No, the board exam results aren’t out. There’s no new statistic about student deaths either. There is nothing trending here, which is why this is the perfect time to talk about it. For a couple of weeks in a year, our media suddenly gets very concerned about students. These news trend for some time, creates a lot of noise and then eventually die. But even amidst this noisy, short-lived trend, there’s one undeniable fact that stays true – We have failed our children.
All over the world, there is an unprecedented increase in student deaths. Suicide is currently the second most common cause of death among college students. These numbers are from limited sample size and only talks about suicide as the cause of death. There’s no mention of the number of attempted suicides by the students.
Back home things are even worse. In India, a student commits suicide every hour. EVERY HOUR. Children as young as 12-13 are taking their own lives. This number increases terrifyingly with the student’s age and is much higher for high school and college students.
So, why am I telling you this all of a sudden?
Because it’s a serious problem.
Children all over the world are in pain with no one actually giving two shits about them. Things have become so out of control that we don’t even get shocked by statistics like these anymore.
“A student commits suicide every hour.”
Imagine if we were talking about a new virus that takes a child’s life every hour. Or a terrorist group, that kills a student every 60 minutes. Certainly, you would care then, won’t you?
Another thing is that no one wants to talk about it. No one wants to admit it. No one wants to admit the fact that we have failed our children and it’s not some virus or terrorist group that’s killing them.
We are doing this to them. We are killing them.
Parents, teachers, schools, universities, you, me – anyone who does not listen, who does not care, who simply ignores.
Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are the biggest yet the least talked about reason for student suicide.
However, most parents (or faculty for that matter) do not want to admit it. Some parents go as far as to say that ‘they didn’t raise a weak child’. Schools aren’t any better either. These schools and universities will go quite far to paint their reputation as some sort of a ‘safe place where you can grow’. They will do everything in their power to prevent these suicides from ‘tarnishing’ their school’s image.
The problem with depression is that many people still haven’t considered it as a genuine problem. Most parents, especially in Asian countries, tend to ignore the symptoms of depression that their child is exhibiting or simply brush it off as their children acting up/being moody’. Most parents do not even know that there is something like depression.
Which is really unfortunate because this problem is getting worse.
But no, it’s still not a real issue.
It’s a weakness.
It’s just children being moody.
What do you mean my child has a ‘mental health problem’? Are you saying he is retarded?
What will people think if they found out my kid is suffering from depression?
This is just today’s youth being entitled little pricks and acting up when they don’t get what they want.
Got anything new?
The thing that I’ve always hated about statistics is that they dehumanize everything. A child kills himself every hour, more teenagers are getting hospitalized because of self-harm than in past decade…etc, etc, etc.
Let’s go beyond the numbers.
Imagine a child, merely 14-15 years of age. He is trying his best to prepare for the board exams (India). And even though he is doing everything he can, he just can’t memorize most of the mammoth course.
So, the day of the exam comes and the moment he lays his eyes on the paper, he knows that he is screwed. He is sweating, his heart is pounding. He feels like crying but couldn’t – because that means showing weakness. He writes everything he can and cries inside throughout the duration of the exam.
He comes back home and his parents ask how the exam was. ‘Good’, he says knowing full well that anything other than ‘good’ would start a series of question that he is simply incapable to answer right now. He goes into his room, terrified that he is going to fail.
The exams are done. The results are going to be out soon. He knows he has failed. But he can’t say anything to anyone, not even to his family…..especially to his family. He cries and cries, thinking that it is the end of the world. Thinking how his parents would react when they’ll find out. The disappointment in their eyes, the scolding, the yelling, the beatings…
He decides to kill himself, because of one exam.
Because he knew he couldn’t talk to anyone.
Because he knew even if he did, his parents are not going to listen.
Because he knew he was alone.
Imagine feeling so alone and scared that at that moment it feels easier to just end it all rather than suffer what was going to happen.
That’s most of your below average students, days before the board exam results in India.
Here’s another story.
A girl just graduated from high school. She wants to be a veterinarian. She is going to college and for the first time, she is going to be totally responsible for herself.
