Sunday, January 20, 2013

On Teenage suicides.........

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 feelings?

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. 


Sri said...

Dear HHG,

Really relevant post and well written too..

Depression has become very common nowadays and the need of the hour is to recognize it as a grave problem and not feel ashamed to visit a psychiatrist..

Unknown said...


tys said...

in my family they kill themselves for no reason...serious...had a cousin who went to her room taking her mothers sari with her, telling that she wanted to stitch the fall for it and while her mother and her sister was preparing dinner, she hung herself with that sari...

her note said that she had a great life so far and that she was done with it...

btw, welcome back

Debolina Raja said...

I completely agree! It's not good enough to blame teenagers and say they are too fickle, that failure drives them to suicide rather than attempting. It's we, the parents, the grandparents, relatives friends and society who need to be more understanding and supportive of our children in these busy and stressful times.
I am following your blog and would be sweet if you could visit mine and follow if you like...cheers..