Monday, January 17, 2005

The Secret Lives of School kids

This is a article that appeared in the latest issue of India Today... it surely makes me feel dizzy....

Shefalee Vasudev
India Today Jan 17 2004

Let me hold you. You got me going crazy. Turn me on, turn me on,"crooned reggae singer Kevin
Lyttle. So turned on were the 200-oddschoolchildren by the seductive notes that the dense cigarette smokebarely veiled the edgy anticipation on their faces. Inside a posh newpub in Delhi, the partying adolescents had turned up in body glitter,diaphanous stockings, crimped hair, micro-skirts andcleavage-revealing tops. As the music became more frenzied, so did thejiving students. They sipped fluorescent drinks with adult-likehauteur, remixing morals, manners and mama's instructions.
This was a Conti (continuation) party hosted by Class XI students forthe outgoing Class XII batch from a prominent Delhi school. Contiparties are a big trend in Delhi, but schoolchildren partying in apub? After the infamous mms incident involving two schoolchildrenhaving oral sex in November last year, wasn't the school worried?After all, the incident had spurred the Kerala authorities to instructschools and colleges to ban mobile phones, dance and fashion shows,even skirts for girls. But the Delhi schoolteachers had been kept inthe dark.
Some students had collected Rs 500 each from theirclassmates, booked the pub and sold entry passes with the school'sname printed on them to fool the parents into thinking that theinstitution was involved. The parents who refused to allow theirchildren to visit the pub at night were sent a circular signed by the"principal". Little did they know that their own children had printedit and faked the signature. Some went so far as to print an inflatedfee of Rs 1,000 on the fake circular and pocketed the additional Rs500. The organiser-a foul-mouthed Class XII student-made a neat profit of around Rs 9,000 after the money was paid to the pub.So what's new?
Schoolchildren in every generation break rules, drink,smoke, smooch and hide their activities from parents? Isn't the end ofinnocence an age-old story? It is. But like every other tale of modernIndia, it has new, never-before plots. Boys always smoked their firstcigarette in their teens, but now schoolgirls are doing it too. Thatthey are having sex doesn't surprise anyone, but the kind ofexperimentation they are indulging in, the access to pornography andthe technological accessories of fun are making the secret lives ofschoolchildren more dangerous.
Unmonitored Internet surfing, gangs inschools, availability of speed drugs like Ecstasy and the easy entryinto pubs and bars for children's parties trace the lines of change.This is not a naive generation which needs to be sat down and educatedon safe sex or warned that the road to drug addiction has no U-turnsafter a point. They already know this. They are smart, capable,articulate and tough. But at the end of the day, they are justthat-children. Overconfident and confused at the same time.
Earlier boys smoked secretly but now schoolgirls are also doing it,besides trying drugs."Don't write our names," say the Conti students, threatening onemoment, pleading the next. "Our parents will find out and then we'vehad it." It is not as if the parents are ignorant, but whether theyhave the ability to handle sensitive issues involving their childrenis another story.
The mms scandal is a classic example. A Class XI boyfrom the Delhi Public School, one of the capital's most prominent, wasarrested for allegedly forwarding to his friends a cell phone clipshowing his girlfriend having oral sex with him. Within days the sexclip was available on computer screens across the country. But theboy's parents shielded him and sent him to Nepal, initially refusingto either cooperate with the police or acknowledge their son's fault.It is a stark illustration of how modern lifestyle has changed theparent-child relationship.
Earlier, the biggest intervention byparents in the lives of their children was unquestioned discipline. Now, affluence has led to over-indulgence and discipline has beenreplaced by blind trust and buying of affection with latest gifts andgadgets. It has resulted in a generation of spoilt, well-to-dochildren flooded with expensive gadgets and hi-tech computers who arechallenging the moral authority of parents like never before.
"Children need parental presence, not presents. But what they get istoo much freedom, and gifts to compensate for lack of time. They areno longer taught to delay gratification," says Rupa Murghai,counsellor at Delhi's Naval Public School.
In the past, childhood was an extended phase of life. Now children aregrowing up faster, reaching virtual adulthood before they are out oftheir teens, while parents, focused on their own social whirl, traveland symbols of affluence, have lost touch with their children. Manyhave little idea about what their children do after school hours. SaysSubha Garimella, a Chennai school counsellor: "In many cases, parentslead a life alienated from their children's."
A Delhi school clerkrevealed that of the students who had paid fees to use the school busin the past academic year, 30 per cent had boarded it onlyoccasionally. The parents realised it only when they were slapped witha Rs 6,000 penalty at the end of the session for breaking the rule. Says Kusam L. Warikoo, principal, Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, Delhi:"There are instances where children host parties for their friends athome but don't allow the parents to enter their rooms."
That distancing from parents is due to judgmental and censoriousattitude was the common refrain among students interviewed across thecountry by India Today. "I don't like talking to my father," saysAbraham, a Class X student from Mumbai. "All he does is order me aboutand tell me to study. He never sits down with me to listen to what Ihave to say." Adds Chandini, a Class IX student from Jaipur: "My momis always preoccupied. She has no time for me." Chandini's boyfriendcalled her to his home and forced her to dance in the nude in front offive friends. The incident has left her greatly disturbed but she darenot confide in her parents.
