Sex&theCity: Smells like teen spirit

Tags: Society

It’s not easy being adolescents. So why condemn and judge them

The headlines in the local newspaper yesterday rattled my children (both teenagers) and me. Monali who was 15, killed herself, by jumping off the 10th floor of her apartment, allegedly after an altercation with her mother, about her ‘friendship’ with a boy in her class , which the school authorities disapproved of. The day this happened, Monali’s mother had been called to school and had been told to take her home as she was suspended from the school over this. The boy resides in the same apartment complex and apparently both had been ‘warned’ earlier about the friendship.

As a parent, I can only imagine the devastating trauma which Monali’s parents must be experiencing. The social media is saturated with outpourings from shocked parents. Most have strongly condemned the draconian, ancient mind-set of the school authorities and say that they should have dealt with the situation a bit more sensitively and that school (and the society) should not be so narrow minded.

Having crushes and being attracted to the opposite sex is the most natural thing which happens when you hit adolescence. Adolescence itself is a confusing, trying time, when the children are not really children and nor are they adults. They struggle to find their own identities, struggle to fit in with peers and if that isn’t enough they often face the wrath of well-meaning parents and school authorities who ‘try to bring them on the right track’ and to ensure that they ‘do not go astray’.

I grew up in conservative Chennai, and if a girl and a boy were spotted talking to each other alone, one could be certain that a particularly nosy teacher or a prying ‘mama’ or ‘mami’ would ensure everyone knew about it. We were governed by invisible tongues clucking in disapproval. Of course, there were a hundred ways to ‘fool the system’ by sneaking off to secret places and doing the stuff that teenagers normally do, all over the world.

According to UNICEF reports, India is home to about 243 million adolescents. The teens today have to face much more pressure and competitiveness than we did while growing up. We never had smart phones, social media or apps for just about anything. Back then, we learnt the art of patience. We had to wait at least a day to meet the person one was infatuated with as we couldn’t possibly call them up, after school.

For today’s teen — as well as today’s adult — the lines have blurred between what they feel, think and express. Gratification is as instant as it can get. Snapchat lets you vicariously participate in everything that your friend is doing. Technology has made everything so easy and in the process what has got sacrificed is patience, tolerance and perhaps a sen se of imagination.

Today we do not have to imagine. We can instantly ‘see’. But the way I look at it, we could use this very technology to foster strong family bonds. My spouse, my children and I are a part of a private group on Whatsapp, where we post messages for each other, links we want to share and anything else that strikes our fancy. We are connected 24x7. The fastest way to get a response from today’s teen is through an IM or a FB message or snapchat or G-plus or whatever it is that the teen is using.

Teens will be teens. Being attracted to a member of the opposite sex is only natural. Why castigate a teen for that? Personally I think every parent and all the school authorities must watch Perks of Being a Wall-flower, a brilliant movie (adapted from a book by the same name) which is about growing up and adolescent angst where Stephen Chobsky says “I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”

As I say a silent prayer for Monali and her parents, I can only hope that we as a society succeed in making our adolescents feel okay and loved — and definitely not condemned or judged.

Growing up is hard enough, without that.

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