blue Whale Challenge, but seeing the news on TV, which his father ensures he watches daily, he did not play it!” Well, to put it in Dr. Yusuf’s words: Aditya’s father “sowed a habit” of watching something useful, thus a “fruitful effort was reaped” saving his son’s life.
Relief is visible on Aditya’s father’s face. But how many of us have it? Aren’t we too busy these days scanning our phones or that of our children to see what all exists there downloaded by them? So what to do beyond being helicopter parents in our child’s life?
Colin Davie Cameron, a psychiatrist from Chicago says, “Be observant not just about your child but of all the children who are around you. Because it is mostly the peer-pressure or habits that drive them. It was mild in our era since only fathers earned. The pressure is more now, since mostly both the parents are working, hardly getting to spend quality time with their children.”
He adds, “But be observant as Maria Montessori always said: Observe without judgement.” And act cautiously in the following manner suggested by him:
- a) Keep children away from gadgets at a tender age, these are mere distractions
- b) Limit the use of gadgets in front of your child and introduce it to their lives that too only at school learning level
- c) Spend time with child in extra-curricular activities rather than sending her/him with the house-helper
- d) Child needs your time, warmth and guidance, not just your money or your substitute
- e) Don’t be a spy, be a cautious caretaker
- f) Discourage selfies and social media to prevent selfie-deaths. Teach them: Number of “likes” is not a parameter of your popularity
The last point above is quite noteworthy. Colin’s Davie Cameron’s confesses that his own daughter once became a selfie-addict when at a hostel. On an average, she used to post ten selfies a day on social media to garner most number of “likes”. And then Colin happened to meet a woman suffering depression over her teenage son’s selfie-death at a waterfall. Colin got so involved in the case relating to her own life that within a month he made his daughter come out of selfie addiction. He says that it is tougher for a parent with a studying child in a hostel, but adds it is not impossible, “If you are kind to your children for a wrong habit by lending them a patient ear and handle them with care and love, they will follow your advice.”
Too Much, Too Early?
One of my schoolmates used to boast a few years back, “Look at my girl, two-year-old and she knows how to download games and rhymes of her interest from the internet. She is glued to my phone, experimenting things.”
Experimenting? Well, today this girl has high-power spectacles, which can pass off as a magnifying glasses. She was caught by her dance teacher reading books on free-apps that were ‘not meant for her age’. She also talks in the worst-possible, adopted-manner with her parents saying that’s how the ‘independent children her age’ in the US do. This child is just seven years old.
Ginger Robert Khan, a mother to a sixteen-year-old Sumaira shares her experience as a counsellor to working parents in Kolkata, India, “The single-child-and-double-income family trend is on the rise. We are entrapped in providing everything to the child even before it is demanded. But when a “no” comes in life, whether at home or school or later, children feel the whole world is crashing! I am teaching parents ‘how to say no’ the way I do it to my daughter. We need to teach our children, ‘need is a different-truth over want’. Limiting toys, television, pocket money, smart phones and otters such new-age luxuries is a good way, to begin with.”
Don’t set an Unfair Benchmark
I have a friend couple, who refuse to socialise unless the child has an off next day at school. The child is put to bed at 8 pm or latest by 9 pm. He isn’t allowed outdoor except on Saturday. Even Sunday is barred from fun after 4 pm since there is school on Monday. Even family birthdays are celebrated keeping all this in mind. And now let me tell you, the child is only five-years-old and a master at rote-learning! Topper but with no understanding of any subject when asked the meaning of ‘vast ocean’. A genius without the stamina to run even 100 meters. A parents’ darling, but at what cost in future?