Pubs, bars and discos, regarded as adult haunts, are being rented bystudents for parties.It is surprising that in an age when sex is such a big issue, no realdialogues take place within families. In an Expressions studyconducted by VIMHANS in 110 schools of Delhi and neighbouring citiesin April-May 2004 among 1,560 boys and 1,040 girls in the 14-17 agegroup, 100 per cent Class VIII students said sex education was a must.As many as 85 per cent children said that parents must find time fordiscussion and health-related communication, while 78 per cent saidthey needed a non-judgmental person to discuss their personal lives.Murghai feels that contrary to the openness that parents boast of,their communication with children often gets locked in moralising andsermonising instead of acceptance. In many cases, says Warikoo, theparents don't know what to do. "They are almost afraid of correctingtheir children," she says, adding that the school and parents seldomagree on the extent of freedom that should be given to children.Most parents trust their children unquestioningly without the bufferof day-to-day guidance or discipline. As a result children often leadsecret lives-spend on undesired things, bunk school for doubtfulreasons, surf for porn at cyber cafes, fake marksheets, manipulatefacts to enter adult pubs and furtively change into clothes they wouldnot dare wear at home. "We carry a change and dress up as we want infive-star hotel toilets or wherever we find washrooms," says Ananya, abrazen 16-year-old from Delhi. The forbidden clothes include thongs,padded bras and micro-minis.
The moral nakedness is as revealing as the skimpy outfits. Words like"normal", "no big deal", "cool"and "hot" come up so often in thecontext of booze, cigarettes, sex and porn that it is indicative ofhow morality and values are perceived differently by children asopposed to what most parents assume they have taught. The reinventionof school life may be largely an urban phenomenon, but its glimpsesare seen all over India.
In Patna, schoolchildren throng cyber cafeswhich have become notorious as sex cafes. Here, along with hiredcabins to surf the Net, children are offered X-rated CDs. Interest incyber cafes has replaced the keenness to visit science museums, pubshave replaced public gardens, oiled plaits have given way to gelledhair, old fashioned hand-holding has been taken over by unabashedkissing, petting, and in quite a few cases, "some kind of sex". Batasandals, puri-bhaji in tiffin boxes, antaksharis and outdoor picnicsare passe. It is all about dating, downloading, SMSing, swinging andspending.
Cyber cafes in Patna hire cabins for children to surf the Net for pornand also offer X-rated CDs.That is what peer pressure is all about. Dating now begins as early asClass VII. "You are considered uncool if you don't have a boyfriend,"says 15-year-old Jigisha from a suburban Mumbai school. But what doesone do with a boyfriend in Class VII? "Hang out, go to parties,whatever. It is important to have one," is a common answer. "Pettingand kissing is very usual, but I don't know how many have poora (full)sex," says Devyani, a 14-year-old Delhi schoolgirl who doesn'tunderstand why people have a problem with children having sex.
Booze was always a big attraction for schoolchildren but now liquorparties are organised in bars and discos raking in a whole lot ofother liberties. Parents usually find out only if someone gets sick orgoes home reeking of alcohol. "Usually children feign ignorance whenthey are caught, alleging that someone might have spiked their drink,"says Mumbai-based school counsellor Husna Vanjara.
Dr S.Virudagirinadhan, a clinical neuro-psychologist in Chennai, says thatmany students who come to him suffer from serious alcohol addiction.Prasad, a Class X student of a posh school in Adyar, Chennai, talks ofsix students who came drunk to school and misbehaved with girls.Safwa, a Class IX student from another school, says it is normal forthe authorities to check students' bags for liquor bottles.
It is, however, the change in the choices of girls that are causingmany tremors on Planet Childhood. In Mumbai, counsellors are gettingused to 14-15-year-old girls who smoke. Doing hard drugs like cocaineor heroin may be restricted to a minority, but getting stoned withEraseX, the ink-erasing whitener, gets more nods. "Some pour theliquid on their sleeves and sniff it in school going all glazed-eyed,"laughs 16-year-old Tarun from Gurgaon.
The twin realities of overconfidence on the outside and scaryconfusion on the inside define many schoolchildren. It is somethingsociety can no longer ignore as the malaise of spoilt, publicschoolchildren. Government school students may not have access tofancy gizmos or camera phones but they have their own ways of testingboundaries. A few weeks ago, two Class VII children from a governmentschool in Ghaziabad were caught coercing a Class II girl into oralsex. Meenu Bhargava, a senior government school counsellor atSarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, Delhi, agrees that the causes may bedifferent but drug addiction, alcoholism, rebellion and sexual affairsare common among children in government schools too.Studies validate these trends. A 2004 national survey on drug abuse inIndia by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) foundthat 9 per cent of alcohol users were introduced to it before 15 yearsof age, and 28 per cent between 16 and 20 years. Similarly, 11 percent of the patients at drug treatment centres had been using cannabisbefore they were 15 years old as were 9-12 per cent who wereintroduced to opium and heroin. Chennai-based psychiatrist Dr M.Suresh Kumar, coordinator of UNESCO's Rapid Assessment Survey on DrugUse in 2002 conducted among established drug users in 14 cities, saysthat the number of referrals of children below 18 years on drugs hasincreased significantly in the past five years.PICTURE SPEAK Slashing of wrists and depression are on the rise among children, sayevaluations in schools.Parents and teachers may shrug it off as media's "habit" of sellingbad news but Mumbai's Anjali Shah, mother of two, says that behindevery cell phone given to a child is a parent who gives in. "If yougive children the freedom that they can't handle, you have to dealwith the consequences," she says. Adds Annie Koshi, principal of StMary's School, Delhi: "Children are reflecting the society. Before wecreate a big fuss about what children do secretly, why don't adultsask this question of themselves?"She also points out that children being treated on the basis of theirmarks is a matter of concern. "Behavioural liberty is accepted if thechild is doing well academically, as if morality was a separateissue," she says. Koshi's remark may explain why the girl in the mmsclip initially defended herself saying she was a scholar and what shedid in her "private life" was not the school's business. Packed intothe "what's cool is hot" school life is fecklessness. More concerningthan sex in the mms case was the boy's frivolous attitude towards hisgirlfriend. False intimacies and friendships for favours are the bigworries.Experts attribute the sexual stimulation to excessive exposure. Easyaccess to pornography hasn't given children the maturity to cope withthe emotional fluctuations that it may lead to. Two months ago,Ludhiana-based clinical psychologist Rajiv Gupta dealt with an11-year-old patient who suffered from poor concentration despite agood academic record. His mother revealed that she had caught him andhis 14-year-old brother watching a blue film at home.

