It was depressing to receive the
news of teen age suicide in our town. This time it was a 16 year old student
who was answering her pre - board exams from a reasonably well to do family. Both
parents had demanding jobs and the girl was perhaps left in the care of
grandparents who probably could not offer the emotional support that teenagers
require in the present times. I report the incident as an outsider purely from
hearsay since I came to hear of the incidence through an acquaintance whose son
studied in the same class as the dead girl. My account may not be very accurate
but since many others, like this girl, face similar problems I cannot help
analyzing the situation.
The girl was a fairly good
student till recently but had begun to fare badly of late. Like others of her
age she trusted her peers more than her family and would hang around with a few friends some of whom
were boys. Her class teacher being conservative would openly reprimand her for
her choice of friends particularly her interest in boys. On the day she committed suicide a friend, who belonged to her group and particularly close to her, had decided that he could take no more of the hints dropped by the
teacher and decided to break off from the group and concentrate on his studies.
He seemed to agree that the girl was distracting him from his studies and told
her as much, advising her to leave him alone. The girl perhaps did not worry
too much about the teacher’s words but could not accept the fact that her
friend too seemed to hold a similar opinion. The two had an argument and the
girl left school in a disturbed state of mind. She tried contact him on
reaching home but he did not respond. That was it. The girl committed suicide
by hanging leaving her family shattered.
I really cannot explain the
reason for the emotional vulnerability that teenagers face these days. I
studied in a co – education school some 45 years back and healthy competition
as well as friendship between boys and girls was accepted in our school. We did
not have teachers dropping hints about our character or putting thoughts into
our heads. In fact, I don’t even remember thinking of the boys in our class as
anyone but good friends who could be depended upon to stand up for me as and
when required. Have times changed now? Or was this girl plain unlucky to have a
narrow minded teacher? Or was I a plain Jane - simply not cut out for romantic
Why could the girl not handle the
boy’s stand that they needed to concentrate on their studies? Even if the
teacher’s insinuations be ignored was it not important for them to do well in
their board exams? Why are teenagers unable to face setbacks and the like?
People say that lack of a support system in the family - like the one provided by
a joint family - was partly responsible for depression among teenagers. But even
while growing up I do not remember having to turn to family members for support
unless the issue was grave. We too fought
and patched up, had differences of opinion that led to times when we would not
be on talking terms with friends for days on end, but none of these depressed us
for long. We did not have access to modern communication tools and snail mail
was the only way we could remain in touch. In a way I feel lack of effective
communication tools enabled us to deal with situations better and equipped us
to deal with the rough patches in our formative years. But why are teenagers unable to handle minor irritants and move on?
In this case, people tend to
blame the mother for being career minded and suggest that the girl perhaps felt
lonely and left out. Even if the mother had been a home maker could she have
understood the cause for her depression? Don’t we as adults fail to concede
that a seemingly trivial issue can be a matter of prime importance to the
child? How many of us in her shoes would have asked for a meeting with the teacher and
boldly stated that as a teenager a girl tends to seek male company and as long
as the children interacted as a group there was no cause for worry? Or, even if
the teacher found her behavior unacceptable she ought to discuss the matter in
private with the parents rather than demoralize the child in public.
No, we as parents would have
screamed at the child and threatened to pull her out of school if another word
regarding her ‘bad’ behavior was ever mentioned by the teacher. I remember
telling my son that I would send him to work as a porter in the railway station
if he did not do well in class.
“I have no problem” he replied “It is up to you to decide whether you wish to
be known as a porter’s mother”.
It was easy for him to say this because he was
well above average and knew that my empty threats were best ignored. I shudder
to think about the impact my words might have had if he had been unable to cope
with academic pressure and had taken my words seriously.
As for teachers, I am afraid they
too are ill equipped to handle today’s techno-savvy teenagers with every
facility made available to them by doting parents. Being conservative is one
thing but the present times also require some amount of flexibility. Parents
and teachers need to interact regularly and decide how the best in a particular
child may be brought out. The appointment of a counselor should be made mandatory
in every school and value education ought to be imparted not as a sermon from a
pedestal but by acquainting one’s self of the problem areas in a student's life
and adopting a non- judgmental attitude for students to be able to approach
teachers for emotional support.