We parents must stop living our dreams through our children. Radhika Iyer, a software expert from Hyderabad tells me the story of her life, “A child becomes the future project of his/her parents, the trophy of the family for achieving something they themselves could not in their times or to place it on the mantel piece in the society respectively. Why can’t you just let him be himself? My son, 12-year-old Advait, is looked-upon by-surprise in his school. We are into business but he wants to be a marine pilot. Recently, while filling certain forms for his final class at school, he was questioned why we don’t want him to pursue our business or be a doctor, engineer etc. He proudly answered, ‘I am going for the Delhi Marathon tomorrow and semi-final school exams day-after. My parents want me to chase my own dream, not their passion, not just books!”
How many of you let your children live a life of passion or interest? When I happened to meet Suveera this year for the quote she gave at the top, I understood how this wife of Aalok, a Merchant Navy officer manages time between in-laws in India, while raising her kids in Hong Kong. But, I have never seen the couple or children stressed about ‘their homework from school’. Rather her daughter carries story books/ novels during her India visit. Such inspiration, an example for many of us to follow.
Understand Stress, Depression
Toiling away for 10-12 hours a day at the office and leaving the household chores for the wife or housemaid to do. Are you that kind of a person?
Now figure this:
- A) 6 AM to 2 PM at school
- B) 4 PM to 7 PM at tuition classes
- C) 7-8PM say a dance class because you feel it is a must
- D) Revision of the books again from 8-9/10 PM
In short, a regime of 6 AM to 10 PM! Compare your work hours and your child’s.
“I will surely say this is a wrongly done chart. Only a few of such children will get the medical or engineering seats. Your child is special too, but perhaps in some other way. Anitha and many like her would have been alive if she wasn’t depressed over a prospective career. Perhaps no one spoke to her beyond an interview over the NEET policy. She needed help, counselling which none of us realised and gave laments child psychologist Athiya Rehman from Bengaluru, who runs a weekly class for children reeling under severe depression under various scenarios.
Shaira Khan’s teenaged son falls sick all the time during exams. On the other hand, I have always seen my sister-in-law Babita Atri’s son rush to learn lessons without even being asked once. Her social media posts are either about him excelling in golf or of her daughter excelling in dance; never about their grades via books.
Similarly, son of my childhood friend, Ruchi Sharma, reminds her that he needs to do the homework, while his mother coaxes him out to play outdoors. The difference is they are bringing up a liking in their child to study, to do beyond it. Not stress, not depression.
Understand, stress and depression are for real and there is no specific age to it. We need to tell our children that it’s completely okay to sulk or feel sad or depressed at any stage in life, but it is equally and highly important to share the same. Firstly, prevent this stage at your end, keep them stress-free. Secondly even despite this, if your child or for that matter of the neighbour, looks sad take immediate notice and act. Don’t shy away from taking or suggesting professional help. Remember, depression is not a taboo or mental illness, but can surely lead to one, if unattended in time. Remember, a child whether your own is may be depressed usually under societal pressure. Help him/her come out. Even superstar Dipika Padukone fought it out with the help of her mother and professional guidance. She came out with an open post to inspire others.
Never Discourage an Inborn Liking, it is Talent
Here I am detailing a chapter from my 68-year-old mother’s rule book because if I were discouraged as a kid, you would never be reading this piece of mine.
My younger sister and I were brought up by a scientist Meera Sharma, our single mother, a very strict disciplinarian. I was a bookworm, a topper at school and college and was not much into sports and the NCC. On the other hand, my sister Vibhooti, was an all-India, all-rounder at school and college, doing much more extracurricular activities than me. Mom knew, her younger kid needed fun ways to be taught and she was handled that way. But mom never shut down the TV or outdoor games even during the exams. We were rather made to sit and watch a fun-feature a day before. If we were reluctant, her question would be, “Why didn’t you study before? Your fault. Recreation is important as well. Watch it, take a break!”
It really was a stress-buster. The feature TV stories inspired my pen! Mowgli was my way to pen my first long poem at the age of six!