She is an introvert, so she had some trouble making friends. Finally, she starts talking to someone. Not exactly a friend, but someone to talk to.
To fund her education, she has taken out quite a big loan. But she is confident that after she finishes college, she’d become a veterinarian and will be able to pay it back.
To make ends meet, she starts working in a fast food chain as a cashier. She’s getting minimum wage and has to put in quite a few hours to make enough to survive two weeks. This is in addition to 8-9 hours every day that she has to attend Uni. She also has to fit in all the homework and assignments in there.
But at least she got her ‘friend’ to talk to sometimes. Unfortunately, her friend took a transfer to some other campus.
So now, going to college, working, doing homework and studying, and sleeping for 5-6 hours. This becomes her life.
The only thing that kept her going was her dream of becoming a vet. So after those long years, she finally gets her degree. She finally gets to live her dreams.
However, it isn’t at all what she thought it would be. She soon realizes that her vet job doesn’t pay enough to cover for rent, food, and a car. Also, she now has a mountain of debt that she has to repay.
Her work mostly consists of people who are bored of their pets and want to put them down citing whatever reasons. It’s what she does for the most part. Her dreams are slowly beginning to crack.
Now she is working two jobs and makes barely enough till the next paycheck. She has no one to talk to because she didn’t have time to make friends at uni. She certainly doesn’t have time now working those long hours. The most human communication she gets is with her coworkers, which is mostly professional.
She doesn’t have anyone to talk to, the work that she thought would give her life meaning is eating her from the inside, she has a mountain of debt, she is sad, lonely and tired, all the time.
This goes on a few months, then a year, then one more. Her income hasn’t seen any significant increase and although she has tried to like her work a lot, she can’t. She feels that she has made a mistake. She can’t change careers because that would mean all her education is now meaningless and she has to acquire other skills for which she is too poor and too tired.
It was building for years and years. The loneliness, the helplessness, the exhaustion, the meaninglessness.
And one day, she decides to end it.
Maybe these stories are a bit too dramatic for the average reader. But believe me, they are not too far from reality. In fact, you can give these people any name you like and they’ll fit right into those ‘statistics’.
But why is it really happening?
Well, there is no one single reason for it but there are some that show a causality.
First of all, there is a scarcity of deep, meaningful relationships.
Whether it is your parents, your friends, your girlfriend/boyfriend – the people with whom you can actually talk with.
In both the stories, the person really didn’t have anyone to talk to. Even if they did, they weren’t exactly sure that the person will try to see things as they do or at the very least, listen.
This phenomenon can be seen everywhere. While as a society, I believe we are caring more and communicating more, it is the individual relationships that really need the attention.
Relationships take time, effort, compromise, and patience. And this is true for every relationship – family, friendships, romantic, professional, etc. But in today’s world, no one wants to put into that effort.
People do not want to invest the time and effort into something that they’re not sure would even work long term. Friends drift away, breakups and divorces happen, and family gatherings get pushed to just holidays.
And who can blame them for not putting in the effort? Relationships are hard work and today’s lifestyle simply doesn’t allow you to do all that work. Which brings us to point number 2.
The Shortage of Time
The world has changed drastically in the past couple of decades. People are busier than ever, The competition is more cutthroat than ever. The debts are now higher than ever and the wages….
It’s not that given an opportunity people will not socialize or try and make friends, it’s that there is a shortage of time. Everyone is on the clock, all the time.
They work 2 jobs, then there’s study, there’s traffic, there are bills, there are loans, there are stagnant salaries, long working hours, horrible leave policies….
And you can’t slip. You can’t say “I’ll take a month off and recharge myself.” There is no off, not completely.
And these children are not equipped to handle that. There are not equipped to handle stress. Stress of this magnitude. They’ve spent most of their lives with someone else making decisions for them.
That brings us to –
‘Helicopter Parenting’ is not a term that I like. I don’t know, it just doesn’t show the seriousness of what the term actually entails. The boomers, who had their kids in late 80s and 90s, were as a generation, the ‘imperfect parents’.