What is seen as independence by children is mired in vulnerability andhead-on collision between desires and reality. Which is why, saysDelhi psychologist Arpita Anand, it is important to introduce adialogue on the mms incident. "It will force the people to move awayfrom denial," she says. Otherwise one form of high-risk behaviour maylead to another. Teenage pregnancies and abortions are one of theattendant risks of premature intimacy.
According to who, 10per cent of all abortions in India every year, or about five million ayear, are among girls between 15 and 19 years of age. "At least halfthe women seeking abortions are adolescents and a disturbing numberare below 15 years of age," writes development specialist Anita Anand,in an abortion assessment by Mumbai's Cehat organisation.On the other hand, instances of depression, slashing of wrists andother self-destructive behaviours are climbing the charts in lifeskills evaluations in schools. "The stress tolerance quotient amongchildren is getting lower by the day," says a Chandigarh psychologist."The parents are oblivious to training the kids to deal with negativeemotions," adds Gupta.While people are realising that parenting is an acquired skill, not anatural one, schools are grappling with extreme disciplinary measures.So much so that a Delhi school has even started alerting parents ifchildren hug each other. "It is important to point out the differencebetween good touch and bad touch," says Warikoo defending the move.Koshi suggests that schools must help children deal with the dichotomyin society and parental attitudes through regular, value-basededucation.
Despite the disbelief and denial shrouding this story, most parentsand teachers agree that the buck must stop somewhere. No longer canIndia duck under the tired excuses of "western influence". Almosteveryone thinks that sex education must be made compulsory in schools.The Karnataka Association for Psychiatric Disabilities has launched avalue education and mood management programme for 600 adolescents inrural and urban schools through five NGOs. VIMHANS in Delhi andNIMHANS in Bangalore have been conducting life-skills educationprogrammes where teachers are trained to counsel students onpsycho-social issues.But the real outcome of these measures depends on whether adults canmeet children half way instead of expecting them to obeyunquestioningly. The growing up of parents and the education ofteachers may become a part of the new order of things.


Blogger Arattai Ambujammal said...

While parents have to keep working to keep the money coming, it is very important for them to spend quality time with the kids everyday non-stop. It is time for working mothers (and fathers) to think if part-time jobs will be preferred to a 9-5 job and also for companies and industries to think about flexible work schedules (like a 7-3p, 11-7p, even 1-9p) for their employees. No doubt a part-time job means less money but it is definitely worth the expense of drug rehab, an abortion, bail of an arrested child and the ultimate ruin of a promising generation. Affluent mothers have to even think of staying home for a few years. And, society has to promise no discrimination on the basis of age when it comes to a job interview for them to get back when necessary.
The very presence of a parent, even in a different room in the same house will make a huge difference in the after-school life of an adoloscent. Let us trust that an average Indian mother or father is concerned and takes responsibility for his/her children. I am sure parents who allow closed-door teen-parties in their house and don't check up on their kids even when they don't come home at midnight are a minority now and will stay so unless we allow the numbers to grow by our negligence.
It has to start at home... society is only next. Sex education, drug-control, Internet porn and other issues fall under a huge umbrella. School classes on these can never replace an involved parent's one-on-one talk to a son or a daughter. Adoloscents are kids. Parents cannot fail in their duty just because their son grows a moushtache.

6:17 AM  

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