Yes, gradually I became a writer out of passion and not compulsion – no coaxing from my mother. I loved to write especially when I lost a few marks here and there, to vent out my “failure”. But it wasn’t an outcome of failure for my mother and my maths teacher Mrs. Pankaj Mani Arora. It was a talent for them. Except them, everyone else at school thought “I was heading to a disaster, since how much does a writer earn?” These two never let my pen stop. So one fine day, my pen gave me the prestigious job in renowned journalist Rajdeep’s Sardesai’s core team at CNN-NEWS18. My maths copies, whose last pages would be full of poems, today get an imprint in international dailies!
On the other hand, my sister Vibhooti loved to make new friends, even at the age of two. She wasn’t locked out from strangers, was rather taught the difference between a stranger and that of a known person, the hazards as well. She was groomed by mom on how to deal with a stranger cautiously and that with a known person. Today, the chatter-box heads the all-India business team of a reputed company.
The point I wish to make is every child is good at something or there other. Do not discourage him/her.
“You can never groom a flower and make it bloom by opening the petals early or forcefully. Similarly, do not walk in someone’s footsteps, create your own. Success tastes sweet only after a failure,” my mother always asserts.
Celebrate Failure, Shun Shame
Take a cue from the above point, success, we all celebrate it. But there is Sumedha Apte, an NRI in Canada who celebrates it whenever her child comes the last in a race. Her 15-year-old son Samar has a house decorated with his medals. But a grand party is thrown especially when he loses a race. Why?
Sumedha explains, “When Samar was 9, his best friend handed himself to death as he had come third in class and lost a painting competition as well. I know the parents, his mother had told him at the Parents Teachers’ Meet, ‘Failures at this age, only mean bigger ones when your dad’s age. Such a shame you are to the family of lawyers and doctors.’ Two days later, he jumped to death from his house on the second floor. I made a thumb-rule: A subject or competition failed is nothing but a bad phase of life which will pass, but a life taken can never be brought back. I tell my children — Samar and Reena, live a life and not a career graph, let’s celebrate failure, you might not get a chance to do that later in life!”
This reminds me of my Chemistry teacher Mrs. Praveen Dabas at Gargi College New Delhi. I was a disaster in Physical Chemistry taught by her during our Bachelors in Science. Reason? I hated Maths post class 10 and my mother never forced me to take it up beyond that. Physical Chemistry requires a lot of understanding of Maths. So, whenever I used to manage to score some average marks in the exam, Mrs. Dabas used to gift me a book. It was only gifted to the top three otherwise. She used to say, “Attempt matters, failures don’t.” Take a bow, Ma’am, as you are still in touch, motivating me.
Speak-Up my Child, I am your Friend
How many of us encourage our child saying, “Dear child, please speak up and confide in us.”
All I hear around me is: Speak properly, say correctly, sit properly, how you are talking, why you are telling a lie, why you didn’t tell me, so on and so forth.
Sushant D Sinha, an English professor from Sydney, Australia writes to me, “High time we shun this language of death. Yes, this is a language of depression, language of questioning and not showing the path – it’s a language of doom! Embrace imperfections and failures of your child as part of a normal yet progressive self. Encourage them to be your friend, don’t be their master.”
Big names have bigger stories of struggle behind them. Share those as well with your children.
And as Suveera asserted, let’s do it collectively as a society, as a friend to a fellow parent, as a human being who wants to stop children from dying.
Help Save Life
Hope you will ‘Help us prevent suicides. Please circulate these Helpline Numbers in India among those you may know are highly depressed
—Sneha, Chennai: 044-2464 0050
—Lifeline, Kolkata: 033-2474 4704
—Sahai, Bangalore: 080 – 25497777
Photos by the author and sourced from the Internet
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A science graduate from Delhi University and MA in Mass Communication, Mahima began her career with E-Lexicon PR & Mutual PR and Hindustan Times. Soon, ANI (a collaboration with Reuters) got her aboard, where she spread her wings in TV, Print & Digital Journalism. In 2010 Rajdeep Sardesai’s flagship primetime show gave her, a dream job at CNN-IBN. From May 2017, she is a freelance journalist. She is a poet and a Sufi at heart.