Let us get down to work without much ado. In this story let us
look at some of the challenges and difficulties faced by today’s young people
and then reflect on how parents and teachers can help. Most remarkably,
challenges also present opportunities to help young people develop to their
full potential. To begin with, how do we categorise ‘youth’? The World Health
Organisation has a ready reckoner:
Young people go through major physical, physiological, and psychological changes, and this is a crucial phase of their life, setting the tone for a fulfilling adulthood. It is also a period of heightened vulnerability, impulsivity, and maturing decision-making skills.
Some key issues faced by the present generation of young people include over ‘protectionism’ by parents, a marked absence of strict boundaries between family members, a decided lack of assigned responsibilities, fewer opportunities for meaningful interpersonal contacts and relationships, an obsessive living of sorts in a virtual world, inadequate quality time spent with parents, living in an increasingly competitive and corrosive environment, besides mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and addictions (to substances and technology). Easy availability and access to any substance or technology can only result in its abuse.
The often-cited reasons for today’s young experiencing psychological problems include the disappearance of joint families and the emergence of nuclear families, working mothers, lack of ‘connect’ with nature, loss of traditional values, diminishing reliance on spirituality and so on.
In my view, this is a vain debate. We must instead focus on the way forward. So, let us stop looking for what cannot be changed, it is the way it is, now move on! We need to be positive and look at how the world also has changed positively to present our youth with more opportunities than ever before.
So, we are going to look at the creative opportunities that challenges present our young with.
WHAT CAN PARENTS AND TEACHERS DO?
Parents and teachers have the responsibility and, indeed, the opportunity to provide young people with a conducive environment for them to develop into psychologically sound and mature people. Here are some tips:
First and foremost, parents and teachers need to work together and be consistent in their approaches. Parents need to trust teachers and parents need to take responsibility too.
Every young person has strengths as well as weaknesses. Focus on his/her strengths and positively reinforce their achievements.
Every child is unique. Do not compare one child with another. For example, ‘If he can get an A plus, why can’t you?’ is most certainly a morale buster. The inter-generational comparison, too, is best avoided: ‘It wasn’t like this in my time’ or ‘I never had a phone till I was 25, why should you?’.
Do not be overly critical. If you have to, offer constructive criticism. So instead of saying, ‘this is not how you do it’, say ‘you could try doing it like this’.
Create an ‘open’ and trusting space for communication with young people. Provide a non-judgemental and empathic space for dialogue.
Get to know your child well and get to know his/her peers too.
Be there for them by being available in a non-intrusive manner and spend quality time with them.
Respect young people as maturing individuals and guide rather than advice.
Ask them from time to time, ‘What do you want?’. But do not try to make them what you want them to be.
Model desirable behaviours. You don’t do what you wouldn’t want them to do.
Understand and acknowledge that today’s children are much more worldly-wise and mature. They are also incredibly resilient.
As much as technology is good in terms of its uses, it also has high potential for abuse. Technology addiction is the inability to control use of various kinds of technology, such as the internet, phones, and social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The genre also includes video games, cybersex, online pornography, and online gaming. Technology over use is a common problem seen among young people, often adversely affecting their studies, health, and interpersonal relationships. Technology, unlike other addictive substances or behaviours, such as gambling, cannot be totally avoided, hence the importance of learning to control its use or using it sensibly.
TIPS FOR HEALTHY USE OF TECHNOLOGY
Allow its use at certain times. Set limits on time spent on the phone/laptop.
Encourage controlled use and ‘model’ this yourself. You can’t tell your children not to use the phone if you yourself are doing it. So, set an example.
While studying or at work, do not have multiple ‘windows’ open, such as Facebook, Word, YouTube, and so on.
Substitute technology time with other non-technology based activities.
Avoid those ‘I’ll have a quick look’ moments. You might need to set an alarm on your phone as a reminder every 5 minutes or 20 minutes or so on.
Have ‘no internet/no phone’ areas at home, especially around the dining table, the bedroom, the kitchen, or even the bathroom.
Develop outdoor interests/passions. This might involve lifestyle changes and engagement in joint activities, such as bike riding, gardening, exercising, yoga, and so on.
Let gadgets not be what you look for/rely on, first thing in the morning or the last thing before you go to sleep.
Remember these ‘rules’ apply as much to you as to the young.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Seek professional help, if needed. In India, perhaps more so than in the developed world, there still exists considerable reluctance to seek help from mental health professionals, the reason being the stigma attached to doing so. Such delayed help seeking often results in worse outcomes. As parents and teachers and as a society we need to do all we can to remove the stigma associated with mental health problems, so that young people with mental health problems get timely help and support. The key to breaking down stigma is raising awareness about mental health and mental ill health among the general public.
In summary, as much as young people themselves, perhaps even more so, parents and teachers have the responsibility to guide them towards a fulfilling adulthood. There are immense opportunities for young people. Guide them and seek professional support if needed for their mental well-being.