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January 02, 2019 Wednesday 02:50:48 PM IST

Rotting role models


Many parents complain about their children’s addictive behaviour related to mobile phone, internet use, online gaming, chatting, texting etc. They also report about their wards’ poor performance in academics, social interaction, personal hygiene, sleeping habits, etc. Although parents clearly see the connection between the addictive behaviour and under-performance of their children, the latter seldom realize the implications of the self-inflicted damage, and are less likely to own up the great loss that they bring to themselves and to their families. But on the flip side of this problem there exists the parental contribution, covert and overt.

From clinical observation and research data, it is evident that parental modelling, both positive and negative, have great influence on children’s behaviour.  The following are some sample illustrations.

    Deepak, a 12th grader, was brought to counselling by his mother. Mother complained about his decreasing interest and lack of involvement in studies and other matters. Deepak was a topper in his class, both academically and in co-curricular activities. On further inquiry, it was brought to light that Deepak was very upset and unhappy about the frequent fights between his parents. The mother accused her husband of neglecting the family by being addicted to his smart phone. “He is so absorbed in his mobile phone to the extent that we don’t matter to him at all,” said the mother with anguish.  All their repeated requests to rectify his errant behaviour fell on deaf ears.

 Menacing shadows

      Sarah, a student of Std VI, was brought to counselling. She complained about ‘seeing ghost-like things’ around her, even in the class room. In academics, Sarah’s performance was below average but in co-curricular activities, she did well. On closer examination, it was brought to light that Sarah used to watch horror movies with her dad, late at night. Sarah’s dad was an avid fan of horror movies, and so the little girl, gradually, was attracted to dad’s movie habit which he connived at. Her insufficient sleep, coupled with incomplete class works, added to her hangover in the form of shadows of creepy, scary creatures.

Akhil, a Plus One student, was brought to counselling. The parents reported a list of misdeeds by their son. Among them were academic backwardness, emotional outbursts, violence, loss of interest in almost everything, including personal hygiene. Akhil’s personality has changed totally and his defiance and oppositional behaviour hurt the parents most. The predicament of the boy was brought to light on closer examination. He was addicted to pornography and related sexual activities.

Route of addiction

Akhil wants to get out of this mess but can’t find a way out. He is mad at his dad for being the cause of his sorry state of affairs. It all started with an accidental stumbling into his dad’s mobile where he found pornographic material. The boy was so caught up in the mesmerizing, magical and secret world of pornography that he lost touch with the real world. Akhil’s dad is addicted to pornography and that has made him so aloof from family, uninvolved and not available. The boy still blames dad for his plight.

 From the above given examples, it becomes evident that bad habits (addictions) of parents such as mobile craze, pornography, addiction to movies (serials?), gambling, online gaming, drinking and smoking can grossly affect the physical and mental health of their children. There is evidence to show the influence of parental modelling on children’s activities, skills and values. 

Similar to addiction to drugs and alcohol, the internet offers children and adolescents a way to escape painful feelings or troubling situations. They sacrifice needed hours of sleep to spend time online and withdraw from family and friends to escape into a comfortable online world that they have created and shaped. Parents usually recognize the importance of physical activity and the need for limiting screen time, but often model sedentary lifestyles including excessive TV viewing and phone/computer use. Social scientists have shown that much of the learning that occurs in childhood is acquired through observation and imitation.

Dr. Jose Cletus Plackal

Licensed clinical psychologist, BET-MRT, Jeevas Centre, Aluva, Kerala.

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