This is not to say that all of them were horrible parents, it’s just that most of their parenting methods did some serious damage. And in no way I am saying that they were doing this intentionally. On the contrary, they had only the best for their children in their mind.
But still, it doesn’t change the fact that their parenting played a major part in raising a generation of emotionally unequipped individuals. When you spend your entire life trying to minimize the struggles in your kid’s life, you’re actually handicapping them to be able to handle any of it when they’re out in the real world.
You can’t protect their children forever. Look at them, they tried.
There’s another side too. Some parents of these individuals weren’t emotionally, or in many cases, physically available.
This unavailability leaves a huge impact on children’s psychology. Children mimic their parents. Growing up, there are a lot of things that they pick up from their parents, most of them subconsciously. So, when there is a void of emotional understanding and support, they don’t learn how to process their own emotions.
This leads to a number of behavioral problems as adults. Some of them are narcissism, selfishness, fear of attachment, depression, and more. Pyschecentral did a great piece on it, you can read it here.
So quite literally, we have failed our children.
But if there’s one thing that has shown a direct correlation with all of it, it’s this –
The Social Media Problem
In the past 5 years or so, social media moved on from a thing of entertainment/distraction to an addiction. There have been numerous studies that show how excessive use of social media causes mental health problems.
But even after all these studies, today, social media is more popular than ever.
We’re online, all the time.
We’re constantly getting updates.
Who went where? Who ate what? Who’s dating who?
There’s a constant inflow of information from our friends, family and even sometimes, people whom we don’t even know. Yes, there’s a big chunk of people on everyone’s friend lists whom they don’t even talk to.
And yet, we know what these people ate and where they went last weekend.
Kinda ridiculous, isn’t it?
You know what’s even more ridiculous?
That people, especially children, start comparing their lives with people on their friend lists.
They compare their boring, uneventful lives with the crazy, adventurous lives of others. Because everyone is having the time of their lives on social.
I mean, does anyone post any pictures or videos in which they are not having fun?
No, why would they?
They seem to have fun all the time because they choose to post that. However, they don’t show emotions like loneliness, fear, anger, which although real, are not good enough to make the timeline.
But they are real. You live them.
The point is that when children see all their peers having the time of their lives while they have just been rejected by someone after asking them out, it hurts their self-worth. They start seeing themselves as if something is wrong with them. That they are failures.
What they don’t realize that they are comparing their behind the scenes with the highlight reel of someone else.
But when you’re already feeling like shit, it becomes difficult to see that.
How to change it
To all the parents, regardless of your child’s age, please for the love of god, talk.
Let your kid know that they are not alone. Let them know they have their mother/father with them. That they are with them even if they slip, even if they fail.
Relationships are not built on the count of successes people achieve in their lives. They are built on trust. It doesn’t matter if your kid is 4 or 40, if they feel that they can’t talk to their own parent, then it’s bad.
If your kid is still young, teach them by being emotionally supportive. They’ll learn from you how to manage their emotions. Tell them it’s okay to fail and it’s okay to feel like shit from time to time, but that failure or that feeling of shit do not define them or their life.
Don’t chalk off their mood shifts or their change in behavior as just them acting up. Yes, children especially teenagers can be moody, but there can be some serious thing causing that behavior.
As a parent, you have to make them realize that it’s okay to talk about the thing that is hurting them. It can be anything from flunking a test to someone bullying them. You wouldn’t know unless you talk to them.
Second is social media. When you eventually give a smartphone to your kid, teach them how to effectively use social media. Teach them that it’s okay to use it, it’s okay to share but not to make it a bigger part of their lives than it should be.
If your kid is all grown up and is living away, the least you can do is talk to them. Yes, they can be busy and so can you. You may think that now that they’re living on their own, they will not need you as much. But you’ll be surprised to know how much of a support a familiar voice can be when someone is feeling alone.
Whatever you do, just don’t be a parent whose kid feels like they can’t open up to you. Whose kid feels that it’s better to face it all alone to share their feelings with you. Whose kid feels that it’s easier to take his own life rather than making you understand because he knows that you won’t understand.
Please, don’t be that parent.